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Waterworks—Reducing Water Use in the Hospitality Industry

Water is all around us, but it’s increasingly scarce. Assuming continued economic growth and no changes in water use efficiency, annual global freshwater requirements will grow to 6,900 billion cubic meters in 2030, according to a report by the 2030 Water Resources Group. The bad news is that the 2030 figure is 40 percent above current supply.

Government, businesses and other organizations all need to lead efforts to conserve, reuse and recycle water in the years ahead. As a major water user, the hospitality industry has a strong commercial incentive, and some say a moral imperative, to reduce their fresh water consumption.

The good news is that hospitality facilities can do the right thing by conserving water while also reducing costs. Using and heating water accounts for about 10 to 20 percent of the average hotel’s utility bill1 and, by some estimates, hospitality facilities with a conservation plan can reduce water consumption by 50 percent compared with facilities without one.1

A conservation plan may include metering, monitoring, strategic equipment upgrades and staff training. While that plan should target all water costs—including water intake, heating, use and treatment—one target is bigger than the others, according to Chris Osos, Product Director for plumbing and fluid power for the Grainger Industrial Supply Division.

“The biggest savings come from conserving hot water because it is the higher cost,” said Osos. In the U.S., tap water costs an average of 0.2 cents per gallon while heating that water costs between 1 and 2 cents per gallon, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so every gallon of hot water saved goes directly to the bottom line.

Water conservation and reduction strategies top the list of the highest impact moves for cost reduction. A sound conservation plan includes several elements:

  • A water audit that determines actual water use;
  • Water-reduction projects, including strategic retrofits;
  • Training staff in water-use reduction and preventive maintenance; and
  • Monitoring progress.

The first step to water conservation is to understand the facility’s current water usage and cost. This baseline information allows facilities to determine potential usage reductions, cost savings and the ROI for any capital investment.

The most effective way to document water usage is to meter it at various locations. At the very least, outdoor vs. indoor water usage should be metered separately. Ideally, water going to high usage areas, such as the kitchen, laundry and public restrooms, should be metered separately.

Older facilities typically do not have the same metering capability as newer facilities. However, metering systems can be upgraded by installing sub-meters where needed to target high-usage areas. There are three basic types of sub-meters:

  • Manual-read meters;
  • Encoder meters wired to an accessible reading device, for when meters must be installed out of reach; and
  • Wireless meters, which collect meter information and transmit it via WiFi

Hospitality facilities may also be able to take advantage of “smart meters” being installed by some water utilities. While metering usage in real time is the key advantage of smart water meters, other forms of monitoring, such as leak detection, pressure management and water quality monitoring, are key parts of water conservation effort, noted Navigant Research of Boulder, Colorado, in its report on the smart water meter market. The firm estimates that there will be 153 million advanced and smart water meters installed worldwide by 2022.2

Besides metering, hospitality providers can inventory their water-using equipment and, with information on the flow rates, develop good estimates of those devices’ water use.

Go with the Low Flow

After determining baseline water usage, hospitality facilities can target strategic upgrades, including sub-standard urinals, toilets, showerheads and faucets. New equipment can offer dramatic water-use reductions.

The ROI on water-saving equipment can be relatively short, in some cases 2 years or less, according to Osos, so installing it can be a good business decision. It makes sense to target high-usage areas first and stagger other investments to make a retrofit program more manageable.

There have been major changes in fixtures such as toilets and urinals. According to the EPA, before 1990, the typical U.S. urinal used about 3.5 gallons per flush. Due to federal regulations on new construction, new urinals were down to 1.5 gallons by the early 1990s, 1 gallon in 2002 and 0.5 gallons today. Manufacturers also offer 0.25-gallon and waterless urinal options. Likewise, new toilets are required to flush no more than 1.6 Gallons Per Flush (GPF) or 1.28 gallons to be WaterSense certified. The Water Conservation Act of 1993 states that no water closet (toilet) can have a maximum flow rate higher than 1.6 GPF. WaterSense is the EPA rating for toilets that use 20% less (1.28 GPF) or greater. Some states (TX, CA, GA, NYC) have enacted legislation to further reduce the maximum amount a toilet can flush to 1.28 GPF.

Osos noted that aerators can be changed out to modify faucets running at 2 gallons per minute (gpm) to run at 0.5 gpm or even 0.35 gpm. Showerheads should run at 1 gpm or less, although some are still produced with higher gpm ratings.

One challenge hospitality providers face is the fallout from poorly performing low-flow toilets and showerheads in the early 1990s. At that time, manufacturers were allowed to convert products to low flow by adding attachments that reduced water flow while not redesigning the actual product.

“Customers had a bad experience with those early low-flow products, which gave them a bad reputation, but today’s models have been improved to the point where they not only meet but exceed the performance of the old fixtures,” said Osos.

Following the MaP

The improved performance is due in large part to manufacturers meeting two voluntary standards, MaP (maximum performance) for toilets and the EPA’s WaterSense product labeling program for toilets, urinals, sink faucets, showerheads and other water-using devices.

Since its release in 2003, the MaP voluntary testing protocol has helped boost toilet flush performance in North America. MaP was created by a group of water associations and utilities in the U.S. and Canada frustrated by the poor performance of low-flow toilets.

The competitive pressure to improve dismal low-flow toilet performance, together with MaP, has produced many high-performance, low-flow toilets. According to the organization, over 80 manufacturers representing over 100 different toilet fixture brands participate in MaP, giving buyers confidence that products will perform as expected.

In a similar manner, EPA’s WaterSense program documents water and energy costs of the fixtures listed above. It began in 2004 as a water-efficient product labeling program.In 2006, WaterSense released its specifications for tank-type high-efficiency toilets (HETs). Today, 2,305 different toilet models meet the specifications and display the WaterSense mark.

WaterSense HETs must meet a minimum MaP threshold of 350 grams of waste removal in a single flush (including toilet paper). However, MaP reports that the average MaP score of 1,860 different toilet fixture models was 799 grams (28 ounces) in 2012, more than double the average score of 336 grams (12 ounces) in 2003.

From Low Flow to No Flow

Hospitality providers in certain water-stressed areas of the U.S. have been actively retrofitting their facilities, noted Erick Miranda, Corporate Sales Manager, Gaming Accounts, for Grainger Industrial Supply. “Casino and hotel operators in Las Vegas are focusing on plumbing retrofits that involve waterless urinals. It’s a big trend in California as well.”

Miranda said waterless urinals are being installed both in new construction and in retrofits. “For example, several MGM facilities in Las Vegas are retrofitting public restrooms with new sinks, toilets and waterless urinals to reduce water and energy use in those common public areas.”

Waterless urinals are catching on in other venues as well. For example, M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, reduced its water usage by 43 percent by installing more than 400 waterless urinals, according to a Jan. 2014 report on the Buildings magazine website. It was part of a water and energy conservation program that won the Ravens and the Maryland Stadium Authority a LEED-EB Gold certification for the stadium in 2014, the first existing outdoor professional sports facility to receive the designation.

The Pressure on Pressure

Another key equipment issue is regulating water pressure, which may be higher than needed in certain facilities. That means a lot of water goes down the drain before it’s used. Facilities can use pressure-regulating valves to reduce water pressure to an optimal level, according to Osos.

He noted that water pressure in different facilities can range from 30 to 150 psi, while optimal pressure is in the 45 to 60 psi range. If a facility is operating above this range, or above manufacturer-recommended pressure there is an opportunity to reduce water pressure to limit waste and reduce stress on the system.

Maintain and Train

Preventive maintenance is a key part of any water-management program. Delivery systems, toilets, urinals and sinks must be checked regularly to ensure they are working effectively with no leaks, and that valves and aerators are not clogged. Just one running toilet can use an additional 200 gallons of water per day.

Training is also key. “While the facility’s maintenance team performs the repairs, other employees have the responsibility to notify maintenance if water is being wasted,” said Osos. “Housekeeping staff, kitchen staff, the front desk—they all need to know how important it is to let maintenance know about problems right away. Also, housekeeping personnel shouldn’t be flushing multiple times during cleaning and should understand how important it is to leave towels and linens in the room when guests indicate that they do not need new ones.

“Likewise, kitchen and laundry staff members must not let water run unnecessarily,” Osos continued. “One hotel saved 2,000,000 gallons a year by firing its chef because he was defrosting all the food with running water nonstop every day.”1

Whether your hotel is large or small, any water conservation effort can help the bottom line and the environment. A clear understanding of usage and costs— and available product options—can help you make the right decision for your facility.

To learn more about how Grainger can help the hospitality industry, visit grainger.com/hospitality.

1. Green Hotels Association
2. Navigant Research of Boulder, Colorado.


The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.