Facility Dude

How Hospitals Can Slash Water Use—and Utility Bills

By Wendy Mallon
Oct 26, 2015

Energy, Energy Management

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Hospitals have some unique challenges to minimizing water use. The ongoing draught in California is highlighting a trend that's true for facility managers around the globe: Water use is all-too-easy to overlook. "Water efficiency in a lot of facilities has really been ignored. When you go in and do [water usage] audits, you often find that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit," Jonah Schein, a technical coordinator for the EPA's WaterSense program, told The LA Times.

Yet healthcare facility managers understand that slashing water use in these environments must be carefully balanced with the need to keep patients safe and healthy. Here are five areas at many hospitals in which analyzing baseline water consumption and deploying smarter design solutions can produce dramatic utility savings—without compromising patient care.

1. Repairing Leaks

Because plumbing is hidden behind walls and below ground, it can be easy to let a costly and wasteful leak go unnoticed. A water audit compares current water use with a historic baseline, allow technicians to zero in on parts of the facility that show a surprising jump in water usage. Even in a facility as a small as a residential house, water leaks can account for 10,000 gallons of wasted water each year, according to the EPA.

2. Retrofitting Taps

In a water-saving effort, many hospitals installed aerators on their bathrooms taps to restrict water flow. But studies later showed that those aerators can encourage bacteria growth, so many facilities have removed them. That means many hospital gaps now release the maximum number of gallons per minute—a powerful and unnecessary stream. Retrofitting bathroom taps with safer flow restrictors, such as a laminar, can minimize wasted water without fear of bacteria.

3. Refurbishing Sterilizers

Hospitals with older sterilizers in their operating rooms will find that the steady trickle of cool water needed to make the hot water sewer-safe adds up to hundreds of thousands of wasted gallons each year. By refurbishing sterilizers to include a holding tank, hospitals can rest assured that scalding water isn't damaging plumbing without needed to rely on a constant stream of cool water.

4. Rethink Landscaping

Sprinkler systems pump out an enormous amount of water, but removing the landscaping entirely isn't an option: Greenery has been shown to make patients heal faster and feel happier, and it's also a morale boost for the building's many staff. Instead, consider low-water plants that are well-suited to the hospital's climate, and landscaping elements (such as stone benches and archways) that can reduce the amount of necessary green while still creating a pleasant visual tapestry.

5. Revamp the Cool Air

A chilled water distribution system is at the heart of any hospital's air conditioning. Yet operating with an older system that's lagging in maintenance can be taxing—both in utility costs and water use. After analyzing the maintenance and repair needs of the current system, consider whether upgrading to a newer model might quickly yield a high ROI for the hospital. At North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, investing in an $8 million system sparked annual savings of $1.3 million, according to Hospital CFO.

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