Spending a penny

by Paul Angus
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With growing urban populations, building design is definitely looking to the future. Smart buildings, incorporating tomorrow’s technology, are soaring up with heights that maximise net lettable areas and increase numbers of occupants.

In these buildings, as well as existing facilities, there is an enormous amount of pressure on facilities plant and teams. From the perspective of the facility manager, there is a significant number of cost saving opportunities; progressively, fixtures and fittings within facilities provide an opportunity for managers to fully maximise their budget in investments, while keeping a firm track on the bottom line.

However, managers are required to ensure the correct plant and equipment is specified, to ensure it provides energy and water efficiency, offers savings and enhances performance of its operating life. Facilities are built to last the test of time, in some cases around 50 to 70 years; however, the overall lifespan of building services plant can be considerably shorter. If your facility still has existing (1990 or earlier) plumbing fixtures, it would be recommended to investigate retrofitting them with the latest technology. From an initial cash outlay for any improvements, the overall payback period would be significantly rapid, based on associated water usage charges.

FINDING A SOLUTION

In the majority of facilities, the plumbing fixtures provide essential public health services to the occupants that simply cannot be removed or reduced, in terms of drinking, bathing, hand washing and sewage conveyance.

Overall water consumption depends on two basic variables: daily usage patterns and the consumption from each fixture being used. Unfortunately, the daily usage patterns are down to the personal preference of the end user, over which the facility team has little control. In the majority of cases, however, water usage can be easily monitored to develop a better understanding and ascertain the peaks. In order to reduce the water usage in plumbing fixtures, simply improving the fixture technology can assist in lowering consumption and promoting water efficiency.

Retrofitting the fixtures within the facility may be the easiest water-saving step you can take in an existing building. Communication with the end user is crucial, however, as the occupants may complain due to previous experiences, in particular when showering. Over time, perceptions will change, although communicating the plan in advance to educate the end users is important in this process. Reducing the flow can also significantly provide benefits in energy consumption, resulting from lower hot water consumption, which can be included within your payback analysis.

FLUSHED AWAY

Let’s talk about waterless urinals. One significant method to reduce costs in any facility is to specify, install and maintain these in an effort to address progressive issues related to costs, as well as environmental friendliness – larger commercial organisations with multiple facilities operating around the country must consider methods to conserve water and energy usage on a significant scale.

But, before taking the plunge, the facilities management team should consider the benefits and potential drawbacks from waterless urinals. An analysis to flush out whether you should undertake an expensive retrofit to replace cistern-flushing capabilities with waterless urinals will vary significantly. This is based upon the number of urinals in the facility, the age and condition of the plumbing installation, plus overall water consumption frequency from the number of end users.

An average urinal consumes approximately 2.2 litres per flush, compared with the most efficient urinals, which use 1.5 litres per flush. With the incorporation of smart controls, such as electronic passive infrared sensor devices, unnecessary flushing can be significantly reduced when the amenities are not in use. Efficient urinals combined with a smart control technology can assist in reducing water usage by 40 to 50 percent.

Installing a waterless urinal will essentially reduce water consumption by 100 percent. With continuous water saving assured, lower costs involved and points towards Green Star and NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Rating System) initiatives, what could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with waterless urinals – I can still recall the first time I ever experienced one. As I walked into the amenities, my eyes immediately began to water with the overpowering stench. There was obviously a maintenance issue with a cartridge, chemical dosage or the sealant fouled in some way.

But there have been other issues – on a separate occasion, I carried out a due diligence report for a proposed acquisition, where the facility management team reported an unusual corrosion of pipework being experienced in an existing building that had recently been refurbished. Water conservation had been a priority and the initiative to install waterless urinals had unfortunately resulted in the corrosion of the existing copper wastewater pipework – replacing that was an unfortunate expense.

More often than not, however, the problem with waterless urinals isn’t just copper pipework, it’s people. From various investigations, people have a tendency to pour liquids down the drain, such as juice or coffee, which can cause unforeseeable issues. Waterless urinal cartridges are only designed for treating urine odours. The introduction of coffee and juice can prematurely damage the cartridge or seal, causing odours to become evident in the room or even the building. Appropriate signage is paramount to educate the end user of the consequences of misuse.

FLUSHED WITH SUCCESS

So the question is: do they actually work? According to research published on the website sustainable.org.au, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) recognised the need for water conservation. It calculated that, with more than 50,000 students, it was wasting around 11 megalitres (ML) of potable water annually to flush urinals. After implementing a successful trial with waterless urinals, it resulted in a significant saving of between 95 and 140 kilolitres (kL) of water for each urinal (or per metre of wall-hung urinal) per annum.

All new developments incorporating Green Star and NABERS encourage waterless urinals in commercial high-rise buildings. The clear advantage of waterless urinals is that they do exactly what they say on the tin – no water is consumed. With no cold water supply pipework being connected to the urinal, this effectively minimises the overall installation and maintenance costs, as well as reducing the overall water consumption and subsequent drainage rates.

Furthermore, no water connection eliminates the need for maintenance of items such as flushing mechanisms, electronic passive infrared sensor devices and battery replacement. In high-rise facilities, waterless urinals can significantly assist in the reduction demands on cold water booster pumps, which can avoid expensive upgrades if already designed to operate within their limitations.

Still thinking of making the switch? Not only do they conserve water, but the list below should be factored into your decision:

  • Waterless urinals create fewer odours than flush-type urinals. The odour associated with urinals of any type is more a function of urine on floors and surrounding surfaces than the type of urinal.
  • When cartridges need changing, waterless urinals do create more odours than flush-type urinals. The cartridge may be difficult to replace, resulting in a plumber being called out to replace it. This task should be easily undertaken by a maintenance engineer.
  • Waterless urinals have no associated maintenance costs from a flush or sensor perspective.
  • There should be consideration of changes required to existing pipework installations and the effects, in particular on copper pipework.
  • Waterless urinals assist in obtaining the necessary water conservation credits towards Green Star and NABERS ratings.

Paul Angus is an associate director – Hydraulic Services at AECOM, based in Sydney. He specialises in providing a sustainable approach to system design, including water conservation, recycling and generating innovative engineering solutions, and has extensive experience in the hydraulic design, pre-acquisition and condition surveys, including all forms of specialist client advisory work. He also has extensive experience in expert witness reporting, taking part in adjudications, mediations, negotiations and arbitrations.

This article also appears in the August/September issue of Facility Management magazine.

Image: Natthapon Ngamnithiporn © 123RF.com

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