Slow the Flow for Healthful Schools

Slow the Flow for Healthful Schools

Reducing water use in school washrooms.

There are thousands of school campuses across the United States, and they come in all shapes and sizes: small classrooms, large lecture halls; separate buildings spread out on a large tract, multi-story structures squeezed into a dense city block. Some may have gymnasiums, auditoriums or cafeterias; some may not.

But one constant found in almost every education facility, in addition to students and teachers, is the school washroom. Every day, millions of students, staff members and visitors use school washrooms and in the process consume millions of gallons of water. For students concerned about conserving resources and for educators committed to teaching students about the value of conservation, the school washroom is an area brimming with opportunities.

Schools and universities can take advantage of more-efficient fixtures and equipment, and step up their maintenance efforts to reduce the consumption of water in their facilities’ washrooms. Conservation efforts not only can help students learn to be more aware of their environment, but also provide cost savings through lower utility bills.

The biggest target

For education institutions looking to reduce water consumption, washrooms offer the most opportunity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in a report, "Water Efficiency in the Commercial and Institutional Sector: Considerations for a WaterSense Program," estimates that washrooms account for 45 percent of the water use in an education facility. Landscaping accounts for 28 percent; cooling and heating accounts for 11 percent; kitchens account for 7 percent; laundry uses account for 3 percent; swimming pools account for 1 percent; and other uses account for 5 percent.

Agreeing that cutting water consumption is a worthwhile goal is the easy part. Figuring out how to persuade people to follow through and change their behavior is a little more challenging. Technology advancements have enabled facility managers to circumvent the obstacle posed by those unaware of the value of conservation or unwilling to do their part for the environment.

New kinds of toilets, urinals, faucets and showerheads are available that significantly reduce the amount of water used. For school facilities, many of which have several washrooms and many toilets, urinals and sinks, the water savings can accumulate quickly.

Sensible savings

To help those looking to improve the efficiency of their water use, the EPA has established the WaterSense program. Manufacturers that meet the water-saving criteria set forth in the program can claim a WaterSense label for their products. The EPA says that WaterSense-labeled products undergo independent third-party testing to certify that they are at least 20-percent more efficient than average products in their category and perform as well or better than their less-efficient counterparts.

Manufacturers can earn a WaterSense label for products such as toilets, flushing urinals and showerheads by meeting the water-efficiency specifications set forth by the EPA. Some details:

Urinals. To receive a WaterSense label, flushing urinals must use no more than 0.5 gallons per flush. In comparison, the current federal standard for commercial urinals is 1.0 gallons per flush, and some older urinals in commercial facilities use as much as five times that amount. The EPA estimates that an elementary school of 200 students whose washrooms are upgraded from 1.5 gallons-per-flush urinals to WaterSense-labeled equipment would save 36,000 gallons each year.

Toilets. For a single-flush toilet to earn a WaterSense label, it must not exceed an effective flush volume of 1.28 gallons per flush. For a dual-flush toilet (those that use different amounts of water for solid and liquid waste), the standard also is 1.28 gallons per flush, and the effective flush volume is defined as the average flush volume of two reduced flushes and one full flush.

Showerheads. The specifications state that to earn a WaterSense label, a showerhead needs to have a maximum flow rate of equal to or less than 2 gallons (7.6 liters) per minute. The maximum flow rate is defined as the highest flow rate produced by testing a product at flowing pressures of 20, 45 and 80 pounds per square inch. The standards also spell out guidelines for minimum flow rate, spray force and spray coverage.

The WaterSense program also has established standards for faucets, but they apply to residential use, not to commercial settings.

Other devices and strategies can reduce the flow of water in school washrooms. Faucet aerators can reduce water use by as much as 60 percent while still maintaining a strong flow, the EPA says. Reducing water pressure also results in less consumption. The EPA says a reduction in pressure from 100 pounds per square inch to 50 pounds per square inch at an outlet can result in a water flow reduction of about one-third.

Maximum saving

By definition, the most efficient way to conserve water is to cut consumption by 100 percent. Schools and universities can achieve that, at least for one section of men’s washrooms, by installing urinals that don’t use any water.

Knowing that urinals can use up to 45,000 gallons a year, some schools and universities have installed no-water urinals in their washrooms. However, in some installations where the urinals were not properly installed or maintained, the washrooms have been plagued with unpleasant odors.

The WaterSense specifications for urinals do not establish specifications for no-water urinals, and the agency states that it doesn’t have enough information to help purchasers draw distinctions between the models of no-water urinals available. However, the agency has made it clear that it considers no-water urinals viable products for conserving water.

In a memorandum to WaterSense partners, James Hanlon, the EPA’s director of the Office of Wastewater Management, emphasizes that the EPA considers no-water urinals "inherently water-efficient."

"It is not the intent of the WaterSense program," says Hanlon, "to place these products at any disadvantage in the marketplace or in their eligibility for water-conservation incentives, purchasing guidelines or specifications."

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

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