Learned from the Drought

As you probably know, many parts of the US recently emerged from five years of a drought. During those years, lakes, rivers and reservoirs dwindled. Arid conditions caused challenges for plants and wildlife. To curb water use and prohibit water waste, measures were put in place at local and states levels. During that time, companies adapted many new green practices they learned from drought restrictions and regulations. Now that it’s all over, the West has heaved a collective sigh of relief.

But here is a thought, before we turn on our faucets, hoses and irrigation systems with reckless abandon. Responses to the drought benefited the environment, bottom lines and labor forces in many ways. We should permanently apply these takeaways to our daily building operations. Doing so will make our buildings and landscapes more efficient and cost-effective. Let’s look at some of the habits we should hang onto, drought or not.

Indoors

  1. Being extra cautious about leaks:
    During the drought, we were highly sensitive to leaks. After all, one drop per second from a dripping faucet wastes 2,700 gallons of water each year! Leak awareness should not be restricted to times of drought. Repair dripping faucets wherever you can. Consider installing a leak monitoring and detection system to guide your water use. It helps to build in a leak-monitoring schedule with your maintenance team.
  2. Using grey water for multiple purposes:
    Grey water is generally thought of as the relatively clean water that has been used in washing machines, tubs, showers and sinks. This type of water is not potable but is non-toxic. If your system allows this water to be diverted, treated and stored, you can reuse it. Grey water is commonly used for toilets, irrigation and condenser water. Note that installation of grey water treatment systems have a high upfront cost, and may not be valuable for buildings where water is not heavily used.
  3. Treating waste with care:
    Recycling goes hand in hand with conservation, especially in larger campuses and buildings where a high volume of waste is produced. If you dispose of food waste in a compost system, you’re saving on the amount of garbage produced by your building. Your compost can find second life as a source of nutrients for soil.
  4. Installing hands-free faucets:
    While an overhaul of your faucets can be costly, it may still be worth it. A faucet left running overnight can significantly add to your water bills. Hands-free faucets only run when their sensors detect hands underneath, so you are guaranteed to avoid careless waste. Hands-free faucets are also a more sanitary option that can benefit the overall cleanliness of your building.
  5. Upgrading flush valves:
    In some areas, low-volume toilets are legally required. But if they aren’t required in your area, you may still want to upgrade them. If your toilets were installed before the 1990s, they use about three to five gallons per flush. A low-volume toilet requires less than half the water of an older model. Over one year that creates large savings. For commercial toilet systems, a cost-effective way to upgrade is by changing flush valves. Many manufacturers create flush valves that bring the gallon-per-flush usage down to 1 gallon. A flush valve change will allow you to keep the actual toilet for minimal cost.

Outdoors

  1. Evaluating your lawn care system:
    During the drought, we learned to cut back lawn care to a practical minimum. An efficient lawn care system can save you time and money on precious labor. Mowing grass with a higher cut encourages grass to grow deeper and hold moisture in the soil. If a lawn area is not frequently used, you don’t have to worry as much about mowing or watering it. In fact, you may want to eliminate that area completely. Organic mulch can improve soil quality and prevent weeds, and it has the added benefit of keeping the soil cool. You should also look into your fertilizer. Fertilizer increases the need for water, so a fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen is more efficient. Your sprinklers should all be positioned so that they water lawn and shrubs only, and don’t water paved areas. If you’ve covered all of these bases on your landscape, you’re not likely to need as much mowing, watering and replanting.
  2. Being mindful of native plant life:
    Plants that are native to your region will be more forgiving. Additionally, some grasses, shrubs and trees are more drought-tolerant than others. Drought-resistant lawn seed, for example, will come in handy. These plants will have an easier time adapting to your climate and can survive from time to time without watering. Make sure to group plants with similar water needs together. EPA WaterSense has some great landscaping tips that can help.
  3. Employing smart irrigation:
    Invest in a smart irrigation controller. These devices will automatically adjust your watering schedule based on the weather, taking into account factors like rain, humidity and soil moisture. Equally, a water-efficient irrigation system such as drip-irrigation will be kinder to your shrubs, trees and flowers. Check these sprinkler systems and irrigation devices regularly to make sure everything is in working order. Sprinklers that mist are doing so because of a pressure problem, so make sure you regulate the pressure in your irrigation system to avoid all misting. In the fall, you can turn down your irrigation systems, and in winter you might turn them completely off.
  4. Harvesting rainwater:
    If you have a large roof area on your building, consider a commercial rainwater harvesting system. These systems are easy to use and have low operating costs, especially in areas that are seeing an uptick in rainfall. Calculate the estimated availability and demand of rainfall to guide your choice of systems. In generally, a commercial harvester will also need to separate oil and refuse from the water prior to storage, which may require coordination between a plumbing engineer and a civil engineer. You also may need to gain approval from local municipal authorities to include a harvesting system in your building’s design. At best, an effective harvesting system will help clear your municipality’s overburdened sewer system by reducing rainwater runoff.
  5. Using the weather as your guide:
    Now that we are out of drought season, remember that a heavy rain can eliminate the need for watering for a few weeks. Abide by the guideline that lawns need one inch of water per week. If you do plan to water your lawn, have your landscaping team do so early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler. Plan to water in several short sessions as opposed to one long and water-intensive session.