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Greening Your Water Bill

Thu, Jul 23, 2009

b. Save Money

When building or remodeling a facility, business owners have many opportunities to install efficient, money saving systems. Landscaping is often one of the last concerns for any company building a new facility. Yet, it may be one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the building’s long-term operation costs. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 30% of US water consumption is used for outdoor purposes.

Here are three easy ways to reduce landscaping associated water costs:

  • Use native or adaptive plants
  • Harvest rainwater
  • Install efficient watering systems

Going Native

One way to greatly reduce your water bill is to landscape with plants that are native or adaptive to your region. These plants thrive with the region’s natural rainfall and in most cases require no additional watering. According to the US Green Building Council, using native and adaptive plants can reduce landscaping watering costs by 50% to 100% depending on the region. Native and adaptive plants also require less fertilizers and pesticides, further reducing their maintenance costs.

Not sure what plants are native to your area? Plant Native provides lists of native plants by region. Plant Native also offers a directory of landscape architects that specialize in native plant landscaping.

Capturing Rainwater

If native plants alone do not eliminate your landscaping watering costs or you cannot find native plants that meet your desired aesthetic, consider harvesting rainwater. Rainwater collection systems collect water runoff from roofs or paved surfaces. This water is then filtered and stored for irrigation. Harvest rainwater, not only reduces your water bill, but also greatly reduces stormwater runoff.

How much water can you save? Well, 1,000 square feet of roof or paved surface can collect 600 gallons for every inch of rainfall. Annually this equates to:

  • Arid Climates (less than 20″) – less than 12,000 gallons per 1,000 sqft
  • Semi-arid (20″ to 40″) – 12,000 to 24,000 gallons per 1,000 sqft
  • Humid (over 40″) – over 24,000 gallons per 1,000 sqft

Have leftover rainwater even after watering your landscaping? Filtered rainwater can also be used to flush toilets and urinals. It is estimated that the average male worker flushes a urinal twice and a toilet once in a typical 8-hour workday. During that workday, the average woman is expected to flush a toilet three times. Using the Energy Policy Act of 1992’s fixture flow rates as an estimate, this means in a 260-day work year, each employee flushes 900 to 1200 gallons of their employers’ water.

Rain harvesting systems are available in all sizes and price ranges, from Aqualbarrel’s $105 30-gallon rain barrel to professionally engineered systems capable of storing tens of thousands of gallons of rainwater. For a rain harvesting system available in your area, check out the America Rainwater Catchments System Association’s list of suppliers.

Efficient Watering Systems

If you have to water your landscaping, then do it as efficiently as possible. Whether you are using potable water or harvested rainwater, the amount of water you need is greatly determined by how efficiently you use it. Efficient watering systems include micro-irrigation systems, moisture sensors, rain shut-offs, and other similar controls. Currently, well-designed drip irrigation is the most efficient watering system for landscaping. According to the US Green Building Council, drip irrigation systems use 30% to 50% less water than sprinkler systems.

Efficient watering systems such as drip irrigation may be cheaper than you think. While the initial design costs of drip irrigation is slightly higher than that of a sprinkler system, drip irrigation systems tend to cost less to install. Since rising water demand is putting greater strain on cities, many municipalities now offer rebate or incentive programs for installing water efficient systems. Why pay for that rain shut-off yourself when your city is happy to split the costs with you? Before installing an irrigation system, find out what financial incentives and rebates your municipality offers.

Improving the Bottom Line

Efficiency not only helps the environment, it also helps your bottom line. Fewer resources used are fewer resources paid for. This lowers your bottom line, making your company more efficient and more competitive in the marketplace. In some cases, the initial costs of efficient systems are higher, but in the long run water efficiency will pay for itself. Since water costs vary greatly between locations, we were not able to find Return on Investment (ROI) and cost savings information for the water efficiency systems. If you have any ROI and/or cost savings information please feel free to let us know. And, with manipulates willing to subsidize the initial costs, why not install a more efficient system? While you’re at it, don’t forget to let your customers know what your company is doing to conserve water.

By James Pollard, LEED AP

James Pollard studied sustainability as an economic, political, social, and environmental discipline at the School of International Studies at University of the Pacific. He currently works in sustainable planning for cities and is also a member of NetImpact San Francisco Professional Chapter.

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