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The Exclusive Magazine for the Building Service Contracting Industry Since 1981
December 13, 2012

Water: The Next Step in Sustainability

Written by  Katherine Coe

As water becomes an increasingly limited resource, water conservation, reuse, and (in many parts of the country) rationing, will become more important in ensuring a water supply that is accessible to all, and that can remain a truly renewable resource.

Over the next 40 years, more than a third of continental American counties will face increasing risks of water shortages. Demand for water is expected to increase by 12.3 percent by 2050, while water supplies, already strained by current demand, will likely be less abundant, as climatologists predict longer and more severe droughts as a result of climate change. The states most at risk include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, where climate and population growth (as well as water supplies that are, in many cases, quite limited to begin with) will combine to create a sort of perfect storm of water scarcity.

Cleaning and maintenance can account for as much as 10 percent of total water usage in an average building. Building service contractors can decrease that percentage, and reduce water usage in a time when conservation of our natural resources is of the utmost importance. Regional restrictions on water usage come into effect especially during droughts, and as droughts become more frequent and inter-state water disputes grow more heated, state or even national legislation is a possibility. By adopting water-conserving practices and equipment now, building service contractors have the opportunity not only to mitigate risk for themselves in the face of future scarcity, they get ahead of the curve and gain a competitive advantage in being able to pass along that risk mitigation to clients, as well as the associated savings in utility costs.

Conventional carpet extractors typically use 1.5 gallons of water or more per minute. This means that cleaning for one hour uses 90 gallons of water. An alternative to this method is recycling carpet extractors, which allow the water and cleaning solution to be recycled up to seven times before its disposal. With a recycling extractor, one hour of cleaning would use more than 80 percent less water—a total of only 10 to 15 gallons. Multiple models of recycling extractors are available in the $3000-$4000 price range, comparable in price to highend traditional extractors.

Although extraction is the most thorough method of cleaning a carpet, other methods can keep a carpet clean between extractions, and even prolong the time necessary between extractions. Some of the available interim methods are carpet shampooing, dry cleaning, and bonnet cleaning. None of these methods are lasting solutions, and a large facility will still need to have its carpets cleaned with the extraction method two to four times a year—possibly more for hightraffic buildings such as airports. Still, carpet extraction is the cleaning method that requires the most water, and reducing the overall number of extractions helps to conserve water.

Water-electrolysis technology enhances water so that it cleans more efficiently. An electric current is applied to the water, separating it into two “species”—acidic and alkaline. Systems that use this technology blend the two types of water together for use in cleaning and eliminate the need for chemicals, which lowers the risk of contamination to the environment during disposal. However, this method is only effective for common soils such as dirt and sand, and may not be effective in all situations.

Manufacturers are also developing floor scrubbers that use less water. Low-moisture floor scrubbers focus on a more efficient brush and more agitation in order to remove dirt from the floor surface while using less water. Cylindrical brush technology is another fairly recent development in floor cleaning technology that helps reduce water usage. Rotary brushes, the conventional brush type, glide over floor surfaces, skimming over crevices and embedded dirt particles. Cylindrical brushes, however, are designed to reach deeper into grout and pores of floors to remove as much dirt as possible, as well as to use less water. They use approximately 30 percent less chemical and water than rotary systems and can do the cleaning work of approximately 100 of the floor pads that rotary systems require. Rotary systems have less floor contact pressure than machines with cylindrical brushes, which reduces both cleaning and water efficiency.

Innovations in chemical portioning are also offering solutions to the challenge of using less water. When cleaning professionals dilute chemicals at the tap, there is an increased chance of an inefficient water-to-chemical ratio. If too little water is used, any surfaces cleaned with the solution will need additional water to remove the chemical residue. If too much water is used, surfaces may not be as clean as they should be, and water is wasted. Some facilities are solving this problem by adding auto dilution systems to their buildings, which automatically mix the chemicals appropriate for the cleaning task at hand with the precise amount of water needed for the perfect mixture. As a result, neither water nor costly chemicals are wasted.

Even low-tech cleaning methods can be modified to use less water. The string mop head, as it is used, contaminates the water it uses and spreads those contaminants on the floor it is meant to be cleaning. This leads to more water being used, as the floor must be cleaned more frequently. It also uses more water than alternatives like microfiber mop heads. Microfiber mop heads have been shown to use up to 95 percent less water than string mops, and the unique properties of microfiber mean they won’t spread contaminants on the floor. Another alternative to mopping is to use a bucket that automatically dispenses the precise amount of water and chemical solution necessary on the floor, which is then brushed. After, the dirt and the moisture can be vacuumed up with a wet-vac system, leaving clean floors and using as little water as possible.

Three years ago, the city of Atlanta, once water-rich, was within days of exhausting its entire water supply. Multiple states face severe drought conditions during dry seasons. Climate change is affecting the availability of water all over the country, and water prices are expected to climb in the near future as a result. Water conservation is on the minds of building owners and clients. LEED certification requires a significant reduction in water usage within a building, and clients seeking this certification will look to contract with a company who can demonstrate a focus on conserving resources—especially water. Investing in materials and methods that reduce water usage can make a BSC stand out in a crowded and competitive market.

Last modified on April 06, 2016

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