How to Conduct a Water Audit

Conducting a water audit, also known as a water assessment, is a vital step for any organization that wants to take water management and water efficiency seriously.

This process is designed to document all the ways your facility currently uses water, how much water you typically consume, and what you could do to eliminate waste and lower your facility’s water bill. The U.S. EPA offers additional guidance for owners and operators of commercial and institutional facilities on their WaterSense portal.

You may already have some idea of which equipment and processes use the most water, as well as where you have room for improvement. A water audit can help you pinpoint exactly where your water is going each month, so you can set realistic goals, implement useful policies, and identify the most cost-effective ways to improve your water infrastructure.

With a small facility and easy access to the information you need, you can conduct a water audit in a single day. But for large facilities with complex water consuming processes, it may take more time and resources to understand your usage.

Here are five steps to conduct a water audit at your facility.

1. Take inventory of your water use

The first step of a water audit is to follow the flow of water throughout your facility. Where does the main water line come into the facility? Where is the primary city or utility meter located? Where does all the water go after it passes through your water meters?

To understand your facility’s water usage, you need to identify every fixture and every piece of equipment that uses water. You’ll also need to document:

  • Flow rates
  • Any water-saving features, like flow restrictors
  • Whether specific fixtures or equipment use hot or cold water
  • If they require treated or filtered water
  • If they currently use recycled water

For specialized equipment like evaporative cooling towers and boilers, you’ll want to make a note of how much make-up water they use. Refrigeration units also use different types of cooling systems, some of which are more water efficient than others. Make a note of any machinery that relies on single-pass cooling.

Keep in mind that for things like irrigation systems, you’re not just documenting each system—you need to know the number of heads on that system, and the flow rates of each fixture connected to that system.

Some of your equipment and fixtures will have labels or manuals that tell you the flow rate, but for those that don’t, you can always use a timer and a container with a known volume (such as a 10-gallon bucket) to test and calculate it yourself.

Where possible, estimate the hours of operation to get an idea of how much water you should expect a piece of equipment to use over the course of a month.

2. Track your water meters

Once you know where the water is flowing, you need to know how much is flowing each month. Your main water meter from your water utility tells you how much water is going into your facility, but ideally your specialized equipment like cooling towers, boilers, irrigation systems, and refrigeration units will have designated submeters, so you can track how much water is going to those specific processes.

Note: If you don’t have submeters for water-intensive processes and equipment, you should install them before completing your water audit. Otherwise, you’ll be missing some of the most important insights into how your facility uses water.

The more frequently you check submeters, the better you’ll understand how your usage normally fluctuates. If you’ve had submeters in all the necessary places for a long time, and you’re trying to conduct your water audit as quickly as possible, you can simply review past water bills to get a baseline of your water usage—but checking your water meters should be an ongoing process if you want to reduce water waste.

Knowing how much water you typically use is crucial if you want to be able to detect abnormal usage. Unfortunately, if you have to manually check your water meters to learn how much water is being used, that means you’re often going to learn about water waste events, leaks, and equipment problems (like scaling, contamination, and freezing) after the fact.

That’s one of the many reasons facilities invest in water management systems, like Apana’s Water Efficiency as a Service. Our platform reads your main water meter and designated submeters in real-time, gives you convenient analytics to understand your usage, and sends you alerts any time you’re using an unusual amount of water.

3. Establish practices to monitor and maintain your water usage

Once you’ve identified all the ways your facility uses water, it’s time to make sure that someone is responsible for monitoring and maintaining all your fixtures and equipment. Depending on your facility and your staff’s expertise, you may want to assign monitoring duties based on location or fixture type.

But anybody can do tasks like periodically checking valves, faucets, toilets, and other fixtures for leaks.

Equipment that uses a lot of water (like cooling towers and boilers) should be checked often to confirm that they’re using the right amount of make-up water or maintaining the proper flow rates.

You also need to ensure that there’s a process in place for reporting and resolving issues like sticky valves, leaks, and water waste events. What should employees do when they spot a problem? Who’s responsible for taking care of it? For facilities like hotels, do you want guests to play a role in helping you conserve water?

Your water audit is the time to review your procedures and develop strategies for better water management practices.

And of course, if you have a water management system like Apana, our software will automatically alert you when there’s unusual activity and help you isolate the source of the problem—so all that’s left is for you to decide who’s responsible for following up on alerts and resolving the issues our system identifies.

4. Set goals to improve your water usage

After you have a solid grasp of how your facility uses water, you can start to look at ways to reduce waste and set realistic, measurable goals. This will likely involve a combination of training employees, investing in more efficient equipment, and implementing new maintenance practices.

If your goals depend on employees being proactive about identifying waste and reducing their own usage, you may want to incentivize water-saving behavior.

Depending on what your facility does, it may work best to quantify your water usage goals with units that relate to your industry, such as gallons of water per bird for a poultry factory, gallons per occupant for a hotel, or gallons per meal for a restaurant. This will help your organization see your water usage as part of your regular operations and help you collectively drive down water costs.

5. Identify cost-effective improvements

Hopefully, as you’ve taken inventory of how your facility uses water, you’ve generated a list of areas where your facility would benefit the most from more efficient equipment or processes. Maybe there’s a machine or process that relies on single-pass cooling, which you could retrofit or replace with a system that reuses water. Or maybe there’s a process that can handle lower-quality water, so you could use rainwater or recycled water instead.

Regardless of whether you have room in the budget to make all your improvements right now, part of your water audit involves establishing a clear process for deciding when and how to purchase new equipment. How will you allocate resources for future purchases? Who decides what to do with that budget, and who has to approve new purchases? Some equipment saves more water each month but takes far longer to pay for itself—so how will you prioritize which improvements to make? What’s your timeline?

Invest in a Water Efficiency as a Service

If you’re serious about understanding your water usage and eliminating waste, there’s no substitute for an intelligent water management platform. Our software automatically monitors your water infrastructure in real-time, gives you valuable insights into where your water is going, and notifies you immediately when your water use changes. A single water waste event can cost your company thousands of dollars, and Apana detects a new one every 16 hours in an average enterprise installation.

Talk to an expert, and see how much we can save you.