Regardless of the rate structure a utility company uses to charge you, your organization’s water and sewer bill is directly connected to your water usage. So if you want to lower your water bill, the bottom line is you need to use less water. That means eliminating waste and making smart water management decisions.
In this guide, we’ll cover each of the main areas you need to address if you want to lower your facility’s water-related expenses, including:
- Conducting a water audit
- Empowering your employees to reduce operational waste
- Buying more efficient equipment
- Maintaining and optimizing your equipment
- Investing in water management tools
- Understanding the total cost of water
Using water more efficiently reduces the amount you return to the sewers as well, so in most cases, your efforts to reduce your water bill will also cut down on your sewer fees or effluent charges. Additionally, it can lower your water treatment costs for equipment like water cooling towers or boilers.
For starters, you’ll want to explore how your company uses water right now, so you can identify areas where you could save water.
Conduct a water audit
Ideally, you want to save water and reduce waste without disrupting your industrial processes or business operations. But in order to do that, you need to conduct a water use audit (if you haven’t already) to evaluate how your organization currently uses water and identify opportunities for improvement.
Some municipalities and water districts provide this free of charge to commercial customers – contact your provider to find out if that is available in your location.
Follow the water flow
A comprehensive water audit follows the path your water takes from each water meter—where it goes, how and when it’s used, and where it returns to the sewer. This should take you through each of the main ways your facility utilizes water, such as:
- Industrial processes
- Mechanical systems
- Heating and cooling
As you take inventory of each place your facility uses water, document the equipment and fixtures along with their flow rate and any other relevant information about their water use (such as whether or not it’s a low-flow fixture, etc.).
If you don’t know the flow rate of a fixture or piece of equipment, you can test it. Be sure to note if the water used in each instance is hot, filtered, or treated, as these factors increase the cost of your water usage.
By documenting your water consumption, you may discover equipment you aren’t using is still using water—in some cases, you’ll even find water flowing to equipment that’s no longer installed! But you won’t know until you meticulously explore your facility’s water usage and investigate any unknown water flow.
Identify opportunities to use recycled water or rainwater
Processes like cooling, washdown, dust control, toilet flushing, or irrigation are excellent opportunities to reuse water. As you audit your water use, look for equipment and processes where your facility could rely on a lower-cost water supply. It may require an investment in infrastructure to harvest rainwater or reuse non-potable water, but at scale and over time, it can drastically reduce the cost of your water consumption.
Prioritize water efficient equipment
Equipment that uses “single-pass” or “once-through” cooling can be easier to install and more affordable upfront than equipment that reuses water. But depending on your facility’s needs and expenses, more efficient equipment may quickly pay for itself and create significant savings. Your audit should identify the areas where your facility would benefit the most from more efficient fixtures, equipment, and processes.
Empower your employees to see water waste
If you don’t catch them quickly, human errors like leaving hoses turned on or improperly using equipment can waste thousands of gallons of water per day. And over the course of the month, multiplied by all your employees, a lack of thoughtfulness about water usage can vastly increase your company’s water consumption.
But you shouldn’t think of your employees as liabilities in your plan to lower your water bill. They’re one of your biggest assets.
With real-time water data, your employees will be able to see and identify waste. Major problems and leaks often go undetected for days or even weeks. Waste is often hidden behind equipment and flowing directly into the sewer. Other times, no one knew what they were looking at—or felt responsible for looking.
Establishing the vision for positioning your organization as sustainable, purpose-driven, and environmentally conscious—or provide the right incentives or accountability—they’ll become advocates for behavior that reduces your company’s water consumption.
The two biggest ways your employees can help lower your facility’s water bill are:
- Preventing and identifying major water waste issues
- Using less water themselves
Both of these areas can be addressed through providing data on water usage, training, signage, and regular reminders.
Give employees the data, time, and training to stop water waste and leaks
Your industrial processes and specialized equipment are likely the biggest sources of water use in your organization. Every employee should be at least loosely familiar with any equipment that uses water in their area. They should know when that equipment is supposed to operate, how it uses water, where it drains to, and how to tell if it’s malfunctioning. The more water a piece of equipment uses (meaning the greater the cost of a leak, malfunction, or error), the higher priority this training should be.
But more than just training, your employees need to feel ownership over this responsibility. They need to feel like they can integrate identifying waste into their existing routines. If people feel too busy to inspect the water softener, to ask a supervisor why the soda machine is draining into the floor, or to report dripping fixtures to the proper channels, they’re simply not going to do it.
If your facilities team takes a floor walk every day at 10am, simply add a quick check of water using equipment to the daily routine. Soon, the team will be eliminating water waste as part of normal business operations.
Ideally, inspecting equipment for leaks or malfunctions and double-checking valves should be part of the regularly scheduled maintenance of using that equipment or working in that space. But since leaks, malfunctions, and human errors are so expensive, you may consider incentivizing behavior that catches these issues before you have to make costly repairs or replace crucial machinery.
At the very least, designate time for employees to conduct inspections, so they don’t feel like it’s interfering with their other tasks. And be sure to observe your water usage during times when equipment shouldn’t be using water, too. Is your irrigation system still operating in the rain? Is your water meter showing that water is flowing overnight, when operations should be completely shut down?
Provide relevant reminders about water usage
Obviously, you want your employees to stay well-hydrated and drink as much water as they need. But there are plenty of other ways your employees may regularly use more water than they should.
Consider putting signage in the bathroom reminding employees not to flush anything besides toilet paper, or to not leave the water running in the sink.
In your company kitchen, hand washing dishes can be a source of waste. A few minutes of washing dishes by hand with the faucet running can use as much water as a load in a standard dishwasher! This will likely be a touchy subject for some employees, so make sure you approach this from a water conservation perspective. Additionally, give employees a way to compost their food waste, rather than using the garbage disposal, which uses water.
Since your facility’s water use is often so specific to your daily operations, you may want to ask your employees to find additional opportunities to conserve water as well. Offer incentives for people to come up with ideas you can actually implement, and create signage to promote the behaviors they identify.
Depending on what your organization does, it may be appropriate to provide signage for customers as well. Some communities may see water conservation as more valuable than others, so your location and industry may impact how you balance providing excellent service and being conscientious about water use.
In any case, be sure that you bring up water use when it’s relevant to meetings, and tie it into a larger goal, whether that’s simply being more efficient or being environmentally conscious. In fact, you may want to consider sharing actual water-saving goals for your organization so that employees feel like they’re working toward something tangible and specific.
Purchase more efficient equipment
A thorough water audit should help you identify the parts of your facility that could generate the most savings with more energy-efficient equipment and processes. But while these upgrades and replacements can often lead to massive savings over time, you’ll have to decide which improvements you can afford the investment in.
Things like installing low-flow toilets and faucets with aerators will likely cost far less than, say, retrofitting or replacing your cooling tower with a more efficient system, but they’ll also have a smaller impact on your water bill—because cooling towers often represent a facility’s single greatest water-related expense.
Your desire to lower your water bill should also drive future purchase decisions. You might, for example, want to avoid purchasing equipment that uses single-pass cooling—or even avoid water-cooled equipment altogether, so long as air-cooled configurations still meet your needs.
Consider ways to optimize your existing equipment
With any area you want to make more efficient, remember that there are often a wide range of solutions, and not all of them require you to replace equipment. For example, your cooling tower could be made more efficient by optimizing the system you already have with things like:
- Conductivity controllers
- Overflow alarms
- Submeters (to ensure you don’t have too much make-up water or blow-down)
Equipment like ice machines, hydraulic equipment, and air compressors can often be retrofitted to use air-based cooling instead of water-based cooling. So long as it doesn’t negatively impact performance, you’ll want to explore these options.
Remember that with any piece of equipment that uses water, the total cost of what you’re buying depends on how much water it uses. In some cases, comparing two pieces of equipment can be like comparing a one-time purchase to a subscription! Inefficient equipment may be more affordable up front, but you’ll pay the price every month with your water bill.
Maintain your equipment
When your equipment isn’t maintained properly, it won’t operate as efficiently as it was designed to. It will also use more water than you need for your regular operations. Some maintenance involves addressing wear and tear to prevent damage to your equipment, while other maintenance processes are more about ensuring your equipment is still using water efficiently based on your water needs.
As you remove, add, replace, or upgrade machinery that requires cooling, that will likely impact the amount of blow-down and make-up water your cooling tower needs to add or subtract to your water supply. Too much blow-down means you’re dumping more water than you need to down the sewers, and requires you to use more make-up water to compensate for that loss.
Checking regularly for problems like scaling, corrosion, fouling, and contamination will help you catch them before they cause major leaks or force your equipment to use more water. And cleaning fixtures and taking preventive measures will help increase the lifespan of your equipment and ensure it uses water efficiently for as long as possible.
Even with regular maintenance, efficient equipment, and proper training and practices, there’s a limit to how you can optimize and how much waste you can prevent. And that’s where water management tools come in.
Invest in water management tools
If your industrial processes and regular operations use a lot of water, then water management tools could significantly reduce your organization’s water bill by helping you detect problems, resolve issues quickly, and optimize how your facility uses water.
Water management tools include specialized equipment and software designed to optimize your water usage. For example, when you use Apana’s Water Efficiency as a Service, you get:
- Real-time data from your water infrastructure
- Intuitive analytics software
- Instant alerts about abnormal water use
- Simple, actionable steps to identify and correct the source of leaks and other issues
So the moment there’s a problem like an irrigation malfunction, low flow event, or equipment failure, you’ll know what loop it’s on and what machinery the problem is impacting.
If a contractor leaves a water valve open, you may not notice until you get your next water bill—and even then, how long would it take to find the source of the unexpected cost? Meanwhile, that open valve is wasting tens of thousands of gallons per day.
These kinds of situations are a lot more common than you might think. Our platform detects a new water waste event on average every 16 hours in an enterprise deployment, and the system often pays for itself in under 2 years.
Water-related costs that don’t show up on your water bill
Every month, your utility provider shows you how much water you used. But what you don’t see are the hidden costs of water. Water use impacts costs associated with:
- Electricity usage
- Employee time and wages
- Service provider fees
- Water treatment costs
- Repairing or replacing damaged equipment
- See how much you can save
Investing in water management doesn’t just lower your water bill or help you avoid water-related disasters, though. Saving water can have a far greater impact on your organization’s operational expenses, and that’s because the true cost of water usage doesn’t show up on your water bill.