Dave Duckwitz: Why Monitoring Your Blue is the New Green

by Katie Sloan

Water leak monitoring should be an integral part of your sustainability and conservation efforts. Sustainability and conservation started as trends, but have turned into a combined green movement that has taken root in student housing property development and construction — and we can all applaud that effort! 

Educational institutions, government agencies, developers and students alike have taken to heart the need to protect our environment and communities while fulfilling student housing demand. And the opportunities to ‘go green’ are ever-expanding. Recent advances in water conservation technology are now not only helping educational institutions to save ever precious water resources, but they now enable massive cost savings for those institutions.

Research has revealed that 20 percent of all toilets leak and 58 percent of water wasted in student housing results from leaky toilets — the average slow leak can waste up to 250 gallons of water per-day per-toilet. And an open flapper leak can waste up to 5000 gallons per toilet! Plug those numbers into the total number of toilets in your student housing properties and one can see that this is not only counterproductive to water conservation efforts, but it’s also detrimental to water/sewage utility costs, net operating income and subsequent equity value. And we’re not even taking into account the energy costs associated with water circulation and distribution — about 19 percent of total energy usage.

Initially, implementing sustainability and conservation measures was cost prohibitive. Now, implementing these measures has simply become good business. Costs have come down and local, regional and national incentives have helped to subsidize such efforts. The LEED certification program is the most widely used green building rating system in the world and includes provisions for water efficiency. For example, low-flush toilets can earn points as they reduce potable water usage. However, while these initiatives start water conservation efforts off on the right foot, more is needed to truly conserve water on a massive scale.

In western states, ongoing drought conditions are a major concern and individual state governments are passing legislation and working on enforcing mandates to conserve water ongoing. But even in those parts of the country where water availability and reserves are not an issue, water utility costs nationwide are still rising on average 7 percent to 8 percent per year. Water conservation is simply a must to reduce costs on student housing properties.

So why isn’t installing low-flush toilets enough to help cut back on water wasted through the number one culprit? Because low-flush toilets only address the volume of water used through a normal flush and do not take potential leakage into account. Due to their mechanical nature, it’s just a matter of time before toilets start to leak! For example, calcium deposits alone that form on the flapper can compromise the seal and cause leaks. This information should not discourage you from using low-flush toilets. But to truly realize the potential savings by cutting down on water waste, more is needed.

Several toilet-leak sensors are available in the marketplace but are mainly geared for consumer use. Some lower-end products are battery-powered and rely on user awareness and interaction. For the disciplined do-it-yourselfer, those products provide a simple and inexpensive means of monitoring. However, these residential solutions do not scale well and are impractical for student housing. An alternative is a higher-end mechanical solution—but the “mechanical” components will eventually break down as well. Toilet leaks can still go undetected.

One more extreme technical solution for multi-unit property use is the auto shut-off valve. When a leak is detected, the valve shuts off entirely. The problem with those is that one small leak could shut down the entire flow of water into a building or a large portion of it. Not an ideal situation for student tenants.

The good news is that there are cost-effective ways to monitor toilet water waste. IoT (Internet of Things) devices with monitoring are proving to be the most reliable and effective. IoT devices use low-frequency transmitters to send information to the cloud where it is then disseminated to the respective parties such as the maintenance manager, facilities director and/or building owner. Alerts are activated and work orders generated. The battery life of these devices is normally several years and they function 24/7 so they’re highly practical and functional. IoT also allows for better scaling and reliability compared to WiFi alone which is extremely important when your student housing properties span a sizable area. By effectively monitoring toilet water waste alone, you could reduce your water utility costs by over 20% while significantly increasing net operating income and equity value.

By embracing and integrating green initiatives, student housing is doing its part to help the environment and respective communities while providing much-needed housing for our growing student population. Just make sure your focus on going green includes monitoring blue!

Dave Duckwitz is the CEO of Sensor Industries

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