Water and Energy Nexus – Why Cx Providers Should Care

Does water affect the building owner’s value chain in the design, construction, renovation, operation, and leasing of a commercial facility? Can commissioning providers work with owners to ensure that water is included in the design and construction of building systems and assemblies? Yes.

Even though they’re not yet universal, water systems efficiency and commissioning are rapidly entering into the language of codes and standards that owners, Authorities Having Jurisdiction, and commissioning providers must live by. Like energy, water is high on national and international agendas for resource management in commercial buildings. Municipalities and states are joining the trend in adopting water use policies. Due to recent drought conditions making front page news, the list of major cities that adopt water policies and benchmarking for municipal and commercial buildings is growing fast.

Water is a business opportunity. Commissioning providers can create a business case for water systems, partnering with owners, designers, and builders as educators about current and imminent water-related requirements in their facilities. Moreover, water systems are a relatively untapped marketing concern for all stakeholders in the built environment who are focused on MEP and building enclosure systems.

Emerging programs that include water efficiency benchmarking, disclosure, oversight, and metering are based on flow volume (use) and measuring the complex mechanical systems that manage the circulation, reclaiming, recycling, filtration, treatment, and reuse of water in commercial facilities.

The nexus for water and energy in commissioning commercial buildings is HVAC and refrigeration.

There’s a lot more to water systems commissioning and management than plumbing fixtures and piping. Water, as a system component, is monitored, measured, heated, cooled, frozen, condensed, extracted, injected, propelled, pressurized, contained, pumped in, pumped out, and moved around – whew! – all done to keep building systems working as intended.

Water Economics: Commissioning Issues

Some people contend, “We don’t need to consider water. We have plenty of water,” based on the assumption that it’s a renewable resource and always available. Or, “Efficiency is a byproduct of commissioning, not the purpose of commissioning.”

However, potable water is costly to produce and water systems – from generation through wastewater recycling – are becoming a concern of building owners and designers everywhere.

Water programs have erupted across the country as the most recent efficiency measure to require both initial and periodic functional testing and validation.

Water economics, especially for new construction and major renovations, is as much an issue as water availability. The National Institute of Building Science Whole Building Design Guide begins its water section, “…water and sewer rates have increased dramatically over the last decade (100-400%); and new water supply options are too costly or altogether unavailable — often resulting in stringent water use requirements in new construction applications. In addition, there is the increasing recognition of the water, energy, and O&M savings that can be realized through the implementation of water saving initiatives.”

Water/Energy Economics:

  • In the U.S. an eight ounce glass of water requires the same amount of energy as running a 60-watt bulb for an average of 30 minutes. It takes between 3,000 and 6,000 gallons of water to power a 60-watt incandescent bulb for 12 hours a day, over the course of a year.

Source: Virginia Institute of Technology, courtesy of Black & Veatch

  • In California, 19 percent of the state’s electrical energy output goes to providing water for its population.

Source: Alliance to Save Water

  • “Water efficiency and conservation is a critical factor in the design and operation of buildings…Buildings consume 20 percent of the world’s available water.”

Source: David Underwood, ASHRAE President

Water Regulation and Policy: Drivers and Cx Opportunities

To reach water resource goals established by national regulations in the U.S., three legislative authorities require agencies to reduce water use and implement water efficiency measures: Executive Order (E.O.) 13693 of 2015, the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, and the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Commissioning is required for water evaluation, monitoring and controls systems, both initially and scheduled periodically thereafter.

At the end of 2008, EISA was amended to include a framework for conducting “comprehensive energy and water evaluations” and benchmarking. Furthermore, the water efficiency provisions of the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings were recently updated (February 26, 2016).

The Guiding Principles require specific levels and schedules of commissioning for federal projects. According to FEMP, in addition to commissioning new construction projects, “…energy managers shall complete, for each calendar year, a comprehensive energy and water evaluation for approximately 25 percent of the [covered] facilities of each agency in a manner that ensures that an evaluation of each such facility is completed at least once every four years….as part of the evaluation…the energy manager shall identify and assess recommissioning measures (or, if the facility has never been commissioned, retrocommissioning measures) for each such facility.” Commissioning every four years!

Executive Order (E.O.) 13693 includes five main water-related provisions:

  • Potable Water Consumption Intensity Reduction
  • Industrial, Landscaping, and Agricultural (ILA) Water Use Reduction
  • Meter Installation and Water Balance Analysis
  • EPA WaterSense Certified Products and Services
  • Net-Zero Water in new Federal Buildings over 5,000 square feet beginning FY 2030

See the details of water-focused commissioning tasks for new and existing buildings here.

Codes and Standards: It’s Your Future – Be Informed

Share knowledge with Owners and Design Teams

The 2015 International Green Conservation Code (IgCC) goes beyond FEMP, covering the latest provisions for water efficient plumbing, appliances, landscape irrigation, mechanical systems, alternate water sources like rainwater, graywater, and reclaimed water. It promotes water conservation associated with both the building and the building site addressing numerous systems and components. IgCC-based water program components include the 2030 Challenge, Better Buildings, LEED, Green Globes and others.

2016 code changes are proposed for dedicated water metering requirements, which will likely be integrated with building controls for operations, reporting and benchmarking, and commissioned in accordance with those systems.

The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO®) produces the Uniform Mechanical Code and Uniform Plumbing Code. Proposed IAPMO code changes are under consideration for these commercial building systems:

  • Cooling Towers
  • Evaporative Coolers
  • Fluid Coolers and Chillers – Open Systems
  • Hydronic Cooling Systems – Closed Loop Systems
  • Hydronic Heating Systems
  • Landscape Irrigation
  • Onsite Water Collection Systems
  • Ornamental Water Features, Pools and Spas
  • Roof Spray Systems
  • Tenant Buildings – Common Areas and Tenant Spaces

IAPMO is also currently developing an American National Standard for water efficiency and sanitation to be known as IAPMO/ANSI WEStand 2017. The standard, which will use water provisions within IAPMO’s 2015 Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement (GPMCS), will “include comprehensive requirements to optimize water use practices attributed to the built environment.” IAPMO intends to publish the standard in December 2017. Upon publication, WEStand will replace the GPMCS. Learn more.

Commissioning All Water-Related Systems

The integration of water transmission and distribution, like energy, is becoming an increasingly important economic and logistical consideration at the local level, where wastewater and treatment systems may be (now or later) the responsibility of building or portfolio owners of new and existing buildings.

Now is a good time to find out more about local and state water regulations and how they could be integrated with your commissioning services.

Cities that incorporate water efficiency include: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, MO, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando (in process), Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, OR, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

The focus on water and commissioning is changing. As a highly respected commissioning provider said recently, “Get in front of the parade. Then, if you don’t like the direction, change the direction.” Commissioning providers may want to consider the relationship and business development potential for creating a deeper client partnership by helping them understand why water matters to their cost of operation. Communicating the benefits of integrating water systems and metrics is an economic opportunity that has not yet crested. Want to be the first on your block?

Learning and Teaching Opportunity

At the 2016 White House Water Summit, Zurn Industries committed to provide water-efficiency training to 1,000 municipal agencies and utilities as well as 10,000 building owners, architects, engineers, and contractors.

The training will be focused on reducing water use through water-efficient products and practices with the goal of saving 114 billion gallons of water over the next decade. Learn more.

by Diana Bjørnskov, Senior Program Manager

  1. David L Lewis

    Very well written article. I really agree that much can be done to conserve potable water.

    Not all areas of our great Country benefit from natural rainwater but many areas do – which makes Rainwater Harvesting an area which needs more attention. As mentioned in the article, a lot of electricity is needed in “production” of potable water and that is where savings can be had in all areas.

    We have 3,000 tons of water cooled chillers. We fill the chilled water side with potable water – why? We fill the cooling tower system with potable water, and KEEP filling the towers due to evaporation, etc. – why? We fill our mega-MBH systems with potable water, again, why? We have manufacturing weld water systems filled with potable water – why? And the list goes on.

    We take clean, potable water, put in chemicals to “treat” the water so it does not harm the piping and equipment. Why not take rain water, yes you have to clean it up, and chemically treat that “free” water (free from the standpoint the utility did not use electricity to pump and distribute) and use it in our mechanical systems.

    Chemical treatment of water today is much more advanced than even 5 years ago, and you do need a good water treatment supplier, and for sure the chemical treatment companies have or can develop the proper chemicals to treat rainwater as needed.

    Just some thoughts. Would like to hear others as well.

  2. ajit bhakta

    Surely the role of water cannot be ignored , as it is on verge of becoming a scarce commodity, so due thought must be given into every aspect of water conservation.
    Article was very informative and insightful.

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