Sustainability practices in commercial buildings are becoming increasingly important as officials implement new sustainability legislation. The Climate Mobilization Act is in full force in New York, the California Water Plan addresses water conservation with proactive responses, and green initiatives are popping up all over the U.S. 

With water shortages expected in 40 states by 2024, it is critical that more sustainable practices related to water usage becomes a standardized practice across the commercial real estate industry. Research in the Journal of Environmental Engineering recommends commercial buildings adopt more diversified and reusable water portfolios because they tend to use a significant amount of domestic, or potable, water for irrigation systems. Not only is this unsustainable, but the expenses accrued are no longer necessary with the ability to reuse gray water. technology.

Potable Water, Black Water and Gray Water: Their Uses and Differences 

Before jumping into the environmental benefits of gray water, it is important to understand the differences between the three water types. 

Potable Water

Potable water is drinkable water that comes from surface and ground sources. Potable water is treated to meet state and federal standards for consumption, which are in accordance with the EPA. The treatment process tests for and eradicates microorganisms, viruses, toxic chemicals, fecal matter and bacteria. 

Black Water 

Black water is wastewater that comes primarily from bathrooms and kitchens. It contains contaminants that are dangerous for human consumption, including fecal matter, urine, grease and contaminations from pathogens, which can carry disease and bacteria. Black water cannot be treated to be reused by humans, it can only be released back into the environment after the contaminants are decomposed.

Gray Water 

Gray water is wastewater from showers, bathtubs, sinks and washing machines. It contains low levels of contaminants, allowing the water to be reused after treatment. While treated gray water should not be used for human consumption, it can be reclaimed for use in irrigation systems and cooling towers, to wash and flush toilets and to water plants.

The Environmental Benefits of Gray Water 

Water reclamation is one of the most easily adopted practices for commercial buildings. In fact, in some parts of the country, legislation requires it. For example, in San Francisco, certain building stipulations require newly built buildings to install a water reclamation system. This system reclaims gray water with a separate piping system that connects to storm drains and sinks. The reclaimed water is used for cooling towers and irrigation systems, which previously used potable water. 

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Storm Drain Water Reclamation

For buildings built before these stipulations, retrofitting is cost-prohibitive. Instead, building maintenance teams are implementing systems for a more cost-effective approach to water reclamation. 

By installing catch basins, water can be collected from storm drains. Think of these catch basins as rainwater harvesters for a house, but on a much larger scale. Once the water is treated, it can be reused for irrigation and cooling tower water. This reduces potable water usage and decreases water costs, because the reused water is essentially free. 

Cost reductions can be especially significant with cooling towers. Cooling towers use large amounts of water due to general use and evaporation. Rather than using potable water, cooling towers can use reclaimed water and reduce water bills.

More Efficient Treatment Practices 

Depending on its use, there are different ways of treating gray water. In the past, filtering treatment systems were less efficient. The reclaimed water could create scaling or mineral build-up in a cooling tower, making cleaning and maintenance more difficult. 

Filtering systems have been developed to treat the specific kinds of gray water, depending on the contaminants in the water. Grey water is often contaminated with salts, detergents, soaps, and microbes which when treated correctly, can be removed so the water can be reused in cooling towers.

Your Path Toward a More Sustainable Future Starts Here

At Able Services, we help our clients meet their sustainability goals through a number of practices, including energy benchmarking, green engineering, energy efficiency, water conservation and more. 

When it comes to water conservation, Able Services is a proven partner that not only helps reduce waste but also assists our clients with water treatment plans by adhering to ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188, which mitigates microbial growth, the cause of legionella. These services have assisted many of our clients in earning their buildings’ LEED certifications

In addition to maintaining domestic water systems, we ensure our clients’ reclaimed water systems are operating properly with the following process: 

  • Weekly testing and maintenance on the systems
  • Water filter changes
  • Maintaining UV lighting used in the systems to disinfect the water
  • Chemical treatment with chlorine to mitigate bacteria

To learn more about how Able Services can conduct cost-effective operations in your facility, read through our “2021 Trends Guide” today.

2021 Trends Infographic