Conducting a Water Use Audit or Survey
As fresh water becomes scarcer and droughts more common, water officials all over the country are urging us to save water - to use it more efficiently, to reduce waste. We hear about new appliances and fixtures labeled "WaterSense" and rebates and installations offered by water suppliers. We hear about groundwater contamination and sea water encroachment from overdrawing the aquifer. We recognize the necessity of using less water as a whole, because we see and hear about it constantly.
The pressure to do something about it can be unnerving, however anything we can do to cut back on average monthly expenses is attractive anyway. This is true for business owners, hotels, schools, churches, governments, homeowners, and renters alike. If you wanted to use water as efficiently as possible, how would you start?
In order to know what to retrofit first, or even if it's necessary, it helps to have data: How much water are you using? What are you using it for? How much are you losing to leaks? What can you save by only changing the way you do things? What can you save by replacing fixtures and appliances for more efficient ones? How much water do you really NEED vs. what are you wasting? How can you best afford the cost of making water efficiency changes? And finally, what help is available?
Why a Water Use Audit?
A good water use audit will provide the data you need. As classified by water providers, audits (or surveys) come in three main types: CII (Commercial, Industrial, Institutional), Large Landscape, and Residential. A professional auditor can conduct all three types and their combinations (but audits can be done by aware and careful individuals as well).
For example, a large resort might have a golf course associated with it. The auditor would conduct a CII water audit for the hotel and its immediate grounds, and a Large Landscape irrigation audit for the golf course. Those two would be combined into one report. If the resort had requested an electrical audit as well, the water auditor would team up with an electrical auditor and they would combine all three sets of data into one report.
Here are examples of these three different types of audits and what they require.
CII Water Audit
CII stands for Commercial, Industrial, Institutional:
- Commercial water audits include any kind of site engaged in white-collar business - hotels, restaurants, laundromats, office buildings, private hospitals, etc.
- Industrial sites include any manufacturers like food processors, electric parts manufacturers, breweries, and paper mills.
- Institutional sites include government buildings, schools, fire stations, libraries, and public transportation sites and maintenance yards.
An audit of any of these sites includes water used both indoors and outdoors, very often with some kind of special emphasis. A hotel might have two restaurants indoors, for example, or a spa or two. A large office building might have a workout center with showers. Schools have gyms. Some resorts have golf courses. Laundromats obviously have a ton of washing machines. (Note: Water used in the actual manufacturing process is usually not included in a typical water use survey.)
When a team conducts the indoor portion of an audit it checks each of the rooms (or sample rooms) in each of a site's buildings for any kind of water use and does the following:
Tests all faucets, showerheads, and toilets for actual flow rate, which often differs from what is stated on the fixture.
Looks for water-using appliances and notes when they were made & who the manufacturer was, so they can look up the water use online.
Asks how often each fixture and appliance is used on average (how many guests or customers come in each day, how often and how many staff use which facilities, etc).
The auditors go from room to room testing, counting, taking inventory, writing all of it down on a data entry sheet. Then they go outside. The outside portion is handled in much the same way as a Large Landscape irrigation audit (see below). Altogether, a CII water audit can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days, depending on its complexity.
Large Landscape Irrigation Audit
Outdoor audits that are done without or separate from the indoor portion are specified as Large Landscape Irrigation Audits. Examples include city and county parks, landscaped street medians, golf courses, some historic sites, mansions with large estates, and the grounds of Homeowner or Community Associations. The length of time this type of audit takes depends upon how large, how hilly, and how separated the grounds and their irrigation controllers are. They are carried out as follows.
Accompanied by the site's maintenance supervisor or landscaper, the auditing team checks:
- The location and number of water meter/s first, to make sure they later acquire use data for each one from the site's water supplier.
- What kinds of plants are on the property and how water requirements match with the local climate.
- Location, programming, and performance of irrigation controllers, asking the landscaper to turn the stations on and off.
- Each station for types and uniformity of sprinkler nozzles and for performance, noting those that are not working properly (usually many).
- Good auditors also take photos of serious problems to include in the report as a reminder to fix that problem immediately.
Residential Water Survey (RWS)
A related, but very keyed-down audit is the residential water survey. In this case, both indoor and outdoor surveys are taken (except in the case of mansions with large estates) that are much smaller and less complicated than the other types of audits. These audits generally take about an hour.
(Note: "Survey" usually refers to information pulled from people, whereas "audit" refers to an examination of something physical. The RWS is a combination of both, since questions are asked about water use behavior as well. These two terms are actually used interchangeably in the water conservation world.)
The auditor/surveyor asks the resident to turn off all water in and outside the house first, then checks the water meter. If the meter still moves, there is likely a leak somewhere. They both go inside to look at bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms, testing water flow, looking for leaks, and taking notes. Very often the auditor will install low-flow faucet aerators or showerheads, provided free of charge by the water supplier.
Outside again, they check the irrigation system the same way as for large landscapes (above). During the survey they are sharing information back and forth, so the resident learns about water use and conservation, itself a benefit. The auditor will either leave the checklist with the resident, along with an informational package, or will go back to the office to prepare a short report that they email to the resident later.
Results & Audit Reports
No matter the size of the audit, there should always be a written report delivered via email or in person with a sit-down discussion (in the case of CII water audits). This report will show the data gathered and conclusions stemming from it. It will include graphs and charts depicting how water is used and for what. And it will have a page of recommendations, showing what changes to make, like replacing your toilet with a High Efficiency Toilet (HET).
Good auditors will prioritize their recommendations, according to cost and potential savings, which helps the customer in making decisions about what and when to retrofit. They will also include a list of incentives offered by the local water provider/s and a list of key contacts, like approved plumbers, landscapers, or someone at the water district who can help you choose.
Rebates and Other Incentives
Most water purveyors give incentives to customers to conserve water. Incentives can include rebates for different fixtures and/or appliances and sometimes free installations. Some will give aerators and showerheads for free. Many offer some type of water audit free of charge. Here is a public utility in Northern California that offers all three types of audits free: Santa Clara Valley Water District.
However it is that you acquire your audit, whether you do it yourself or find a professional water auditor, the end result is to help you to make decisions that will save water and money. The decisions could include behavioral changes, retrofitting, and increased knowledge of how to take care of your water fixtures, as in the following video.