Project Profile: Water Conservation—A School Looks Again and the Savings May Surprise You

Feb. 29, 2016

With modest effort over the past two years, we have reduced demand and costs for water by approximately 15%. As the largest water customer in a small village district, we have also lightened the energy load on the water supply system and wastewater treatment plant, which in turn has also reduced our carbon footprint. Deerfield’s success should be a call to attention for boarding schools and colleges everywhere that think water savings are hard to find.

Deerfield Academy’s facilities support 650
students and 500 faculty.

Deerfield Academy is an independent boarding school in Deerfield, MA, with a campus population of around 650 students and 500 faculty and staff members. We have more than 30 campus buildings including a dining hall, two small cafés, an athletic complex, and 16 dormitories. Approximately 120 faculty live on campus in dormitory-based apartments or single and two-family houses. Potable water is supplied by the Deerfield Fire District. In mid-2013, Deerfield Academy’s annual use was 15.2 million gallons, which was then about 40% of the entire demand served by the district.

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As the school began implementation of sustainability action items, water savings was pushed toward the head of the line. It was easy to isolate as a standalone task, it was easy to explain, and we would easily be able quantify the success simply by reading the water bills.

We engaged the services of Amy Vickers & Associates Inc. (AVA), an expert in water conservation consulting. AVA conducted a comprehensive audit in two phases, analyzing water use patterns and recommending water savings strategies. In the report, AVA developedprojections of costs, savings, and payback periods.

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Now, about two years into a program of change, we have seen our water use drop by more than 2 million gallons per year, a respectable 15% decrease with changes that are largely equipment-based (rather than behavior-based). The changes have been simple—sometimes done as a focused project (e.g., changing all shower heads in the dorms over one summer), and other times done when maintenance or renovation creates the opportunity. We have had negligible push-back from users and more than a few high-fives from students, faculty, and staff. For all these reasons, we have a good story to tell, and momentum to continue to make changes.

Here is what we learned:

  • Many people think there is little room for further water savings. An expert consultant will help you understand where significant opportunities remain.
  • Some people are nervous about “low-flow” high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, appliances, and equipment. We found that inspired manufacturers have taken lessons learned from the 1992 US Energy Policy Act (“EPAct”) and EPA’s WaterSense program and continued to innovate, creating high-functioning products.
  • There is still a lot of opportunity for savings in easy changes:
  1. Pre-rinse spray valves: Wash stations in the dining hall kitchens have very different cleaning needs—gentle for the salad room and hard hitting in the bakery. Through trial and error, we found name-brand replacements that use between 0.65 gallons per minute and 1.07 gallons per minute.
  2. Shower heads: Between dorms and faculty housing, we have hundreds of showers. Finding a good commercial-grade, low-flow shower head was not hard. After testing many, we opted for a 2.0 gallon-per-minute model, but we very seriously considered a 1.75 gallon-per-minute model. Don’t forget locker rooms—the numbers here may surprise you.
  3. Faucet aerators: We all knew there was opportunity in aerators, but surely we had underestimated it. The audit found about 60% of our faucets could be improved by retrofits, with payback periods ranging from one to nine months.
  4. Pint-flush urinals: On newer fixtures, you can often just change the valve for a 75% savings. Payback on valve-only retrofits was projected to be about two years.
  5. High-efficiency toilets: In our faculty housing (and also the author’s private home), we now install toilets using only 0.8 gallons per flush as the standard during renovations. The exception is where we still have old cast iron sewer lines or long sanitary drain lines in isolated areas of buildings.
  6. Water-cooled ice machines: The usage startled us. After reviewing the implications of added electricity costs and waste heat dispersal, we changed to Energy Star models with air-cooled condensers. The projected payback period was less than one year.
  7. Student laundries: The vendor-owned washing machines were outdated. During contract negotiation, we worked with our vendor to update them to high-efficiency front-load. Projected savings here account for 10% of our 2 million gallons per year.

Some things don’t make sense. With a 96-year payback, we will wait to replace dishwashers in faculty housing until another reason demands it.

Facilities-related savings are available in heating systems, cooling systems, pool operations, and more. The savings are real, but the opportunities are case-by-case and hard to squeeze into summary like this article. Review them in your audit and fix what you can.
About the Author

David Purington

David Purington is the environmental management coordinator at Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, MA.

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