Talking Point: There’s more to a balanced bathroom than feng shui

Can you control your water costs?

What can balanced flows bring to a hotel's bottom line?

For World Water Day Rick Skinker, Managing Director and Co-founder of Indoor Water Conservation describes Balanced Flow Rates and why they are important for the best sustainability, efficiency, cost control and guest satisfaction possible.

Hotels are high water consumers. What with landscaping, swimming pools, water features, daily cleaning and laundry, the average occupied hotel room can glug through 1500 litres daily.

This World Water Day it pays to remember that 40% of the world’s population suffers water shortages for one month each year, and with guests in some countries using ten times or more water daily than is usual for local people, the onus is on hotels to be responsible water stewards for themselves, their neighbours and future generations. After all, if there’s no water, there’s no hotel.

There are a range of options for hotels seeking to reduce water consumption, and most will look to flow regulation in their sinks, baths and showers, but low flow heads will not operate at their most efficient, if flow rates are not balanced throughout the hotel.

Balanced Flow Rates in showers and sinks means, “the same flow rate in every room on every floor”.  There are several factors that cause Unbalanced Flow Rates.  Every property has variations in water pressure, piping systems (pipe sizes, layout, etc.) and source flows. 

Showerheads, faucets and aerators are calibrated and manufactured to specific water pressure levels.  A typical showerhead, for example, is calibrated to flow at, say 7.5 LPM (litres per minute) (2.0 GPM (gallons per minute)) at 60 psi.  No property has exactly 60 psi in every room on every floor.  Additionally, the restrictors in all showerheads and faucets (including aerators) are made of plastic.  Plastic manufacturing processes, including injection molding, lead to enough variations that right out of the box, most showerheads will flow at differing rates, at the same water pressure.  Imagine how flow rates vary when adding variations in water pressure.  Some manufacturers design fixtures with “pressure compensating” technology, but in our experience, they are not the most accurate solution, having many of the erosion issues that plastic restrictors have as well as their own unique problems.

Because of these inherent, difficult and costly to control variations, it is no wonder showerheads and faucets must flow at different rates throughout a hotel property resulting in inconsistent guest experiences.

To add another wrinkle, we have found that Source Flows also lead to variations in flow rates.  Source Flow refers to the flow rate of water flowing from the pipe without (or before) a fixture (showerhead or faucet).  As an example of how Source Flows add to variations in flow rates in a fixture, consider a room that has 50 psi (water pressure), Source Flow of 11.3 LPM (3 GPM) and a showerhead rated at 7.5 LPM (2.0 GPM) at 60 psi and an actual flow rate of 6.8 LPM (1.8 GPM).  Another room with the same psi and showerhead and a Source Flow of 18.9 LPM (5 GPM), will have an actual flow rate that will be much higher.

Unbalanced flow rates lead to inconsistent guest experiences, wasted water, and inefficient water delivery throughout a hotel.  Hotels that have low water pressure in parts or all of the property experience low flows that lead to guest complaints.  A typical situation is a property with 10 or more floors that have lower water pressure on upper floors (or upper floors on a stack).  Upper floors are “premium rooms” that usually come with higher prices.  It is very common that these rooms also have lower flow rates than rooms in lower floors with higher water pressure and lower room rates.  So, guests pay more for less?  Many guests who experience low water flows may a) say nothing and not return, b) write negative social media reviews and/or c) tell others of their bad shower experience.

Lower floors (or lower floors on a stack) that have high water pressure typically experience flow rates higher than the showerheads manufacturer’s rating.  This leads to using more water than needed or expected, resulting in waste, literally throwing dollars down the drain.

The most efficient hotel has been fine tuned to deliver Balanced Flow rates in showers and sinks – “the same flow rate in every room on every floor”.  Every guest room has been calibrated to flow the same amount of water.  Not only are the flow rates in this property balanced, they conserve as much water as possible, control costs, and deliver the guest experience that the owners and managers target.

There are a few ways a hotel can balance flows throughout the property.  Pressure regulating valves and additional pumps are expensive, usually requiring huge install cost and major disruption to the property.  After being installed, they can lead to variations in flows that still need to be managed.

Another, lesser known method of balancing flows which is becoming more prominent is to control the flow rate at the fixtures, taking into consideration all the built-in variations that affect flow rates to achieve the desired target flow.

Indoor Water Conservation has developed a process of calibrating custom devices, called Flow Limiters, to each property, taking into consideration the variables that affect flow rate, resulting in “the same flow in every room on every floor”.  The IWC process is much less costly and invasive than installing other equipment.  Properties that already have pressure regulating valves and additional pumps can further increase their efficient use of water through IWC’s calibration process.

Conserving water makes sense for the responsible hotel, for guest experience and for the bottom line. It takes a whole team and consistent training – particularly housekeeping – to ensure water isn’t wasted. Tools and metrics like HWMI – the Hotel Water Measurement Initiative – helps hotels track their water use per room, stay or meeting, and will lead to benchmarking to help hotels compare their performance to other similar sized hotels in their locality. And guests too need to be part of the solution. In the future responsible travelers will need to be more water aware and change their expectations depending on where they’re visiting. It can’t be acceptable for guests in hot countries to shower twice a day when their local neighbours are using a fraction of the amount for all their daily needs. Hotels can help with fun and light-hearted messaging on water use and linen changes, as well as with properly balanced and regulated flows in the bathroom.

For more information, contact rskinker@indoorh2o.com  (619)392-8961 www.indoorwaterconservation.com

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