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Down the drain

Mark Taylor, Advanced Services Operations Manager at Water Plus outlines how FMs can save money and cut their water usage

Hidden leaks and burst water pipes can be significantly costly if left unchecked. A leaking pipe alone can cost businesses more than one cubic metre of water – the equivalent of 1,000 litres – an hour. Put in financial terms, this means over £26,000 worth of water being – quite literally – washed down the drain every year. But minimising the water lost from leaks isn’t just about bringing down the bill. Using less water is playing an increasingly important role in business sustainability commitments.

There are several methods which FMs can implement to minimise the cost of leaks:

Larger sites, which will often have multiple water meters, can be particularly well-served by keeping a close eye on their usage data. Monitoring devices such as data loggers are an effective way to build an accurate picture of average daily usage, helping to identify potential areas where less water can be used, which means money saved on water bills too.

Regularly checking the water meter is also a useful method of building up data of daily water usage per site across the business, providing a consumption benchmark to measure against as well as helping to identify how much replacement water would be needed in the event of a supply interruption. Furthermore, any unexpected spikes in consumption – potentially signalling an undetected leak – can also be quickly identified and repaired.

On top of the cost, leaks and burst pipes can lead to a drop in water pressure, or even the supply to the building being interrupted entirely. Not only does this cause huge disruption for businesses occupying the space, but buildings may also be required to close their doors entirely while the issue is repaired.

Given also how much water and money can be lost through leaks and burst pipes, it’s important to know how to spot a leak early before it becomes a more serious issue. A useful first step in leak detection is to check for any obvious leaks such as dripping taps, overflowing toilet cisterns or malfunctioning urinals which can waste thousands of litres of water a year.

For FM’s managing buildings that run 24/7, it may be hard to identify smaller leaks as water will be continually used on-site. Data loggers, water use analysis and benchmarking against similar sector properties can all help identify potential areas where less water can be used and where money can be saved on water bills.

If the operation or business doesn’t run all hours, then steps can be taken to look out for leaks. Checking the water meter regularly, if it’s safe to access, can provide FMs with an indication of how much water is used on-site, with any unexpected increases often a prime indicator of an undetected leak. Water still being used overnight – even when the site is unoccupied and no water-using equipment is in operation – could be a sign that the leak may be underground and not easy to see.

If the leak cannot be found, a specialist third-party can be hired to come in and audit the site in question. Some water retailers – responsible for billing and customer service – may offer a specialist leak detection service, but this will vary by provider.

Finally, it’s important to ensure that employees know where the water meter can be found. Should the meter be located outside, it’s also possible that the leak might be on the external supply pipe. To determine if this is the case, turn off the internal stop-tap – meaning no water reaches internal pipes – and again take two meter readings to see if usage changes over a set time period.

Being prepared is the best step to take for any water supply interruptions – whether these are during planned work on the wholesaler’s network or if supply stops suddenly. Should the site have a leak and – in extreme cases – suffer an interruption to its water supply, it’s crucial to have a site-specific plan in place to ensure day-to-day operations aren’t adversely affected.

Any contingency plan should include provision for ensuring that sourcing replacement water is as quick as possible. This could include drawing up a plan to allow water tankers to access the site easily, arranging for the installation of injection points so that water can be directly added to the system and putting additional water storage facilities in place.

Maintenance staff in the building should also be fully briefed on any contingency plan, so they know what to do and who to contact if they detect a leak, burst pipe or more serious supply interruption.

Even with the best will and preparation water supply to the site may be interrupted due to circumstances beyond an FM’s control, such as extreme weather. This means that focus shifts to damage limitation and swift action is crucial.

The first thing to do in these circumstances is to contact the water wholesaler – responsible for supplying clean water to the site and removing wastewater – as they will be able to advise on any existing network issues which may be affecting supply, as well as the steps they’re taking to fix this. They can also advise whether they’re able to deliver additional water to your site while your supply is off.

It’s important for the entire FM team to know the locations of the on-site stop-taps, so that they can be accessed quickly in an emergency to isolate the supply issue, minimising water damage and wastage. Also, supply interruptions can sometimes be due to the stop-tap being partially-closed by accident, which can be easily fixed in-house, without any need to arrange specialist repairs.

If the wholesaler reports no problems with the network, a repair will need to be arranged. This can either be carried out with the business’s incumbent plumbing supplier (if applicable) or a local approved plumber.

While reducing costs will always be a consideration for FMs and their clients, sustainability is also becoming ever-more important to regulators, business owners and consumers alike. Given this, the benefits of proactively minimising water loss – both financially and otherwise – are more apparent than ever.

About Sarah OBeirne

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