In the United States, water used in hospitals, and other healthcare facilities, comprises seven percent of the total water usage in the nation. In hospitals, the largest uses of water according to the EPA include cooling equipment, plumbing fixtures, landscaping and medical process rinses. With water and wastewater charges having risen at a rate well above the consumer price index over the past decade, hospital managers can expect utility costs to continue increasing over time: creating a business case for water-efficiency.
Hospitals save lives and water
To encourage water-efficiency in commercial and institutional buildings, including hospitals, the EPA has, under its WaterSense program, created the WaterSense at Work: Best Management Practices for Commercial and Institutional Facilities to promote water-efficient techniques that can be applied across a wide range of facilities with varying quantities of water required.
To reduce water utility, as well as energy bills, hospital managers can employ a range of water-efficient practices to lower water consumption including:
- Ensuring WaterSense labeled showerheads, toilets, bathroom faucets and flushing urinals are installed where appropriate and automatic sensors on faucets, toilets and urinals are operating properly to avoid unnecessary water use
- Ensuring hospital grounds have water-smart landscapes that provide beautiful surroundings for patients while reducing water needed for irrigation, audits on existing irrigation systems or the designing and installing of a water-efficient system
- Ensuring energy-efficient measures are taken to reduce the need for building and equipment heating and cooling, which in turn lowers water requirements, and using alternative sources of water for cooling towers e.g. captured rainwater
A Californian hospital reducing its water consumption
One example of a hospital seeking ways to reduce its water consumption during the Californian drought is the Oceanside Tri-City Medical Center in San Diego. To find water-savings, the Tri-City’s director of facilities brought in Long Beach-based Water Saver Solutions to help find ways of reducing water use. Following a walk-through inspection, Water Savers developed a plan that will save more than 10 million gallons annually. The plan includes changing the cooling tower operation, upgrading showerheads and toilets. The plan also includes retrofitting sterilizers: older sterilizers are usually kept running so surgical instruments can be steam-cleaned as soon as they are needed, however, because steam-cleaning causes hot water vapor to condense inside the devices the resulting water must be occasionally purged. Nonetheless, releasing this hot water into the sewer can endanger the pipes. Therefore, these sterilizers were designed to keep a continuous flow of cold water, a gallon or more per minute, through the pipes to offset the occasional release of extremely hot water. As part of the plan, the hospital will retrofit its old sterilizers by installing special holding tanks that let hot water cool before being discharged into the sewer system, halting its practice of continuously running cold water.
No matter how important water is to operations, efficiencies can always be found.