By: Brent Whiteley, Vice President, Parkin Architects Limited
Canada is a country rich with the resource of fresh water, so it is no surprise that we are among the highest per capita users of water in the world. The effects of climate change, population growth and increased urbanization will affect this ready supply of fresh water in coming generations and we need to adopt strategies and promote behaviours to control water usage. As architects we have the opportunity to help affect a positive change through selection of appropriate fixtures, systems, and natural landscaping that seeks to minimize water consumption.
A significant sector of our practice at Parkin is dedicated to healthcare facilities and these are known for being energy and resource intensive facilities by nature of their 24/7 operation, increased HVAC and building systems requirements for infection control and redundancy. The latest guidelines for infection control recommend an increased frequency of hand wash lavatories and a preference for private bedrooms with en suite washrooms, these requirements alone will add significantly to the number of fixtures within a typical hospital over the traditional format with semi private or 4 bed wards and shared washrooms, it should be noted that the flushing of water closets is one of the single largest sources of water consumption by building occupants.
There are some strategies that can contribute towards promoting a greater level of water conservation. Reduce or eliminate potable water usage for exterior landscaping. In landscaping, we must encourage the use of native and drought-resistant plant species that do not depend on irrigation systems for survival. Provided it conforms to the facilities’ infection control practices, collecting rainwater from rooftops into retention ponds or cisterns can be a ready source of water for irrigation that does not tap into the potable water supply.
Within the facility, the selection of appropriate fixtures and controls can further reduce water consumption. These include sensor-operated controls for lavatories and dual-flush toilets that provide the user with the ability to control the amount of water used for each flush. Hands-free sensor controls have the added feature of promoting good infection control practice, while at same time reducing water usage. Compare this with the use of regular, manually operated, faucets where, according to best infection control practices, users need to first wash their hands, then reach for a paper towel while the water is still running, then turn off the faucets using the paper towel as an infection barrier. For several precious seconds water is simply going down the drain. Multiplied this by hundreds of times per day, this adds up to a lot of water wasted and increased utility costs.
Other measures that can contribute towards reduced water consumption include a regime of regular maintenance by facility operators to fix leaky fixtures and valves and, in older facilities, an implementation plan for replacement of older fixtures with new automated and low-flow devices.