IAPMO GTC explores water conservation, softeners

June 2, 2010
ROSEMONT, ILL. — Water softeners, water conservation, water use and life cycle assessment were prevalent topics at IAPMO's Green Technical Committee meeting.

ROSEMONT, ILL. — Water softeners, water conservation, water use and life cycle assessment were prevalent topics at the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials’ Green Technical Committee (GTC) meeting here this April.

During the meeting, Peter J. Censky, executive director, Vince Kent, president, and Joe Harrison, technical director, of the Water Quality Association, presented findings from a Battelle Study on the effects of water softeners in the home to GTC members.

In 2009, the Battelle Memorial Institute research laboratories completed the study, which tested devices fed with softened and unsoftened water under laboratory conditions. The study was designed to accelerate water-side scaling and quantify the performance efficiency in different home appliances and devices. Click here for the final report from the study.

According to Censky, the study proved that softeners are one of the greenest appliances in the house now.

“We do not want to limit water softeners,” said Harrison to the GTC. “Let’s not limit it to a number, eight, nine or 10 grams, because you limit efficiencies if you do this.”

According to Harrison, there is a long-standing recognition of significant energy, cost and carbon footprint savings afforded to water heaters and other hot water appliances and boilers by water softening.

“The Battelle study was interesting, but was not a fully independent study of treatment and softeners,” John Koeller, principal of Koeller and Company and GTC member, told CONTRACTOR. “An independent third-party study is needed.

“On the other hand, I fully support the idea of people being able to install water softeners without the kind of draconian restrictions that some jurisdictions seem to want to impose,” added Koeller. “As the Battelle study states, the hot water products in the home that are fed by softened water have a much longer useful life than those fed with hard water. In my view, it is a false economy to think that by prohibiting home water softeners, money or other resources will be saved. Homeowners will be required to spend more on maintenance and replacement of plumbing systems and products while a few municipal treatment plants think they will see benefits."

“Treated water is necessary for the continued efficient performance of appliances including water heaters, dishwashers, ice makers, humidifiers, showers, toilets, faucets, etc.,” Tom Meyer, president of Praxis Green and member of the GTC, told CONTRACTOR. “Those that argue softeners are unnecessary have never carted an old water heater up creaky basement steps after it was full of minerals deposited by the water as it was heated. Painting water softeners as evil is grossly unfair. One must step back and get a larger perspective.”

“We hope the IAPMO GTC will recognize and consider the tremendous ‘green’ and energy saving value of water softening,” Harrison told CONTRACTOR. “Twenty-five percent to 50% of the energy consumption in American residential homes goes for the energy to heat water. The second largest (second only to home heating) consumer of energy in a home is that for water heating.

“WQA can be of help by bringing these facts and understanding of water softening and water treatment to the GTC members,” added Harrison.

A task group has been formed to look further into water softeners and treatment devices, Section 405.0 of the Green Plumbing & Mechanical Code Supplement, and Censky will represent the WQA on this task group.

Water use, conservation

Committee members also discussed a variety of water-related issues, including the possibility of a totally different infrastructure, putting responsibility on the end-user to filter drinking water, increasing water rates and the United States’ attitude towards water use and conservation.

“As a professional installer and someone who is involved in the code world, our principal focus needs to be on protecting the public health and safety today,” Bill Erickson, chairman of IAPMO’s GTC, told CONTRACTOR. “We have to be mindful of the fact that this country wastes an incredible amount of water, and it’s only a matter of time before regions of this country that don’t have a water problem now will have a water problem. We have to look at the practical part of this — the public health and safety — and be thoughtful of where this is going in the future.

“I don’t think the answer is to raise the price of water,” Erickson added. “It’s through education and consistent effort by code and energy officials to promote water and energy conservation with respect to water. Whether you pump it, heat it or treat it, it all takes energy, which we are trying to reduce with the Green Supplement.”

According to Koeller, there are a number of issues regarding water and most are geography-specific.

“That is, what is a serious issue in the arid Western states (water supply) is not necessarily an issue in Wisconsin or Minnesota, for example, where groundwater quality may be a larger issue (supply is still a significant item there, but not as serious as California),” Koeller told CONTRACTOR. “In the Eastern states with an older, aging water supply and treatment infrastructure, potential failures and the lack of resources to upgrade and fix that infrastructure are of high priority. In some other areas, though, it is the wastewater treatment infrastructure that is of greatest concern. So, one cannot say that this problem or that problem is the dominant issue across North America. Most of these issues are regionally specific.

“Now, whether all of those issues become a ‘priority’ at the federal level is another story,” added Koeller. “The press, Congress, and our federal leaders seem to want to focus entirely upon energy when, in fact, water and infrastructure issues will likely surpass energy as a real and urgent need.”

The amount of available water is also an issue.

“Greater demand per capita of potable water with an increasing population means more is going to be needed,” Meyer told CONTRACTOR. “There is no more water. What we have is all we have. It’s all we ever had. That small percentage of potable water is not distributed evenly amongst the population.

“The infrastructure must be fixed,” added Meyer. “New centralized systems like ‘purple pipe’ reclaimed water and possibly campus graywater and rainwater systems will become more and more popular because there is no reason to use potable water for all applications. The existing infrastructure is going to have to be updated, but consider the addition of two or more new infrastructures. It will require all kinds of technician/occupant training and lifestyle changes.”

Life cycle assessment was another topic discussed at the meeting.

“This is a new area and needs to be monitored,” Erickson told GTC members. “We need to think about how products will be addressed. We need to embrace life-cycle analysis, we need to stay involved in this, there needs to be a tool used across all industry segments.”

“I think we, as experts, should be able to figure out what life cycle assessment is used to evaluate the products that we make, install, and are ultimately used by the consuming public in regards to water use,” Erickson told CONTRACTOR. “If the government is going to bring this up, they are going to bring it into some of those EPA regulations, so we need to pay attention to it. EPA listens to us as an authority on what to do. No only the contractors, but the code officials need a seat at the table when the life cycle assessment regulations or goals are determined.”

About the Author

Candace Roulo

Candace Roulo, senior editor of CONTRACTOR and graduate of Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences, has 15 years of industry experience in the media and construction industries. She covers a variety of mechanical contracting topics, from sustainable construction practices and policy issues affecting contractors to continuing education for industry professionals and the best business practices that contractors can implement to run successful businesses.      

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