Peak water may eclipse peak oil. Here's how your restaurant can cut costs.

Would you spend $60 once to save $1,200 to $4,800 each year for the next five years? As Olympia Beer’s famous tag line goes, “It’s the water!” And that’s just the amount you save with the first tip below. We’ll get back to the savings in just a minute, but first let’s take a look at that water.

Water covers 75 percent of the earth’s surface, but 97 percent of that is in the ocean, unsuitable for human consumption. Another 2 percent is trapped in glaciers and ice caps, which leaves only 1 percent for humanity’s needs—not a big margin for error there. Although some water resources are renewable, the demand is outstripping supply. There are about 7 billion people in the world today, and that number is expected to increase to about 9 billion by the year 2050. Already, three of the world’s greatest rivers (the Colorado, Nile, and Yellow rivers) have been so depleted by cities, farms, factories, and dams that they no longer reach the sea.

These facts are leading to what many call “peak water.” And we know what happens to costs when demand exceeds supply. This could make “peak oil” look like a day at the park. The signs are already there. According to USA Today, three American cities have seen water costs triple in 12 years: Atlanta, San Francisco, and Wilmington, Delaware. The writing is on the wall, so let’s see how we can mitigate that in our own businesses.

The average restaurant uses about 5,800 gallons of water per day. According to EPA’s Water Sense program, 52 percent of that is used in kitchens, and another 31 percent goes down the drain in restrooms. To help stop your profits from gurgling away, there are a number of operational and equipment changes you can implement to significantly cut the flow. Many of these are courtesy of the Food Service Technology Center (FSTC), the industry leader in commercial kitchen efficiency and testing.

  1. Pre-rinse spray valves: Used for cleaning food off dishes before they go into the dishwasher, the standard-flow spray valves use 3.0 gallons per minute (gpm) and, on average, are in use three to five hours per day. Install a low-flow valve that uses 1.6 gpm or less and you can save as much as 150 gallons of hot water per day. Low-flow valves clean just as efficiently as their water-guzzling counterparts, sometimes better, and can be purchased for about $60. You’ll save $100-$400 a month, and the spray valves last about five years. That’s $6,000-$24,000 over the life of the spray valve, and 100 percent of that goes right to profit. Even more staggering, if a business operates at an 8 percent profit margin, you’d need to increase sales by $15,000-$60,000 annually to reap the same benefit.

  1. Hand sinks: Typical aerators for hand sinks produce a flow of 2.2 gpm, providing some savings, but for just a few dollars, you can add a water-mister aerator that operates at 0.5 gpm. You’ll reduce energy and water costs by $100 per year for each low-flow aerator you install.

  1. Toilets: How long has it been since you changed your toilets? Toilets from the early 1980s often use five or more gallons of water per flush (gpf). Around 1985 or so, the first “low-flush” models began to appear on the market, boasting 3.5 gpf. Today, “high-efficiency” toilets use 1.28 gpf or less, and a pressure-assist toilet solves the performance problems of earlier models. (Bonus! Just throw away your plunger!) Also take a look at your urinals; they can use as much as 5 gpf. Low-volume models can reduce that to just 1 gpf. You might also want to consider a “waterless” model that can save 20,000-45,000 gallons each year.

  1. Water Heater: Don’t overheat your water; it costs you money and can have scalding repercussions, so keep it between 100 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Older tanks don’t have insulation built in, so wrap them in an insulation blanket to keep your water warm. Then you can take it a step further and purchase insulated pipe covers for the first three feet of your hot water line (the “out” pipe). The covers look a lot like pool “noodles” and can be slipped over the pipe in less than a minute. You’ll save another $300 per year.

  1. Cleaning: As FSTC says, “Don’t get hosed.” A heavy-duty hose can deliver 9 to 22 gpm, so just visualize the dollars pouring down the drain. A high-pressure nozzle can reduce the flow somewhat, but when you think about how much water you use cleaning floors, sidewalks and parking lots, there has to be a better way. Consider a water broom that can reduce the flow to about 2.8 gpm and increase cleaning efficiency. Based on an hour per day spent washing with the hose, the broom can save you about $500 per year in water costs, and another $500 if the water is heated.

  1. Dipper Wells: Used for utensil rinse-and-hold stations on the front line, dipper wells usually have a small water stream that runs continuously. According to FSTC, a flow rate of 0.5 gpm and a 16-hour operating day will run 175,000 gallons per year. Between water and sewer costs, you’re looking at $1,000 for water and another $1,000 for energy to heat the water. Turn the stream down or completely off, if feasible, or replace them with lower-flow valves.

  1. Maintenance: Check regularly for leaks and repair them promptly. That includes hand sinks, running or leaking toilets, any place where water flows. And don’t forget the automatic flue damper. Huh? Bet we gotcha on that one. It’s an on/off switch located on the top of your hot water heater designed to close when hot water burners switch off to keep the heat from escaping through the flue. Make sure it’s “on.”

  1. Equipment: We’ve gone through the low-hanging fruit, but we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about equipment. Replacing water-intensive equipment (e.g., steamers, dishwashers, ice makers) with Energy Star-qualified models will save you on both water and energy costs, making them a “super-target” for replacement. Many models with Energy Star ratings also qualify for rebates from your local utility, reducing your up-front cost as well.

To evaluate the wisdom of replacing water- and energy-intensive equipment in your operation, go the FSTC life cycle and energy-cost calculators where you can compare your equipment with Energy Star-qualified models. And it's always critical to monitor the results of all your energy- and water-saving strategies. One option that quickly pays for itself is a system that provides water and energy monitoring in addition to energy control. With such a system, you can tap into your water and energy usage in real time and make adjustments “à la minute.” For details, visit Powerhouse Dynamics.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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