A building cannot be truly healthy or smart unless its water systems are managed well. Water quality benchmarking provides automation and data that facilities management personnel can use to manage water systems better and more easily.

Proper water quality benchmarking can improve health, safety and wellness for the building occupant, as well as asset value, reliability, resiliency, brand equity, and sustainability for the building owner.


What is Water Quality Benchmarking?

Water quality benchmarking can be applied to one building (internal benchmarking), multiple buildings on a property, to an owner’s portfolio of properties in a region or country, or to similar property types within an industry.

In a given building, internal water quality benchmarking is making relevant comparisons between actual and target water system performance.This often includes monitoring with sensors, comparing different branches of hot and cold water, and evaluating microbial indicators comprehensively.

For multiple buildings on a property, water quality benchmarking involves comparing performance in one building with others. The building comparisons help to identify potential issues, promote continuous improvement, and utilize predictive maintenance.

Water quality benchmarking across a portfolio of properties analyzes key performance metrics to help refine best practices. It improves the reliability and uptime of water-related services and equipment. It can also help in making a life-cycle assessment of the properties, to anticipate when infrastructure might need replacement or divestiture.

Water quality benchmarking across an industry provides additional data via a comparison among peers.


Why is Water Quality Benchmarking Important?

Water quality benchmarking provides valuable data for reducing the risk of disease and promoting employee wellness. Healthy building initiatives typically focus on air quality (as they should) but overlook water – which is responsible for far more hospitalizations and deaths.

Water– like bread – can and does “go bad” over time. Stagnant water in a building can quickly grow pathogens, develop taste and odor issues, extract metals, or destroy building infrastructure through microbial induced corrosion. Water does not remain purified forever and there is no “best by date” that comes with it.

In addition to helping with ongoing preventive measures, water quality benchmarking can alert facilities to problems (e.g., caused by water main breaks) with the quality of the incoming water supply. Based on past legal decisions, once the water enters the building it is likely the responsibility of the facilities management team rather than the water utility. It is estimated that water main breaks occur every 2 minutes in the United States and between 250,000 and 300,000 total per year. These breaks often go unreported for days or longer, and some are never even announced.

Improper water system management can have ramifications beyond deadly outbreaks of disease. Water quality that is not monitored can lead to dissatisfied guests because of taste or odor issues.

Water quality affects heating and cooling efficiencies, and thus energy bills, too. Biofilm increases pumping and electricity costs. Only 2 millimeters of CaCO3 scale can raise energy costs by about 30% and the same thickness of scale and biofilm could bring a 50% increase, according to Montana State University.

Equipment loss and maintenance may be the biggest expense associated with poor water quality management. At least 20% of corrosion is attributable to microbial induced corrosion (MIC). The table below shows median plumbing construction costs in the US for piping alone (no other equipment), based on the using a plumbing estimate calculator.

Poorly managed water quality can also lead to revenue losses and major disruptions, and lower a property’s resale value.


Estimated Median Plumbing Construction Costs in US for Piping Alone

SqFt Est. Cost
Office 40,000 $235,687.00
Hotel 40,000 $224,848.00
Apartment 60,000 $291,397.00
College 40,000 $224,848.00
Hospital 40,000 $872,164.00

With the right data, analytics, software, and guidance, a good water quality benchmarking system does not have to be burdensome or complicated to set up and manage, and can be seamlessly expanded to a full water management program (WMP), future-proofing the facility for WMP regulations.

In an ever challenging environment of building operation and asset stewardship, water quality benchmarking is critical for making buildings truly healthy, sustainable, and profitable.

What are your thoughts on the role of water quality benchmarking in building water management programs?

David Swiderski is the Senior Technical Strategist at HC Info.

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