Saving Water - Tips for Commercial, Industrial and Institutional Water Use

Auditing and Benchmarking

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Compare water use to industry benchmarks if available.

  • Water use benchmarks provide an estimation of the average water use for specific industrial sectors and can be used as a tool to evaluate current consumption patterns among peers.
  • For more information see Appendix F of Pacific Institute's report Waste Not, Want Not: The Potential for Urban Water Conservation in California, as it provides information on benchmarks in California.

Conduct a facility audit to quantify water use.

  • Understanding water use will identify savings opportunities, allow appropriate savings targets to be established, and serve as a benchmark from which water savings can be tracked.
  • This should be the first step in a water efficiency program.  It may be cost-beneficial to hire a professional with expertise in industrial water use efficiency to carry out an on-site survey.

Investigate the feasibility of the following general options in your operations.

  • Reducing the flow of water.
  • Modifying the equipment or installing water saving devices.
  • Replacing existing equipment with more water-efficient equipment.
  • Water treatment, recycling, and reuse.
  • Changing to a waterless process.

Learn from water saving success stories of industry peers.

  • Case studies from industrial peers will provide insight into what works, what doesn’t, and what efficiency solutions are most cost-effective.  These details can often be found in sustainability reports or annual reports.


Install water efficient fixtures in restrooms and showering areas.

Manage on-site laundry facilities efficiently.

  • Many industrial and commercial facilities consume a considerable amount of water for laundering.
    • For residential style washing machines be sure and select a low water factor. As of January 1, 2011 top and front loading Energy Star clothes washers will be required to have a water factor of 6.0 or less. The Federal standard will be 9.5.
    • Multi-load machines should be set to run efficiently with separate settings for each cycle.
    • If large volumes of laundry are being processed assess the feasibility of installing a tunnel washer.
    • Evaluate costs and benefits for using laundry systems that recycled water or use ozone technology.
  • For more information and resources, visit the AWE Commercial Laundry Facilities Introduction Page

Utilize efficient technology in kitchen areas.

  • Kitchen facilities are a likely candidate for reducing water use in any facility. The following are items that can be retrofitted:
    • Rinse dishes with an efficient pre-rinse spray valve
    • Use a dishwasher that meets Energy Star standards
    • If a wok is used retrofit it with a waterless wok
    • Install in-line flow restrictors for dipper wells. Also look for new water efficient dipper well technology
    • Replace boiler based food steamers with boilerless technology
    • Strainers can reduce water used by garbage disposals
  • For more information and resources, visit the AWE Commercial Food Service Introduction Page and see AWE's Commercial Kitchens Water Use Efficiency and Best Practices Guide.
  • For a directory of manufacturers and distributors of water-efficient products, technical assistance providers for water efficiency program design, and professional services for all water-related needs, download the AWE Business Guide.  


Educate employees about the importance of using less water.

  • Creating a workplace culture that focuses and takes pride in efficiency can be a very beneficial component of a water conservation plan. Increased awareness will ensure more staff members are monitoring water use.
  • Things that can be done:
    • Give recognition to those who initiate water-efficiency procedures and processes.
    • Make resource conservation part of performance reviews, especially for line managers.


Improve cooling tower efficiency.

  • Cooling towers often represent the largest percentage of water consumption in industrial operations.  Some ways to improve the efficiency of cooling towers and reduce water use include:
    • Eliminate once-through cooling.
    • Install a conductivity controller on each cooling tower.
    • Equip cooling towers with overflow alarms.
    • Use high-efficiency drift eliminators.
    • Install submeters to monitor make-up and bleed on each cooling tower.
    • Properly train and educate cooling tower operators.
  • For more information and resources, visit the AWE Introduction to Cooling Towers.

Replace water-cooled equipment with air-cooled equipment when feasible.

  • Water use is often a hidden component of industrial and commercial equipment as it is used for cooling purposes.  Often this equipment is available with technology that uses air for cooling.  The pros and cons of each should be determined before switching.  A couple factors to consider are energy efficiency and performance.
  • Equipment that falls into this category include:
    • Air compressors
    • Vacuum pumps
    • Ice machines
    • Refrigeration condensers
    • Hydraulic equipment
    • X-ray processing equipment
  • To review a list of products, visit the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute Directory of Certified Product Performance.

Retrofit steam sterilizers.

  • Steam sterilizers are utilized by hospitals, research institutions, and pharmaceutical manufacturing. Steps can be taken to reduce the water used by these devices:
    • Jacket and Chamber Condensate Cooling Modification
    • Ejector Water Modification
  • For more information and resources, visit the AWE Steam Sterilizers & Autoclaves Introduction Page.


If an irrigation system is used, make sure it is properly set up and maintained.

  • Irrigate hydrozones based upon the plants' water needs.
  • Install weather-based SMART irrigation controllers.
  • Regularly inspect the sprinkler heads to make sure they are not damaged or malfunctioning in any way.
  • Adjust sprinklers so they are not spraying water on paved surfaces.
  • Install and maintain rain sensors, either wireless or wired, on the irrigation controller if it does not have a built-in one.
  • Have an irrigation professional design, install and maintain the irrigation system.
  • Specify in professional services contracts and check regularly that landscaping maintenance employees/contractors follow landscape industry best management practices.
  • For more information and resources: See AWE Landscape, Irrigation, and Outdoor Water Use Page

Landscape with water-wise landscaping principles.

  • Many commercial and industrial facilities have landscapes that require irrigation.  Taking action to make this efficient can save a lot of water:
    • Use native plants or other plants that require little water to thrive in your region.
    • Plant turf grass only in areas where people will use it actively for recreation.
    • Organize your landscape into hydrozones. Hydrozones are areas of landscape with plants and vegetation that have similar water requirements. This prevents overwatering of some plants and avoids under-watering of others.
    • Keep soil healthy and add mulch to prevent water loss through evaporation.
    • If watering with a hose, make sure it has a shut-off nozzle.
    • Water landscapes in the morning to prevent water loss due to evaporation. Avoid watering when it is windy.
    • Use a rain barrel to collect water for use in the landscape.


Dry sweep or use a water broom when possible, instead of using a hose to clean floors, sidewalks, and other hard surfaces.

  • Water brooms should be used only when traditional brooms are not able to clean the surface in a satisfactory manner.  Additionally, water brooms are superior to hose and spray nozzles in both water efficiency and cleaning effectiveness.
  • For more information and resources, visit the AWE Water Brooms Introduction Page.

Make sure all hoses are equipped with an automatic shut-off nozzle.

  • Hoses that don’t have an automatic shut-off nozzle and are left running can waste 8-12 gallons (30.3-45.4 liters) per minute.

Use non-potable water for industrial process use.

More Resources

AWE Resource Library Commercial, Institutional, and Industrial Water Users Page

Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute

Food Service Technology Center

Pacific Institute