When it comes to commercial retro-commissioning—upgrading a facility’s existing systems and protocols—a focus on water conservation makes sense. Water costs have been steadily rising over the last two decades and, in recent years, have skyrocketed. Plus, given ongoing drought conditions in the western United States, conserving water is simply the right thing to do. The good news is that water rebate programs are available in every neck of the woods, so water-wise upgrades can pay for themselves—often with little to no upfront cost. But where can you get rebates and incentives, and what upgrades typically qualify? Here’s what facilities managers and property managers need to know:

First, the where and who. Often, you’ll need to look no further than your county’s water agency. For example, California’s Placer County Water Agency (PCWA) lists seven different rebate programs on its website, incentivizing everything from lawn replacement to high-efficiency toilets. Both the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) and DSIRE, a project that’s funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, feature comprehensive lists of rebates and incentives on their websites. Programs, including tax incentives, are also available at the state and federal levels.

Now, let’s zero in on the “what”—as in what typically qualifies for water-related retro-commissioning rebates or incentives? The short answer is “lots,” but let’s start with ten of the most common:

Outdoor Water Rebate Programs

Lawn Conversion. Between watering, mowing, aerating, fertilizing, and managing runoff, lawn maintenance is expensive. Watering alone, especially in droughted areas, can cost a small fortune and waste this precious resource. Fortunately, most water agencies offer rebates that will pay you to replace your lawn with a drought-tolerant landscape.

Example: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California offers a rebate of $2.00 per square foot up to 50,000 square feet of conversion per meter year.

Smart Controllers. By some estimates, incorrect irrigation settings waste up to 50% of a landscape’s applied water. Smart controllers automatically reduce watering times based on weather, soil conditions, and landscape type. They shut off during rain events and can be adjusted remotely via Wi-Fi. Many municipalities offer rebates to replace conventional controllers with new, smart versions.

Example: The City of Chandler (Ariz.) offers rebates of 50 percent of a smart controller’s cost (excluding taxes and installation) up to $250 per unit (max 5).

Irrigation Upgrades. While smart devices can control when a landscape is watered, a switch from traditional spray to drip or rotary nozzles can limit water output and direct it to where it’s most needed.

Example: The Sacramento City Department of Utilities offers these irrigation upgrade rebates, up to $50,000.

Soil Moisture Sensors. Related to smart controllers, sensors “measure the amount of moisture in the ground beneath a landscape and override scheduled irrigation accordingly.” (EPA) The result is water savings of at least 20 percent.

Example: Austin (Texas) Water District offers rebates on flow sensors ($300 each), pressure regulating components (50 percent of equipment cost up to $1,500), spray-nozzle conversion ($4 per nozzle, up to $1,000), and master valves ($100 each for systems installed before 2009 only).

Rain Barrels and Cisterns. An ancient practice, harvesting and re-using rainwater makes sense—and not just because it saves tap water. Rainwater is soft, so grass and other plants prefer it.

Example: SoCal Water Smart lists rain barrel rebates at $35 per 50-199 gallon barrels (max qty. 2) and Cisterns from $250 to $350 (1 per).

Indoor Water Rebate Programs

Low-Flow Toilets and Urinals. By simply limiting the amount of water used per flush, a typical business can reduce water consumption by around 40 percent. Ultra-low and zero-water urinals can decrease water usage by up to 88 percent.

Example: The City of Santa Fe (N.M.) offers commercial toilet rebates from $125 to $500 for high-efficiency toilets with effective flush volumes of 1.28 gallons or less.

Plumbing Flow Control Valves. Designed to maintain water pressure while reducing faucet flow by up to 60 percent, flow control valves offer a substantial bang for the water-saving buck. Plus, rebates abound to get you started.

Example: Several Southern California agencies offer rebates on plumbing flow control valves and laminar flow restrictors at $5 and $10, respectively.

Cooling Towers. Inefficient conductivity controllers lead to unnecessary water loss via the blowdown process. Meanwhile, Ph imbalances lead to scaling-related inefficiencies. Rebates are available that address both issues.

Example: The Southern Nevada Water Authority offers up to $500,000 in cash incentives to upgrade your cooling tower and swamp coolers.

Ice Making Machines and Food Steamers. The typical ice-making machine consumes more water to cool ice than to make the ice itself. Boiler-based food steamers are also water guzzlers. Fortunately, for food services businesses, rebates on boiler-less food steamers and air-cooled ice-making machines are plentiful.

Example: Sonoma Water Organization (Calif.) offers rebates on water-efficient ice makers at up to $600 and food-steamer rebates at up to $200.

Dry Vacuum Pumps. Many businesses, from dental to petrochemical, rely on liquid-ring vacuum pumps. Dry vacuum pumps do the job while conserving water, and most municipalities offer some type of rebate for them.

Example: The Inland Empire Utilities Agency (Calif.) offers up to $175 per .05 HP dry vacuum pumps (Max 2).

Retro-commissioning is hot, and for good reasons. It saves money while promoting sustainability—especially where water is involved. And right now, while rebates are bountiful and water resources scarce, it makes more sense than ever.
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