Water wastage cut by 90 percent

by FM Media
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The testing and maintenance of fire sprinkler systems wastes millions of litres of water. PAUL VERHEIJDEN of Integrated Fire Services divulges how this water can be saved cost-effectively, without compromising on fire safety.

In 2007, at the height of Victoria’s drought, a Melbourne water retailer conducted an assessment of water usage in the testing and maintenance of fire sprinkler systems at buildings throughout the Melbourne area. It quickly became evident that excessive water consumption was an enormously significant issue.
An alarming 500 million litres per year of Melbourne’s water is wasted as a result of these necessary routine measures. The assessment raised important questions, such as is it necessary for testing and maintenance to be done this way, or are there alternatives?

As a result of this initial assessment, the Plumbing Industry Commission published an important manifesto, ‘The Guide to Fire Sprinkler System Water Saving’, in which it comprehensively described seven fire sprinkler conservation measures, which, if adopted, would reduce consumption significantly without compromising fire safety:

  • pressure setting adjustment
  • adoption of standard 1851-2005 (AS 1851-2005) as the maintenance regime and choosing the monthly option for alarm and pump testing
  • pressure reducing projects
  • recirculation of fire sprinkler water
  • capture and further use of fire sprinkler water
  • better zoning of sprinkler installations, and
  • better management of fire sprinkler draindowns and recharging.

Of the seven options, the first two were given the highest priority. Reduction in the frequency of testing from weekly to monthly and adjusting pressure settings at large pump-boosted installations with active pressure relief valves were achievable measures in the short- to medium-term, and widespread adoption would save millions of mega litres of water every year.
Lower testing frequency would be counterbalanced by other ways of ensuring protection, as specified in Australian Standard 1851-2005 Maintenance of Fire Protection Systems and Equipment.

The Fire Sprinklers Water Efficiency Project team, formed from representatives of the Plumbing Industry Commission and water authorities, as well as fire engineers like me, has faced many challenges since its inception. These challenges have revolved around convincing stakeholders, such as site managers, that implementation is affordable and that fire safety will in no way be compromised.
To mitigate concerns about cost, the water authorities offer incentives to those who are eligible. And, in addition to implementation, the fire engineers on the project run workshops to raise awareness of the initiative and respond to concerns about fire safety.
Although most of the project’s interventions have revolved around monthly testing and pressure setting adjustment (PSA), already mega litres of water have been saved at various sites. In some cases, consumption has been reduced by a staggering 90 percent.

So far, the team has assessed 150 sites around Melbourne, and found that 40 percent of these sites were using an average of 1.5 million litres of drinking water per year. Three adjustments alone have saved a total of 5,920,200 litres per year.
In the case of a prominent Melbourne hotel, which is part of a larger complex in the Melbourne CBD, an analysis of the operating pressures of system equipment, such as jacking pumps, pump sets and pressure relief valves, was carried out. The adjustments involved increasing the operating pressure of the relief valves, which has the effect of reducing the flow rate to the drain during testing.
Consumption was reduced from an initial figure of 2,901,200 litres per year to 412,200 litres – a saving of 2,489,000 litres per year.

A prominent manufacturing firm, aiming to redesign its fire sprinkler system to comply with its insurer’s standards, was pleasantly surprised at the water savings, which far exceeded its highest expectations, when it switched to a monthly testing regime with associated risk management processes. The design also included a number of water-saving features, such as recirculation and zoning of fire sprinkler pipe work.
Reconfigured pressure settings and recirculation of test water meant more efficient operations and much lower maintenance costs. One and a quarter million litres of usage per annum were reduced by 90 percent to 130,000 litres.

As an engineer working on the Fire Sprinkler Water Efficiency Project, I find the results of the project so far encouraging, as well as the impact of the project, not only in terms of water conservation, but also corporate responsibility. Slowly, the success of the project is convincing property owners and occupiers of the importance of good corporate stewardship, the conservation of water and environmental responsibility.
Some of the largest fire services maintenance firms, such as Wormald, Automatic and Spectrum, are now actively engaged with the project and we are now pursuing the range of water saving options beyond our two priorities. As relationships with key players develop, more target properties are identified and more people realise that there is such a thing as a perfect balance between fire safety and water conservation, we hope to publicise our successes with the objective of widespread adoption in mind.
For more information and a copy of ‘The Guide to Fire Sprinkler System Water Saving’ guide and other fact sheets refer to the Fire Sprinkler Water Efficiency Project section on the Plumbing Industry Commissions website.

Paul Verheijden operates Integrated Fire Services, which offers fire engineering consulting services. He has been involved in the Fire Sprinkler Water Efficiency Project for almost five years and specialises in implementing water savings in fire services. With over 25 years experience as a fire services engineer, he has a broad understanding of fire systems and life safety.

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