Stroll through cites like Santa Monica and Portland and you would think you were in the middle of green building laboratories. Despite the real estate slump, interest in green contraction and architecture is increasing, which explains the popularity of LEED certification. But while green building materials offer a compelling alternative to what you can find in a big box store, the truth remains that often the greenest building option is to modify the structure that already stands.
One reason why current offices and large apartment buildings waste energy is because they use outdated water heating systems. In order to provide their tenants a steady supply of hot water, these circulating systems must run 24 hours a day so hot water is available at the tap. The constant circulation of hot water is particularly wasteful in large apartment buildings, where hot water is only needed an hour or two daily. Such a system also corrodes pipes and wastes water while tenants wait for that hot shower. One Venice, California-based start up has a product for all of these challenges; it conserves water while reducing energy and maintenance costs.
Enovative Kontrol Systems has an electronically controlled water pump that currently operates in over 1000 properties in the Los Angeles area. The D’MAND CIRC pump uses sensors that stops the pump’s operation when the pump should never run: first, during no demand for hot water, or when hot water is already circulating in the buildings’ pipes.
Derek Zobrist, Enovative Kontrol Systems’ founder, and his business partner, Gabe Ayala, first tested their system in an 80 year old Los Angeles apartment building. The five-story structure had 50 residential units, and despite the standard continuous closed-loop hot water system in place, residents often wasted water while complaining that they waited far too long for their hot showers. After one year, the D’MAND CIRC pump only operated about 2.9 hours a day, reducing the pump’s energy consumption by 78%. But the real savings was in the decrease of natural gas consumption: a 30% reduction which saved the tenants over $4000 in their combined annual gas bills. The company also is testing their product at Archstone-managed properties in the DC metropolitan area.
For now the company achieves most of its sales through a SoCalGas rebate program. The larger the building, the more scaled the energy savings: Zobrist said most customers see their investment recouped in a year; others see their investment repaid in as quickly as 6 months. Enovative Systems’ largest challenge is the pump’s cost, which is 3 to 5 times higher than a standard pump available at the hardware store. The company must convince customers that the 6 to 12 month return on investment is worth the up-front cost. Facilities managers, when confronted with a quick repair, just run to the nearest hardware store to find a replacement part and cannot be bothered with a cost analysis—certainly not when tenants are screaming for hot water. To that end, Enovative Systems offers a 5 year warranty on its product, as opposed to only 1 year for other water pumps on the market.
For facilities managers, the D’MAND CIRC pump makes sense for reasons other than energy savings. Less time waiting for hot water means less water is wasted, crucial in areas where water use is metered. Hot water circulating in pipes only a few hours a day also reduces the frequency of pinhole leaks in pipes, which result from mineral buildup and constant pressure placed upon the water circulatory systems.
The pumps’ manufacture and assembly, from the circuit boards to the mechanical components, takes place entirely in the United States. Zobrist and Ayala are committed to local factories, which allow for closer oversight, community jobs, and reduced emissions from shorter shipping distances. Buildings also gain LEED points for implementing the D’MAND CIRC pump, and the company is currently a semi-finalist in the Cleantech Open competition.