Sika: Submetering Water at the Fixture Level

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Sika's threaded, fixture-level water meters communicate wirelessly with a central receiver, providing fine-grained submetered data for tenant spaces or residential units without cutting into pipes for installation.

Photo: Sika USA

By Tristan Roberts

A new product being introduced from Europe aims to bridge the yawning gap between the metering of water at the building or campus level, and awareness of water consumption by individual tenants and occupants. Sika USA, a subsidiary of Sika Aquatec in Germany, is offering a water submeter intended for installation on individual fixtures and fittings. The threaded, in-line meter provides a digital readout on the fixture and communicates wirelessly with a central control system that building management can use to track and analyze water use.

According to Andy Buchanan, president of Sika USA, the meters make sense for any building that wants to control its water usage—anything from a single-family home to multifamily residential, hotels, offices, or any other building type. At $100 per unit, plus $300 for a central data receiver, the units are relatively affordable, but the cost could add up for an entire floor or building. Larger buildings might also need $200 signal repeaters—one per floor is likely—to bridge the gap in wireless communication from the meters to the central receiver. The receiver includes a software package that allows for data collection, trend spotting, and usage alarms.

The submeters fill a distinct gap for monitoring water use inside buildings. Whether it’s the right gap to fill is up for debate, however. “The biggest sticking point in water metering is the installation cost of the meters; people hate cutting pipe to stick one of these things in there,” Dan Ackerstein, a consultant and expert in sustainability for existing facilities, told EBN. On that point, Sika’s threaded connections make a lot of sense—they allow installation without cutting into pipe—assuming there is room in the plumbing configuration for them.

That’s all well and good, says Ackerstein, but does fixture-level water metering make sense? Once an efficient fixture is installed, he worries that the savings available from additional monitoring won’t add up to much, and, he says, the installation costs and ongoing monitoring of dozens or hundreds of submeters “sounds like a nightmare.”

Fixtures may be the most feasible place to attack the problem, though, counters Buchanan. He notes that while most buildings may have a single water main feeding in, that might give way to a “spaghetti of pipes” inside the building leading in all different directions, without any mapping. If the goal were to submeter a single tenant space, bathroom, floor, or apartment, that might not be feasible, and certainly not without cutting into pipes. By going all the way down to the fixture level, Sika meters and monitoring software allow an aggregation of data to serve the same purpose as submetering of an entire space. Buchanan also noted that there is nothing preventing installation of the meters upstream of individual fixtures.

The Sika meters have an expected lifetime of 20 years, although the standard lithium battery that powers them will require replacement after 10 years. Installation of the threaded meters should be a minor plumbing job, while installing and setting up the wireless data receivers will require someone with wireless Internet expertise.

While Buchanan said that Sika USA could make the meters available for individual projects, the company is still looking for a partner to facilitate U.S. distribution.

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January 28, 2013