Save water and money with these 12 (affordable) tips

Barbara Ballinger
Barbara Ballinger | 6 min. read

Published on March 1, 2016

Believe it or not, spring is just around the corner. That means that gardening season is just around the corner (not to mention pool, hot tub, and running-through-the-sprinkler season, too). Even if you carefully control how often the lawn or garden is watered, you just don’t know how much water residents will use when the temperatures rise.

And that’s just outside: According to recent research, nearly 50% of household water use is in the bathroom, and toilets are the biggest wasters of all. Older toilets (from the 90s or earlier) use up to 7 gallons of water per flush. Mid-2000s models may use between 3 and 5 gallons, and new, WaterSense-certified toilets, only use 1.28 gallons per flush. Impressive, right? Here are 12 additional ways to ensure that you’re saving money and water at your properties:

Monitor Water Use by Checking Bills, Meters, and Fixtures

Mark Durakovic, Principal of Kass Management Services, a property management firm with more than 9,000 residential units throughout Chicago, have asked managers to provide meter readings instead of estimates, and to call in water department specialists to investigate any spikes in bills.

Explain Increases in Tenant Water Bills in Advance

If, like Durakovic, you’ve experienced a 35% increase in water costs over the last few years, you may need to pass the extra costs on to residents. Before doing so, be sure to explain why to residents.

Upgrade Older Sprinkler Systems and Hoses

Landscape designer Michael Glassman, Sacramento-based co-author of The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, recommends that single-family homeowners do this, but many of his ideas apply to multifamily buildings, as well. Durakovic’s company has placed all irrigation systems on timers with rain sensing technology. The systems also spray or drip water close to the ground to so less water is lost through evaporation. When buildings don’t have built in irrigation systems, Durakovic sets up portable sprinkler heads with rain-sensing technology.

Plant Native Plants and Grasses

Select a lawn mix or blend that matches your climate and site conditions, says Glassman. For northern California, he recommends Kurapia, a new low-water ground cover, or Myoporum, a low-growing flowering plant. He also suggests annual lawn-aeration to help water reach roots. If you’re in an area with severe drought conditions, you may consider using artificial grass to avoid watering altogether.

Let a Lawn Go Brown or Dormant During Winter

You may only need to water only every three to four weeks in the winter, and once a week in the summer, depending on rainfall. Glassman recommends replacing some grass with permeable hardscape like decomposed granite, pea graval, or interlocking pavers to save even more water.

Put Decorative Fountains on Timers

Fountains add a soothing sound and environment to many properties, but they don’t need to be on all the time. In colder climates, drain them and cover them throughout the winter. In warmer climates, install them in shadier spots to decrease evaporation.

Don’t Fill Pools and Hot Rubs to the Top

Install a recirculating pump and water-saving filter, and turn the system off when not in use, Glassman says. Also, use a cover reduce evaporation and keep the pool clean and reduce chemical use.

Save Rainwater Run-Off in Cisterns and Barrels

Water-conscious developers and architects in California have been doing this for years. Once water is collected, it can be used to irrigate a landscape, vegetable garden, and potted plants. John Noonan, Director of Facilities for Evergreen Real Estate Services, in the Midwest says that if you own land with a lot of landscape, consider constructing retention ponds, which help water seep into the ground and a pond rather than overload a city or town’s sewer system.

Let Pets Be a Bit Less Squeaky-Clean

While pet play areas and grooming stations have become popular, they deplete water supplies. Implement a weekly pet grooming day, and install low-flow heads on faucets, Noonan recommends. You can also put timers on plumbing fixtures so they shut after after a few minutes, says Durakovic.

Fix Running Toilets and Dripping Faucets

A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water a day, and a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons a year, according to WaterSense. When you notice a problem or a tenant does, bring in a plumber pronto.

Install New Fixtures and Appliances

As mentioned above, new WaterSense toilets can save up to 5 gallons per flush. WaterSense toilets are what Noonan’s firm when remodeling a unit or building. “By replacing toilets, we’ve found we can reduce water consumption in a property by 40 percent,” he says. When his company recently bought a building in Colorado, it replaced all toilets as part of its first-year capital expenditure. It may be worth asking local utility companies if they provide new aerators for faucets and shower heads for free, says Durakovic.

Get Residents Involved

Post this list of ideas in the lobby or leasing office, and share tips in newsletters:

  • Shorten shower time. A bath uses about 70 gallons of water, while a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons.
  • Turn off the tap. The average faucet releases two gallons of water per minute. You can save about eight gallons every day if you turn off the tap while brushing your teeth and washing your face.
  • Reuse towels instead of pulling a fresh one out every day.
  • Avoid the extra rinse cycle on your washing machine.
  • Only run the dishwasher and washing machine when they’re full.
  • Don’t bother pre-rinsing dishes. New dishwashers are more efficient, so just be sure to scrape away the biggest food scraps before putting in the dishwasher.
  • Try composting over disposing. Garbage disposals use a lot of water. Add food scraps to a compost bin instead.
  • Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the fridge. Cold water on demand without having to run the tap for extra time.
  • Teach kids water-saving habits. This includes efficient use of taps while brushing teeth, bathing, washing hands, and helping with chores.

Have you implemented any other water-saving tricks at any of your properties? Share it with us in the comments below.

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Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate, design, and family business; her website is Her most recently published book is The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing).

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