How to increase water efficiency & lower utility bills

Beth Clymer
Beth Clymer | 7 min. read

Published on February 10, 2014

As a property manager, why should you care about water efficiency? One reason is that it’s good for the planet. The other is that it’s good for your bottom line. The fiscal, environmental, and moral reasons for water efficiency and conservation are clear enough, so this post will cover the steps for making conservation a reality across your properties.

Indeed, if you manage rental property, you’re on the front lines of global water conservation efforts. According to the Global Health Observatory, more than half of the human population lives in cities — most of them in multi-family residences, apartment buildings, or high-rises. In such a setting, water efficiency (the long-term reduction of water usage through adoption of technology and methods that consume less water) and conservation (the temporary response of curtailing water consumption in response to a water shortage) greatly depends on the property managers and building superintendents. You are in the most advantageous position to implement water-saving measures (which save money in the long run), as well as to educate tenants by disseminating relevant and timely information about smart water choices.

Identify, Implement, and Maintain Water-saving Measures

Klaus Reichardt, Founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc., recommends that property managers begin with tracking water use throughout the building, typically by installing meters. In so doing, you can determine where water is used most, as well as any existing inconsistencies that may tell you that you have a leak or an inefficient system on a certain floor or block of your facility. In practically all situations, but especially in multiple-dwelling buildings and commercial apartments, water usage in restrooms accounts for up to 60 % of total water consumption. This is a good place for building managers to start saving water and money.

Update Toilets and Faucets

Most toilets now comply with the standard set in the 1994 Energy Policy Act – 2.2 gallons per minute (gpm) or 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). If the toilets in your buildings still do not meet these standards, consider replacing them. You’ll save between 5-10 gallons per day per toilet. You can replace them all at once or schedule a floor-by-floor, month-by-month replacement depending on your budget. Bear in mind that buying the fixtures in bulk may result in considerable savings. Free-flowing faucets (without aerators) can consume up to 2.2 gallons per minute. That’s a lot of water wasted just to wash your hands. Imagine how many times throughout the day people wash their hands in their own homes, and you can see how much water is wasted in a very short amount of time. Install restricting aerators in all faucets in each apartment. An aerator with a 1.0 or a .5 gpm works well in bathroom sinks. Outfit kitchen sinks with 1.5 gpm aerators; washing dishes and filling huge pasta pots need a little better water flow.

Save Water Using Smarter Landscaping

Of course, water efficiency doesn’t have to be as costly as a fleet of brand new, updated fixtures. Evaluate your property management strategy and look for areas in which obvious and easy changes can improve your water efficiency. Many apartments and condominiums attract potential leasers and buyers with lush, well-maintained landscaping. If your landscaping team is in-house, consider the hours, frequency, and water source that you are using to water plants, and purchase hardier foliage that requires less moisture to maintain their aesthetic appeal.

Look Out for Leaks

Last but not least, be vigilant about leak detection. Building and property managers can monitor leaks themselves in the common areas. However, you will have to get the cooperation of your tenants with respect to their own apartments. Tenants typically waste no time in reporting leaks, but not all water leaks are evident right away. Most are detected only after noticeable damage has already been done. To catch leaks early (or prevent them entirely), set up a compulsory leak detection program in your building whereby a professional and knowledgeable engineer or plumbing service conducts regular leak checks. Complying with regulations by giving tenants notice will not only protect you legally, it will also give your clients peace of mind that they are participating, at least implicitly, in a business that respects the environment – not to mention protecting their possessions from potential water damage. Give tenants a heads up and brief explanation of these inspections, letting them know that the engineer will require access to all of their fixtures and major plumbing connections. Most tenants know that water leaks can end up damaging their apartments and valuable items which may cost several hundreds or even thousands of dollars to fix or replace. From their point of view, a regular leak inspection is a good preventive measure and one that most will likely welcome or at least tolerate.

Getting Tenants to Care (Despite Them Not Getting Water and Sewer Bills)

Unlike monthly electric bills that come like clockwork, most building residents do not get a separate bill for water and sewer services. Because of this, they naturally assume that this basic apartment utility is free. But of course, nothing is free. Water and sewer costs are often included in the rent because it is not practical to install individual water meters in every apartment unit, especially in a city high-rise building. Since tenants do not see a reduction in their rent when they use water more efficiently in their own apartments, many simply do not bother to do so.

However, sewer rates can be reduced significantly when everyone in the building uses less water. Building superintendents and property managers should make sure the tenants understand this and develop a method of passing these savings on to them, without necessarily being reflected as a rent reduction. Lower water and sewer rates mean water is being used efficiently throughout the building, but while that’s good news, the savings will probably not make a significant dent in rent when shared by an entire building. Instead, set a goal (to lower water and sewer charges by 15 % in six months, for example) and sponsor a pizza night when the goal is reached. This will not only keep tenants motivated, but will rally them around a truly worthwhile cause.

Over time, using water wisely, efficiently, and conservatively will become second nature to them. Property managers can have a significant impact on reducing water consumption by using fixtures with lower flow rates and being vigilant about catching leaks early. Engaging tenant cooperation by educating them about the efficient use of water likewise improves water efficiency to a significant degree. Aside from preserving water, both efforts result in considerable savings over time.

Measuring Success

Finally, it is important to track and measure the effects of your water efficiency updates. Is less water being consumed? Are the investments in water efficient updates to your property set to pay off? While vast improvements have been made in the last decade to increase water conservancy awareness, the United Nations’ 2012 Millennium Development Goals Report estimates that there are still 783 million people (11 % of the total world population) who go about their day without easy, assured and regular access to a reliable source of clean drinking water. This makes it even more imperative for those people who do have ready access to clean water to learn to use water as judiciously as possible.

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Beth Clymer

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