Nuts and Bolts: Waste Not

Let’s admit it.  Almost everybody is guilty of wasting water.  Maybe you run the water while you brush your teeth or don’t fix a water leak as quickly as you should.  To a certain degree, it’s not our fault.  If we were reminded daily that only 3 percent of the world’s water is drinkable, that there is a very complicated process to deliver that clean water to your home and how important water is to our communities, maybe we would be more mindful about wasting such a precious commodity.

The brutal truth is that for most of us, saving money is greater motivation than conservation.  In many condominium associations, some townhome associations and a few single-family home associations, residents aren’t directly billed for their water use and don’t use it wisely.  But you can make residents responsible by using inexpensive submetering technology.

Various studies sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Apartment Association, National Multi Housing Council and an assortment of utilities find that submetering reduces water costs by at least 16 percent.

The reason is simple.  With a water bill in our hands every month, we are more mindful of our water consumption.  We fix leaky toilets and faucets, we don’t turn on the spigot 20 minutes before stepping into the shower and we brush our teeth without letting excess water go down the drain.

Frances-Marie Puente, manager of La Via Condominiums in Pembroke Pines, Fla., finds that sumbetering has made her association happier because residents feel that it is fair.  “People appreciate the fact that they aren’t paying for the water consumed by a neighbor who has eight people living in a three-bedroom unit,” she says.

An association’s investment in submetering typically pays for itself in 12 to 18 months depending on how the buildings are plumbed and the utility’s water charges.  How do the numbers work?  Total hardware and installation costs average about $250.  If the typical person saves 25 percent on the monthly $60 water bill, he or she pockets $15 per month or $180 per year.  As for associations, the community still pays the utility, but instead of hoping that this month’s water bill doesn’t cause a problem by running over budget, it is charging the residents for what they use.

Diane Salamone, manager of Boardwalk Condominium Association in Branson, Mo., recovers 100 percent of the association’s water coats.  “When we budget, we don’t need to guess at how next year’s water or sewer rate increases will affect our financials,” she says.

Puente reports La Vai Condominiums recovers about 80 percent of its water and sewer costs – even with some units in foreclosure.

Submeters also empower residents to reap savings when they repair leaks and install conservation-friendly showerheads, toilets and faucets.

When an association without submeters decides to locate leaks, maintenance asks residents not to use water and then takes a look at the master meter.  If the dials are moving, there are leaks.  Maintenance then needs to enter each unit to find the leak.  When submeters are installed, any resident who suspects a leak can pinpoint the problem.  The occupant makes sure all faucets and appliances are off and then takes a look at the meter.  If the dial is moving, there’s a leak.

Submetering reduces instances of water damage too.  Because leaks are being repaired, there are fewer cases of water leaking into other units and common areas.

Associations can take the simple steps of installing submeters and holding residents accountable for water consumption.  It’s good citizenship and a way to do something constructive about costs and conservation.

By Steve Hirsch