Save Water - Conserving with water benchmarks

by ‐ Tags: water efficiency, property management

As a property manager or owner of multifamily properties, you are always looking for ways to reduce operating costs, right? You may have noticed then that water prices are constantly on the rise.  Instead of paying more for the same consumption across your properties, start fighting the rising prices by making water reducing improvements to your buildings. 

But which buildings do you focus on? How do you know which are using the most water, and how does this compare to other peer buildings?

Thankfully, there are resources to help you answer these questions. Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is one of those amazing resources. Boston LISC's "Green and Healthy Property Management" guide has an entire section dedicated to water assessment and conservation. They recommend identifying properties with water consumption of greater than 75 gallons/bedroom/day and targeting improvements at reducing the consumption to this benchmark. 75 gallons/bedroom/day represents the consumption of a building that can be achieved with "low-hanging fruit" retrofits: installing inexpensive faucet and shower aerators and fixing leaks in a timely manner, for instance.


Assessing your water consumption

Before you can identify which buildings are above the recommended water benchmark though, you need to collect and assess utility data for each property.

  1. To start, you'll need to collect water bills for all of your properties. If you only have a few of the most recent bills, that's fine, but the more data, the better. Organize the data into a spreadsheet so that you can easily track the information at each property and update it in the future.
  2. Next, normalize daily water consumption for each property by bedroom. Lets say your consumption for March - May is 75,000 gallons and you have 10 bedrooms at your property. Simply divide the total gallons by the number of bedrooms and the number of days (92 days) to get the gallons/bedroom/day. In this example, your daily consumption per bedroom would be:                                                                                             75,000 gallons/10 bedrooms/92 days = 81.5 gallons/bedroom/day
  3. Organize normalized consumption from greatest to least. For any properties with daily consumption greater than 75 gallons per bedroom, you'll want to focus on conservation measures in these buildings first before targeting others.

Already below 75 gallons/bedroom/day? Congratulations! You can still improve though - shoot for the efficient building water benchmark of 55 gallons/bedroom/day that LISC recommends. Retrofits such as replacing toilets and washing machines can help you accomplish the reduction to this benchmark.

Oh, and by the way - for all the above steps, if you are using an energy management software, it can make the process much easier for you.

Achieving Conservation

Now that you know which buildings you'll be targeting, what should you do to reduce their consumption?

  1. In buildings above 75 gallons/bedroom/day (or 55 gallons/bedroom/day if you're shooting for an efficient portfolio), complete a water audit to determine where water is being used least efficiently. This involves walking through the entire property (inside and out) to identify leaks, measure flush volumes and flow rates, and determine how often irrigation systems are activated and for how long. That's right – don't forget that possible savings exist both indoors and outdoors. Property managers often focus on internal changes, when really what could be causing the problem is a leaky hose bib! Water consumption typically doesn't follow seasonal trends, unless irrigation is occurring at the property, so if you see a spike in the summer, that's an indication that something might be malfunctioning with your system.                                                  
  2. Once you have an understanding of where water is being used least efficiently, you can evaluate possible conservation measures and which would have the greatest water savings. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a water conservation guide that includes standards for water volumes used by water conserving fixtures that you can compare your volumes to and determine which improvements would generate the most water savings. High efficiency clothes washers, for instance, use 15 – 25 gallons per normal cycle. If your clothes washers are still standard efficiency or worse, replacing them with new, efficient washers could be a good investment and reduce your water bills drastically. 

Smaller improvements can also have huge savings, however, and for a much lower cost. Replacing older faucet aerators with new, efficient ones, for instance, can save up to 40% on water consumption and cost only $2 per unit in materials.

Don't forget one of the most important improvement strategies – tenant education! Modifying people's behavior can have a huge impact on your water bills (and other bills as well). Let them know about the improvements you're making and how they can do their part to reduce consumption.

Taking steps to reduce the water consumption at your property can be a challenge, but the pay-back is certainly worth the upfront work. Beyond the primary financial savings, you're also likely to enjoy secondary benefits, such as higher property values and improved relations with tenants. So while it may seem easiest to just pick the buildings with the highest water bills (likely your largest properties), these may not be your best choices to target for improvements if they don't have the greatest savings potential. Take the time to assess water consumption at all properties, so that you can target the true worst performers. Your efforts will certainly be appreciated the next time budgets are being calculated and your water bills have plumb-meted! Haha - get it?   

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