California apartment buildings are falling short on water conservation
This week, we released findings from a two-year study of water efficiency in California-based multifamily buildings. With the extreme California drought, conserving water is a high priority: Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency at the beginning of this year, and issued an Executive Order in April requiring a statewide water reduction of 25%. In the month of June, California exceeded that goal with a reduction of 27.3% compared to the same time frame in 2013. Our data, however, shows that the multifamily segment is falling far short of statewide results (and the Governor’s goal), reducing water use just 6%, on average, in the first half of 2015 compared to the first half of 2013. A very dry May and June saw upwards of 10% savings, but still have a lot of catching up to do to match a 29% reduction reported statewide.
Why the discrepancy between multifamily water savings and statewide goals? We’ve seen a common conflict of interest in the past: what we call the “split incentive” problem. Most multifamily building owners pay for their buildings’ water bills rather than passing those costs on to tenants. Without that financial incentive to conserve, residents of multifamily buildings often do not reduce water use through behavioral changes. As a result, multifamily buildings, especially in California, have a lot of catching up to do.
However, our findings also reveal a huge opportunity: buildings in the study that implemented retrofits performed much better, reducing water use by a full 25%. These retrofits ranged from water fixture overhauls (in sinks, showers, and toilets) to landscaping upgrades, like drip irrigation replacements. This means that many California apartment buildings have the potential to create additional efficiency (and reduce expenses as a result). Simple toilet upgrades have generated over 30% annual water savings for some properties!
What else can property managers and owners do to help meet statewide goals in their multifamily buildings?
Take a page from San Francisco-based Chinatown CDC’s book and educate tenants about water conservation methods--or better yet, encourage a little bit of friendly competition between them to see which buildings can save the most.
Landscape with plants that need less water, like California native plants and succulents.
Invest in simple retrofits like low-flow showerheads and replacing leaky toilet flappers.
Use software (like WegoWise) to track water usage building-by-building to find the biggest opportunities for savings.
About our study:
This study drew upon a database of nearly 600 multifamily buildings across the state from January 2013 through May 2015. Data includes 25,000 units, almost 32,000 bedrooms and 2.4 billion gallons of water usage over the two-year period.