No property manager wants to pay too much for water. However, if those costs aren’t kept in check through good practices, the results can be much worse than a costly bill.
Just ask the residents of a condo in DeKalb County, Georgia. In February, the condo’s property management company threatened to condemn the building and evict the residents if they didn’t pay — wait for it — a $130,000 water bill. The building’s owners paid $220 a month to the property management company, but the dues simply weren’t enough to cover the absurd water costs.
What kind of water situation leads to such a high bill? While it’s possible the association in DeKalb misused funds, sometimes the answer is simply that the charges really are that high.
Water usage skyrockets when tenants of a complex or association use too much water, don’t report leaks properly, or simply are unaware of a leak. As costs rise, the property manager often doesn’t have the funds to cover the unexpected bill.
That debt gets passed along to residents, which opens the door to a situation like the one in DeKalb County.
Keeping Costs Down
Every property owner wants to avoid unexpected bills and angry tenants, while those same residents would rather not pay higher fees that go straight to the water company. This is precisely why property managers looking to maintain costs must make managing water usage a top priority.
In 2015, water prices rose at a higher rate than almost any other household expenditure. Some cities combat this rise with different pricing tiers, but simply charging people more for higher water usage doesn’t address the real issue. The solution isn’t to cause affordability issues; it’s to control water waste.
Property managers usually employ several strategies to manage water waste. But when the problem has so many potential causes, it’s hard to know which fixes are worth the money and which just cost more. Below are four potential strategies to curtail water usage, as well as an analysis of whether they’re worth the investment:
1. Ensure regular preventive maintenance.
Over time, the working parts and seals on toilets and other water-based devices deteriorate, especially toilet flappers. If the valve doesn’t let enough water through, residents will often flush multiple times and consume double the water. And if it lets too much water through, water is wasted with every flush. (Leaking flappers can also cause water to run constantly.)
To provide maintenance, property managers must include a clause in every lease that calls for regular inspections in every unit. After moving out, every faucet, appliance, and pipe requires a thorough check to ensure each works properly.
If you think you have a toilet leak, drop some food coloring in the tank. If the dye trickles into the bowl, replace the flapper. Also, keep a close eye on your shower diverters to make sure the water isn’t running to the tub while the shower is on.
Remember: The best way to solve a problem is to stop it from happening in the first place.
Verdict: Always worth the investment
2. Convert to more efficient equipment.
Many older toilets use 3.5 gallons of water per flush. However, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 lowered new toilets’ flush volume to 1.6 gallons.
This change didn’t just help the environment; it dramatically reduced water costs on newer toilets. However, much of the water that flows into a toilet tank during the fill cycle goes directly into the bowl, resulting in up to 1.5 gallons wasted for every flush.
Installing diverters can help this problem, but they’re not the best option for every toilet. Replacing toilets en masse can be expensive but saves more money in the long run.
To get the most bang for your buck, have a water savings expert examine water usage throughout the entire building. Wide-scale upgrades present high upfront costs, so it’s ultimately more cost-effective to hire someone who can analyze the property as a whole and suggest the most appropriate course of action.
Verdict: Worth the investment after an expert analysis
3. Submeter every unit.
Even for property owners who don’t bill tenants for water, submeters are beneficial for monitoring usage. They let you see who uses the most water and when, and they identify potential new leaks or illegal devices.
The use of submeters to gauge volume and time of water usage also helps determine hot water usage, which affects an energy bill. With the cost of water and other forms of energy continuing to rise, attacking both fronts can help property managers save.
Unfortunately, putting submeters on older building can be a major hassle. Installation usually involves going under the floors and behind the walls, which makes the cost prohibitive to the potential savings.
This strategy is effective for newer buildings, but it can be challenging in those that older.
Verdict: Only worth the investment in new buildings
4. Find and fix every leak and drip.
Without a water monitoring service, you won’t be able to detect problems as they happen. Inspecting your units is the best way to find the leaks immediately and fix the problem.
Doing unit inspections more than once a year are impractical and costly. A water monitoring service alerts you to leaks and other waste problems. This, along with an inspection service, helps you prevent, detect, and repair leaks and waste.
Along with a full-on leak repair initiative, educate residents on the importance of reporting leaks and defects. Hang fliers and show residents how quickly you respond to the problem once they bring it up.
Verdict: An inspector is worth the investment when combined with a water monitoring service. Educational campaigns cost next to nothing and should be part of any strategy you decide on.
5. Utilize Property Management Software
With all the responsibilities landlords have, keeping track of everything gets harder and harder. Rentler’s free property management software gives landlords access a suite of free tools including maintenance tracking software to make things easy. Our maintenance software lets landlords and tenants submit maintenance requests, prioritize importance, upload files and invoices, and track progress on completion. That’s only one of the many free resources we make available to landlords.
Sign up for a free account today to get started.