Although you might already keep close watch on your building's electric and gas bills, there's another meter that will tick faster in the coming years: your water meter. Fortunately, there are many ways to help keep your water costs down.
Property managers concerned about their property's water use should begin by keeping track of specific water use in the building and on the site, says Kara Jensen, program manager for Leonardo Academy. By monitoring the water use of cooling towers or water dedicated to specific facilities, such as cafeterias or laundry rooms, property managers can begin to estimate how much their systems are costing them over time and develop a plan that can provide a quick payback.
For example, Jensen suggests that property managers install low-flow aerators on showerheads and faucets. "They're very cost effective and easy to implement," Jensen says. Upgrading to low flow or dual flush toilets can also provide quick results. Even upgrading Energy Star dishwashers on unit turnover can save energy and water.
"It's easy to be water efficient and sacrifice comfort," says Quincy Vale, president of PowerHouse. So be sure that you select products that can still deliver a quality flow.
When working with clients to improve their properties, Vale recommends reducing paved surfaces and replacing blacktop driveways with brick or other porous surfaces that storm water can percolate through. Use gutters to direct rainwater to areas that need water, or direct rainwater to underground cisterns that can be directed to the building's interior for use in toilet plumbing.
Even if your property doesn't have the budget to replace a blacktop driveway, the next time you resurface it, you can adjust the grade so the water runs to a dedicated irrigation line, just as you'd construct the guttering on the roof.
For a more ambitious upgrade, replace standard timer-controlled sprinklers with a computer-controlled system that senses the amount of moisture in the soil and calls for water only when necessary.
You can increase the water efficiency of your landscaping by making strategic choices in plants. "By using native plants that are more attuned to the environment, you can eliminate sprinklers," Vale says.
At his desert home, Lancaster harvests more than 375,000 liters of rainwater a year on just one-eighth of an acre. By harvesting rainwater, Lancaster and his clients are able to reduce their water bills and by extension, their electric bills, as the rainwater supports shading trees that can cool a property. This reduces the need for air conditioning.
Harvesting rainwater requires you to observe your property's gradations, locating the high levels where water first hits ground. "Water travels downhill, so collect water at your high points for more immediate infiltration and easy gravity-fed distribution," Lancaster says. Water harvesting does not need to begin as a large-scope and capital needy project. Start small and prove that the investment of time and money can yield expected dividends.
In some communities, Lancaster says, there are economic incentives to harvesting rainwater. "There are some tax credits or other compensation for reducing community flooding," he says.
Enlisting your residents in the community gardens will not only help your water bill, but it will also assist your recruitment and retention efforts. Provide bins for recycling for every unit. Small efforts, like providing travel coffee mugs with your community's logo, can not only demonstrate to your residents your respect for the environment, but can also carry your property's brand into the marketplace.