Commercial Water & Energy Co. Blog

Quarterly vs. Monthly Tier Structure

When a multi-housing manager stopped by our booth at an Apartment Association trade show a few months ago, she asked me, “Why Read/Bill/Collect companies exist? I mean, we visually read our own water submeters and do the billing ourselves.”


Aside from the fact that doing the reads yourself is a great way to open yourself to at least the perception of conflict-of-interest, computing the correct rates (read correct as another way of saying legal) is not so simple.

You see, during our conversation, she mentioned that her property is billed quarterly and she bills residents monthly. Aha!!! I asked for a copy of her last quarterly bill and a sample resident bill that she sends out.

A couple weeks later, I received a copy of a quarterly property-wide bill and a resident bill. Guess what? The property manager wasn’t an expert on rate analysis and so she had been shortchanging the landlord for thousands of dollars per month for years.

How so? Their water and sewer tier structures are based on how many gallons of water the property consumes per quarternot per month. Since she was billing each resident on what that resident consumed per month, she was billing residents only in the first tiers. And their second water tier was 50% more than their first tier. Their second tier sewer rate was 70% more.  And ready for this? Their third tier water – which no resident had paid in years – was 300% of the first tier rate.

This is only one example of many in which what looks like a simple rate question is actually more complicated than it appears. Incorrect and illegal billing of electric, gas and water can result in massive penalties.

She signed on. A new and happy client!

No Upfront Cost Submeters

CWE is proud to announce a new program – SUBMETERS WITH NO OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSE.

It’s high time that multihousing owners get some relief from the burden of ever-increasing water and sewer costs as well as high electricity and gas bills. Get out from under the burden of high water consumption. Motivate your residents to conserve.

Fill out the blue form to the right :arrow: . In the blank labeled “Other Description,” write in “no cash.”

Miami Requires Submeters

Two multi-housing projects – different owners - in Miami-Dade have recently approached us with the same problem. The general contractors of these projects had not budgeted for submeters because in both cases, the MEP had not included submeters in the schematics.

It was not until these properties had displayed mock-up units to their respective Miami-Dade inspectors that they became aware that submeters are required:

Section 5. Section 8A-381 (c) of Miami-Dade County:
The provisions of this article shall apply to multiple unit properties utilizing water services. Effective July 1, 2008, all permit applications for new multi-family residential developments shall be required to include a submeter for each individual dwelling unit.

The vast majority of GCs and multifamily owners in South Florida have been aware of this for years. But in these two cases, the GCs and owners had not previously built multihousing in Miami-Dade.


A number of construction inspectors in various locales are requiring plenum rated water submeters to be installed in multihousing projects. To be more specific, the requirement is applied in cases where the submeters are to be installed in plenum spaces – HVAC closets within the individual apartments.

The smaller problem – there is no such thing as a plenum-rated submeter.

Why isn’t there such a thing? I’m not an engineer but here’s is how it was explained to me:

For a material to be what is typically referred to as plenum-rated,” a material is tested according to a protocol called ASTM Standard E 84-05. The “fire-test-response standard for the comparative surface burning behavior of building materials is applicable to exposed surfaces such as walls and ceilings.”

To be precise, it’s not that there is no such thing as a plenum-rated submeter; it’s that there is no recognized test by which a submeter could be tested. Existing tests are intended for building materials with large exposed surfaces such as walls and ceilings – not for 5.5” to 7.5” long submeters.

The bigger problem– the inspector is requiring “plenum-rated” submeters and you need to either convince him that it is not applicable or you need to offer an alternative. Which solution makes the most sense depends on your situation. Fill out the blue form to the right :arrow:   – we’ll contact you and give you a solution.



squealing toilet

Listen to me…I’ve sprung a leak and you need to call maintenance RIGHT NOW!

If only there was a way to get tenants to report leaky toilets, wouldn’t that be great? After all, each leaky toilet wastes up to 6,000 gallons per month.

Drum roll…there is a way! It’s called SQUEALING TOILET™ What is a SQUEALING TOILET™? Here’s two things that it is not:

  • It’s not really a whole toilet.
  • It doesn’t exactly squeal.

Here’s what SQUEALING TOILET™ is:

  • New guts for a toilet – adjustable pressure cleaning fill valve, flapper & dual flush converter.
  • Leak-resistant with expected 5 year life span.
  • If and when it does leak, it emits a sound so irritating :twisted: , your residents will always report the leak!

That’s why we call it the SQUEALING TOILET©. To find out more, fill out the blue form to your right :arrow: In the blank for “Other Description,” write SQUEALING TOILET.

Which of Three are You?

MJ-20 Submeter


All Property Managers and owners fall into one of three categories:

  1. You’re passing off the costs of water and sewer to residents and it’s working well.* Whether you’re submetering, using RUBS or some combination thereof, you’re recovering the vast majority of costs and the system works smoothly. Your bottom line is great! Why are you reading this? :-)
  2.  You’re trying to pass off water and sewer costs to residents but you’re not happy with how it’s working. Either the submeter reads seem wacky or the billing company’s customer service isn’t what it should be or something else isn’t quite right. Residents are complaining and you’re frustrated. There must be a better way. Fill out the blue form on the right for a better :idea: .
  3. You’re giving away free water and sewer to your residents.** Because your tenants have no vested interest in conservation of water, leaks often go unreported and water use is probably higher than it should be. Oh, and of course, the result is that water and sewer expenses are dragging down your bottom line. Fill out blue form on your right for a better :idea: .

For those of you that fall into categories 2 or 3, fill out the blue form to your right :arrow: to receive free SUBMETERING vs RUBS vs FLAT FEE vs HYBRID. It addresses some of your most important questions:

  • How do you compare solutions and determine what’s best for your property and residents?
  •  What are the pros and cons of the different solutions?
  • What solutions do residents typically prefer?
  • How to find out what is even possible at your property?

Fill out the blue form to your right :arrow: for free Property Manager’s Guide to Utility Cost Recovery.

·         * It’s also possible that your residents are individually metered by the utility provider. In this case, the residents directly pay the utility. If that’s your case, you’ve got nothing to worry about – why are you reading this? :-)

·         ** If you are charging a flat fee for water and sewer, don’t kid yourself. In reality, you are giving away free water and sewer to your residents – it’s just that you’ve chosen to label part of the rent as “water and sewer charge.” You have the same problem that you would have had if you had simply included water and sewer with a higher rent – the residents have no motivation to conserve water and to quickly report leaks.


Submeter Specs in Construction

Most developers of apartment rental and condominium projects are requiring submeters. But all too often, submeter specs included in schematics are inadequate or contradictory.

We’re not sure why but a number of online plans are requiring a laundry list of hardware requirements that simply do not exist in any one set of hardware. For example, one list being used has 16 requirements. Just a few problems with the list:

  • Measuring chamber and measuring element must be easily removable from the main case without removal of meter from the line.
  • Water meter must have a tempered glass lens.
  • Water meters shall have battery operated transmitters with a minimum 5 year average battery life. Battery shall be replaceable without removing water meter from service or replacing transmitter unit.

The first requirement, if understood to mean that the meter must be removable from the flow tube, is a standard feature for some submeters.

Master Meter FAM is removable from flowtube but the register is not glass.



The second requirement is standard on a number of submeters. The third requirement is a standard feature of the industry’s most popular remote read system. But there is no one combination of submeter and transmitter that meets all three of the criteria.

Another list of requirements that we’ve come across requires a specific submeter that is proprietary to a particular Read/Bill/Collect company. If the owner doesn’t mind the potential problem that in the future, only one Read/Bill/Collect company might have access to repair parts, that’s fine. But the specifications state that the owner wants competitive bids from Read/Bill/Collect companies. The requirements are contradictory.

The above are some of the reasons why we thought it would be a good idea to publish a set of manuals for the multihousing and commercial construction industry. On the right of this page is a blue form – fill it out and we’ll email appropriate brochures.

Maximizing Submeter Collections

Josie yelled at me, “$3.25 a month per unit? Are you crazy?”

Wanting to set her mind at ease, I looked her straight in the face and said “No, I don’t think so.” Probably because my retort was no different than what a crazy person would have said, Josie looked even more convinced that I am one crazy dude.

But I should probably start from the top. Josie manages 3 small apartment complexes that are submetered for water – cumulatively 206 units. She was telling me how displeased she was with the company that was providing Read/Bill/Collect service. Being the salesman that I am, I offered to give her a proposal to take over the RBC service.

When she saw my price, that’s when she yelled at me, “$3.25 a month per unit? Are you crazy?” After my less than clever defense, “No, I don’t think so,” she said “The billing company we use charges only $2.50 per unit. I thought that was expensive. But you want even more. You’re crazy!”

Some guys have a positive effect on women without even trying. Not me. I explained:

“The RBC company that you are doing business with is cheap. $2.50 per unit per month is a great price. But they aren’t performing. Billing is not going out promptly and your residents cannot reach the RBC company’s customer service. Bottom line is that due to poor service, you’re recovering only 62% of water and sewer costs.”

Josie was listening. Maybe I’m not so crazy.

“Your average unit is being billed about $55 per unit per month. If you were recovering 80% instead of 62% of your communities’ water and sewer costs, you would be collecting $9.90 more per unit per month. We charge $.75 more per unit because we invest the necessary money to maximize collections.”

I had her ear. Like I said, I don’t exude an aura that causes women to agree with me. I use reason. It works.

“We spend extra money to properly staff our bilingual customer service department with professionally trained professionals. We also spend time and money on the hawkeye system – this means that we photo-capture the date/time stamps of all outgoing bills. That way, when certain habitual late payers claim that they never got the bill, we can prove that it entered the mail stream.”

Result: My wife still says I’m crazy…but Josie is now a happy client. Want to find out more about submetering or RUBS?

Save with Submeters

Note: below is the original version of an article we submitted to Common Ground magazine and that appeared in the March/April edition.

What is green and erases red ink for multihousing, apartments, condominium associations and shopping centers? Submeters, Ratio Utility Billing and hybrids of submetering/RUBS save money and encourage conservation.

Let’s admit it. At one time or another we have all been guilty of waste.  Have you ever entered a hotel room and turned down the thermostat just prior to going downstairs to the hotel bar? Perhaps you piled your plate with a little more food than you could eat at a buffet.  Is there anyone who is not guilty of wasting water in one way or another…perhaps by running the water while you brush your teeth or not attending to a water leak as quickly as you should?

Yes, almost everybody is guilty of wasting water. To a certain degree, it’s not our fault. It is human nature to take something for granted when we’re not paying for it. If we were all reminded daily that only 3% of the world’s water is drinkable, that there is a very complicated process to delivering that clean water to your home, and how important water is to our communities, maybe we would be more mindful and not waste such a precious commodity.

If we knew the history of water and how the great aqueduct systems of the Roman Empire helped make it so mighty for centuries, perhaps we would have greater appreciation of this invaluable resource. Very few people consider “the history of water.” Maybe more are mindful of the importance of conservation.

The brutal truth is that for most of us humans, saving money is an even greater motivator than conservation. If we were all billed for the water we use, we would use it more wisely. Individual responsibility is key to bringing many people together in a community for the common good.

The good news is that you can bring responsibility to water consumers by using inexpensive sub-metering technology.  A 438 page report titled National Multiple Family Sub-metering And Allocation Billing Program Study sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, National Apartment Association and National Multi Housing Council determined that sub-metering reduces water costs 15% to 40%.*

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 stall and we brush our teeth without running water and money down the drain.

If your association does not currently have submeters, are the hardware and installation costs a good investment? Studies have shown that because sub-metering is so inexpensive, the community association’s investment 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 & installation costs average about $250 (hardware from $110 to $150 and installations from $50 to $200 depending on building’s plumbing configuration.)  A savings of 25% of an average unit’s monthly $60 water bill is $15 per month or $180 per year.

How does submetering affect association budgeting?The community association still pays the utility. But instead of hoping that this month’s association water bill doesn’t cause a problem by running over budget, the association is charging the residents for what they used. What is billed to the association offsets what  is billed by the association.

How are residents affected?Residents are empowered to reap savings when they repair leaks and install conservation-friendly showerheads, toilets and faucets.

We’re all familiar with what happens when an association without submeters decides to locate leaks throughout a building. Maintenance asks residents to not 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, looking for leaks. Residents are disrupted but leaks are found. A couple months later, there are new water leaks and the process needs to be repeated.

When condo units are submetered, any resident that suspects a leak can pinpoint the problem. The occupant makes sure all faucets and appliances are off and then takes a gander at the meter. If the dial is moving, there’s a leak. If that’s the case, the first thing to do is check the toilet tanks. We have hard water in Florida – meaning the water is high in mineral content. It is recommended that Floridians change seals inside tanks every 6 to 12 months.

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

Submetering is fair. It’s wrong when we have to pay for other people’s abuse of a resource we all pay for equally. Sub-metering is “green.” Holding residents accountable for water consumption in drought-prone Florida is good citizenship. Sub-metering is a way to do something constructive about lower water levels in the Everglades.

What does a submeter look like?

A small section of pipe with a 2 to 3 inch meter is installed where the water pipe or pipes enter the unit – typically adjacent to the hot water heater or in a unit’s laundry room or on an exterior utility area. If electronics are used, a tiny battery-operated transmitter is connected to the submeter, small repeaters are installed at strategic spots and a central data collector is placed in the clubhouse or central office. Submetering is unobtrusive and requires very little space.

Who pays whom?

A third party billing company typically monitors all of the units’ consumption and bills them based on the rates that the utility is charging the community association. The third party billing company collects the money and sweeps the funds to the association minus an administrative fee. The third party billing company sends a monthly “Reimbursement Statement” to the association. This is a detailed itemization of moneys collected and remitted as well as what should be an easy-to-understand explanation of rates charged by the utility.

Our condo association already uses submeters and we’re saving money. What can we do to put even more money in the association’s pocket?

Congratulations to condo associations that use submeters. You are halfway there!

I’m kidding. Actually, you may be 70% or 80% there or you may be one of the lucky associations that is getting all the benefits it is due. Check your contract with the third-party billing company.

Do the administrative fees charged by the third-party billing company to the community association comport with the contract? You may be due a substantial refund. Are the submeters and electronics properly functioning so that all money due from residents is being collected? Are resident bills correctly itemized? How would residents grade the third-party billing’s customer service?

Steve Hirsch is marketing manager at Commercial Water & Energy, a national third-party billing & submetering company that has been in business for 18 years. He enjoys customizing optimal solutions for specific properties and is always available to answer questions about submetering, RUBS and various hybrid solutions. Ask and we’ll customize a submetering or RUBS solution for you.

Tiered Water Bill

In order to encourage water conservation, most water utilities have adopted a tiered billing structure for all types of property classes – including multifamily. As water consumption per apartment unit reaches higher levels, the rate per unit increases for set intervals – the definition of tiered water bill. For examples, below are tier structures in Tampa, Colorado Springs and Miami-Dade.

Tampa’s multifamily water and sewer bill structure:

Apartment Customer Class:  Multi-family (a)

Inside City

Outside City

Tier 0

0 to 2 ccf* per month (first 2 ccf per month, per ccf)



Tier 1

3 to 6 ccf* per month (next 4 ccf per month, per ccf)



Tier 2

7 to 12 ccf* per month (next 6 ccf per month, per ccf)



Tier 3

13 to 21 ccf* per month (next 9 ccf per month, per ccf)



Tier 4

Over 21 ccf* per month (in excess of 21 ccf per month, per ccf)



* ccf = 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons.

(a) Calculation is based on the number of dwelling units X the tier range.

Due to drought conditions, Colorado Springs announced what amounts to an additional 25% surcharge rate for its “Block 3” water bill tier:

Tiered water rates as of Aug. 1, 2013

Monthly use

CF = cubic feet

Note: One CF = 7.48 gallons


Non-water shortage pricing
(Inside city)

Water shortage pricing
(Inside city)

Block 1

Up to 999 CF/$0.0311 per CF

Up to 999 CF/$0.0311 per CF

Block 2

1,000 to 2,499 CF/$0.0584 per CF

1,000 to 2,499 CF/$0.0584 per CF

Block 3

2,500 CF or more/$0.0885 per CF

2,500 or more CF/$0.0885 per CF

Water surcharge


$0.0221 per CF 2,500 CF or more

In Miami-Dade, the multifamily tier structure for water and sewer  is even more dramatic. Effective Oct. 1, 2013: 

  • For 0 to 4 CCF per unit – $.03740 per CCF
  • For 5 to 7 CCF per unit – $2.5254 per CCF
  • For 8 to 14 CCF per unit – $3.154 per CCF
  • For 15 CCF per unit and over – $4.1705 per CCF

CCF = 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons

As water and sewer costs are already expensive and becoming more so, submetering and charging tenants for water has become a necessity. Varioius studies sponsored by utilities, the EPA and National Multi-Housing Council show that submetering lowers consumption 15% to 39%. Are you paying double the rate for that last 15% to 39%?

For a free analysis of you water and sewer bill, contact the water bill expert.