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.