In most multifamily housing, tenants do not have much incentive to conserve water. Unlike power bills, which typically go directly to tenants, owners generally bear all of the burdens for their tenants’ water usage.
It’s a difficult situation, but not an insurmountable one. In fact, tenants will happily put water-saving habits into effect if they are properly educated and incentivized.
Education is the first and most important step in getting tenants motivated to save as they often have no idea that their everyday practices may be wasting water. For example, standard showerheads use 2.5 gallons of water per minute. So, an active campaign to get tenants to take a five-minute shower instead of the average 8.2-minute shower could save about 8 gallons of water per shower. (Installing water-saving showerheads would cut the amount of water used even further.)
If you have dishwashers in your units, send a note encouraging tenants to run them only when full. Half-full dishwashers waste gallons of water in every cycle. Also, discourage hand washing dishes. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates this practice uses twice as much water as a dishwasher.
Data Is King
Some property owners have also reported that simply tracking utility use in their buildings has led to better conservation habits. “There is nothing like data, whether it is for weight loss or your electric bill. That way we can see our performance as compared to our peers,” Greg Gunther, president of the Granada Court Homeowners Association in Pasadena told Multihousing Pro.
Gunther not only tracked water and energy usage in the 31-unit development, but he also repeatedly published that information in newsletters that went out to the rest of the HOA. As a result, he said, total consumption dropped.
Of course, in Gunther’s case, the data was being viewed by his fellow owners. Tenants may require more motivation to make moves towards water-saving practices. The property management blog Buildium suggests setting a reasonable goal for water use reduction and then rewarding tenants with a building-wide event. “Set a goal (to lower water and sewer charges by 15% in six months, for example) and sponsor a pizza night when the goal is reached,” it suggests. “This will not only keep tenants motivated but will rally them around a truly worthwhile cause.”
Billing Is the Best Incentive
Still, it may take more than pizza parties to really move the needle on tenants’ water use. Luckily, ratio utility billing systems (RUBS) are a cost-effective and fair way to transfer shared utility costs to individual units. This is even true in most rent-controlled jurisdictions, as long as the system is implemented on turnover.
RUBS uses factors like the number of occupants, the square footage of the unit, or a customizable combination of the two. Owners can choose to pass on 100 percent of water costs, or less, depending on common area amenities like a laundry room or extensive landscaping.
RUBS naturally incentivizes tenants to use less water every day since they are now responsible for how much they use. It also makes residents much more reactive to leaks as they can now see the spike in water use immediately and let owners know quickly about the issue. Even if tenants don’t check out their own usage regularly, owners and property managers can also see this data, so they can check out an outlier unit that may have a maintenance issue. In most systems, owners can be even be altered by the software if certain spikes occur.
Fighting water waste can pit owners against tenants in a constant battle of wills. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Through a concerted push to educate tenants on how to conserve, as well as financially incentivizing them to make these conservational changes, the war on water waste can turn into a team effort for efficiency.
Livable is a smart billing software company with products designed to save money, as well as the environment. To learn more about opportunities to offset rising utility costs check out livable.com or call 877.789.6027.