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Reducing water outflow.

Water, our most valuable natural resource, quickly is becoming imperiled. The hypothetical problem of water shortages is, in fact, a present-day reality in many parts of the country. Long-term, persistent shortages could have disastrous consequences not only for personal usage but also for our nation's economic health.

Although the United States has an abundant overall supply of water, the quality and long-term availability of our water resources are at risk due to poor management and wasteful misuse. Our rivers, lakes, and underground reserves are being used faster than nature can replace them. And in many areas of the country where supplies are plentiful, water is being contaminated by man-made pollution.

In major urban centers, antiquated and crumbling main-line delivery systems are responsible for the loss of an increasingly large percentage of water as it is being transported to end-users.

All of this leads many experts to believe that water concerns will replace energy as the focus of the next natural resource crisis.

Water and sewer costs

The 1990s most certainly will be the decade of environmental changes, with innovative programs at all governmental levels aimed at cleaning up our air and water. Mandates in the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act are clear. Cities must significantly reduce the amount of pollutants in their water supply. So far, only 50 drinking water contaminants have been regulated by the EPA nationally. More than 100 await regulation before the turn of the century.

The number of pollutants and degree of regulation will depend on the outcome of the battle ensuing between environmentalists and some researchers. Environmentalists argue that the EPA has not gone far enough to prevent cancer-causing agents from entering the water supply. Many researchers, on the other hand, are not convinced that pollutant levels of parts per billion can significantly affect our health.

Whatever the outcome, we can be assured that the cost of delivering clean water will increase many-fold in the coming years. Costs of attaining compliance with current programs will rise sharply. Leonard Bechtel, a spokesman for the EPA, has estimated that annual costs of compliance will jump from $107 billion in 1992 to about $150 billion by the year 2000. This estimate includes only current requirements and does not include legislation that may be passed later in this decade.

Even more significant will be the jump in spending at the local level: from $22 billion to $33 billion by the turn of the century, Bechtel estimates. These spending requirements will certainly place additional pressures on already strained local budgets and result in further, perhaps dramatic, increases in water and sewer fees.

Impact on expenses

Traditionally, water and sewer costs have been a small item in the operating budget of most investment properties and could be easily "factored in" as a predictable operating expense. As the costs of water and sewer increase, however, this expense will claim a larger and larger share of operating income.

Approximately 95 percent of all apartments across the country are master metered with no individual metering of resident water usage. The signal that is sent to residents is clear: "We are not really concerned about encouraging conservation." Because the costs are included in the rent, too often the burden of reporting leaks and other maintenance problems is shifted to the owner.

But property owners and managers are in a unique position to influence the manner in which residents use water. They can encourage conservation by providing the only acceptable method of allocating water costs--individual metering.

Three methods of metering water usage in apartments exist today: master metering, individual metering, and sub-metering. A master meter is a single meter that measures usage throughout an apartment complex. The meter is owned and maintained by the local water department. The water department periodically bills the property owner for water and sewer usage. The owner attempts to recover these costs through the rental charges.

Master metering offers no incentive for conservation, as individual residents are not directly responsible for payment. Also, any effort made by the apartment residents to conserve water usage will not lower their housing costs. In addition, master metering does not provide the property owner with any significant degree of control over water usage because it allows no easy way to identify specific sources of water waste.

Some apartment buildings have individual city meters installed in each unit. Typically, a curb valve is installed outside each unit with a separate supply line running to each apartment. Apartment residents are billed directly by the local water department. Like master metering, the water department owns and maintains the individual meters.

Because each resident is billed for his or her actual water usage, individual metering provides a strong incentive for conservation. Conservation steps taken by individual residents will result in lower total housing costs.

However, this method has three major drawbacks. First, the cost to install separate curb valves and connecting lines to each unit plus any required tap fees may be prohibitive. Second, because residents pay the water department, it may not be possible for the owner to determine if, in fact, the bills are being paid.

A third drawback of individual city metering is that it does not provide the owner with a periodic reading on water usage by unit. This makes it difficult to identify and correct water maintenance problems, especially in larger apartment complexes.

Sub-metering is an alternative to master or individual city metering. Under this arrangement, a separate water meter is installed in each apartment unit. Unlike master metering or individual city metering, sub-metering avoids the cost of installing separate curb valves, connecting lines, and tap fees.

The sub-meters are owned and maintained by the property owners. Periodic reading and billing are handled by the owner, either directly or through a private water sub-metering company. Because each apartment resident receives a periodic bill for water/sewer charges, sub-metering provides the same incentive for conservation as does individual city metering.

The main difference between individual city metering and sub-metering is that the property owner assumes some additional administrative responsibilities under sub-metering.

In an individually metered apartment, payment generally is enforced by the water department through shutting off the water at the curb valve. With sub-metering, payment procedure is established through the terms of the rental agreement.

Sub-meters can be installed on a retrofit basis in existing apartments or in new apartments as they are built. In either case, the plumbing configuration must have one cold-water supply line running to each apartment with an individual hot-water tank in each unit. Sub-meters cannot be installed economically in some buildings because of the plumbing configuration. Thus, each application has to be dealt with on an individual basis.

Sub-metering devices generally cost between $70 and $85. Most meters sold in the United States have a 15-year factory warranty on meter accuracy. The time requirements for meter installation range between two and four hours, depending on plumbing design.

In a study of Maple Canyon Apartments, a 66-unit apartment community in Columbus, Ohio, William Murnane, CPM|R~, of the Wallace F. Ackley Company, found a 22-percent drop in average monthly water consumption after sub-meters were installed in 1989. "Our average monthly water usage at Maple Canyon was 46,353 cubic feet in 1988," says Murnane. "In 1990, the first full year after sub-meters were installed, it had dropped to 36,240 cubic feet per month."


Although owners and managers have little control over cost increases that will come from more legislation, they can and should make a concerted effort to promote the goal of water conservation. Property owners and managers should create the sort of environment that encourages conservation and discourages wasteful practices. By promoting resident conservation, managers also will control an expense that each year is claiming a larger share of operating income.

HVAC Maintenance Saves Water and Money

Managers eager to save water and money should consider talking with a water treatment contractor or HVAC-systems consultant about their building's HVAC system, as boiler inefficiencies, deposits, and corrosion can waste both water and energy.

The potential savings from investing in quality water treatment in an HVAC system can be considerable, says James W. Beard, director of marketing for Diversey Water Technologies, Inc., Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Water treatment reduces the buildup of scale in boilers and other HVAC equipment, which impedes a system's thermal efficiency and shortens its lifespan.

Typically, Beard explains, fuel represents 75 percent of the cost of producing 1,000 pounds of steam. Scale buildup in boilers and water lines of just 0.5 inch can result in a loss of 16 percent of that fuel.

In addition, property managers might consider installing one of the new microprocessor-based control systems, Beard says. These controllers continuously monitor a variety of system functions, including water volume and chemistry, and thus can uncover inefficiencies or problems quickly to save both water and fuel.

In the last year several manufacturers have produced controller systems that are linked to PC-based software, allowing building managers to track HVAC system performance and run sophisticated diagnostic tests that previously would have required shutting the system down.

Jack Bernstein and Harry Apostolos are the co-founders of WaterMaster America, Inc., a water sub-metering company based in Columbus, Ohio, with offices in Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio; Bethesda, Maryland; and Coral Gables, Florida.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Bernstein, Jack; Apostolos, Harry
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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