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Saving water and money.

With increasing water costs and a water shortage in many parts of the country, our company took a hard look at ways to reduce water and sewer charges on apartment projects where the owners paid the water bills. The properties we evaluated were using more water each year. Water costs also were increasing due to higher rates. After evaluating several methods for reducing water and sewer charges, we installed a system that has reduced those costs by over 20 percent.

We evaluated several possible ways of reducing water use and decided on a toilet conversion technology, which could be installed easily in the properties' toilet tanks. This device, called Select-A-Flush, reduced the water used for flushing liquid waste from 5.5 gallons per flush to 1.5 to 2.0 gallons. Solid waste flushes still used 5.5 gallons. Because liquid waste flushes represent 85 percent of all use, this saved over 20 gallons of water per resident, per day.

The system was installed by the distributor, so it did not create a maintenance problem for the on-site maintenance personnel. This system was installed on three Houston-area garden-style apartment complexes 8 to 12 months ago with the following results:

In property one, a 152-unit apartment project, water usage before installation of the low-flow device was 235 gallons per day, per unit. Water rates were $1.77 per 1,000 gallons, and sewer rates were $2.59. The average monthly water and sewer cost per unit was $32.83.
 Gallons water/
 Occupied per day sewer
Month units per unit costs
September 1990 141 226.3 $4,815.95
October 1990 138 227.9 4,174.40
November 1990 139 212.5 4,729.50
December 1990 138 214.2 4,329.10
January 1991 139 270.6 4,815.95
February 1991 140 250.7 4,815.95
March 1991 140 246.6 4,265.40
Average 139 235.5 $4,563.75
 Results from the same 152-unit apartment
project, after the low-flow toilet
device was installed in April 1991:
May 1991 138 160.3 $3,241.65
June 1991 135 160.8 3,091.50
July 1991 137 160.6 2,727.50
August 1991 136 164.4 3,478.25
September 1991 137 188.9 4,147.10
October 1991 138 168.2 2,459.05
November 1991 144 179.5 3,905.95
December 1991 147 201.0 4,065.20
Average 139 173.0 $3,389.53

The average water and sewer cost per occupied unit after the low-flow device was installed were $24.30, or $8.44 less than prior to the installation. This was a 25.7 percent savings in water and sewer costs, providing a six-month payback on the units, including installation.

The same installation was made on a 312-unit Houston-area garden apartment project with similar results.
June 1990 203 478.7 $15,926.61
July 1990 206 500.7 16,842.80
August 1990 218 447.6 11,824.36
September 1990 215 424.0 12,987.76
October 1990 218 422.0 13,729.18
November 1990 224 413.3 13,245.47
December 1990 230 414.2 13,091.75
Average 216 422.6 $13,808.27

Before installation, average monthly water and sewer costs were $63.84 per occupied unit. It should be noted that the low occupancy (69 percent) increased the cost per occupied unit. This was because a certain amount of the property's water was used for landscaping and common areas, no matter what the occupancy was.

After installation, the usage declined significantly.
January 1991 232 346.4 $12,058.02
February 1991 233 348.9 11,138.67
March 1991 240 348.4 10,288.97
April 1991 253 285.9 11,549.32
May 1991 266 433.5 12,992.69
June 1991 273 364.1 13,885.90
July 1991 279 372.6 12,786.92
August 1991 276 379.1 17,919.41
September 1991 261 365.5 15,247.45
October 1991 261 402.0 11,007.87
November 1991 272 346.2 14,179.22
Average 259 360.8 $13,005.86

AS the occupancy increased to an 83 percent average, the gallons used per unit were reduced by 51.6 gallons per month. Even with the higher occupancy, $13.62 per unit per month was saved with a 21.3 percent reduction in water and sewer costs. The installed cost of about $35.00 per unit was paid back in water and sewer costs in three months.

The third building tested was a 208-unit garden-style apartment project in the Greater Houston area. The property had an average occupancy of 184 units for the entire two-year test period. The average monthly water and sewer costs for the 12-month period of 1990 before the low-flow installation was $7,009.27, or $38.09 per occupied unit.

The results for the 12-month period of 1991 after installation showed an average monthly cost of $4,814.86 or $26.15 per month per occupied unit. Savings were $11.94 per occupied unit per month--31.4 percent on the average monthly water and sewer bill. The savings gave a payback period on the installation and cost of the program of less than four months.

These properties were selected because they had high water usage which could result in larger savings than other properties. We discovered that the properties with the largest savings were those with the highest number of people per unit and the older projects (built in the 1970s or earlier), as they have larger toilet tanks and use the most water. The program has been virtually maintenance free for the on-site staff. After months of operation, the program has been well received by the residents as it is easy to use, and they view it as a way to help the environment.

In summary, the dual-flush technology produced water and sewer savings in excess of 20 percent with high resident satisfaction and few maintenance problems.

Gary Langendoen, CPM[R], is executive vice president of Cytel Corporation in Dallas. The firm offers real estate and communication services to property owners. Mr. Langendoen has purchased over $1.2 billion of apartments and has managed 20,000 apartment units. He is a former president of the Los Angeles chapter of IREM and has taught IREM's 300-, 400-, and 500-series courses. He is also a member of the IREM Academy of Authors.
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Title Annotation:reducing water and sewer charges through toilet conversion technology
Author:Langendoen, Gary
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:May 1, 1992
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