The Meter is Running
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Monitoring helps a Jersey City co-op curb usage — and cut costs.
AUTHORAlan Rothschild, President, Vantage Group
Water prices have nearly doubled over the past 15 years, which means that boards should be monitoring their buildings’ water usage and looking out for leaks. How does water monitoring work?
Typically, most buildings have a single main water meter, and you monitor that. We also develop a profile of the property to determine what its normal usage should be. A lot of times boards don’t realize that their usage is 10, 20 or 30% too high. Then we help them try to get down to a more efficient level by telling them which conservation initiatives to implement. We recently worked with a high-end co-op in Jersey City that had water-efficient fixtures, but our original analysis showed the water usage was way too much for the building. The board had no clue what was going on. The building had an infinity-type pool with a recirculating pump system. It turned out that somebody had switched a valve so that the water creating that waterfall effect was draining directly down into the sewer instead of recirculating as it was supposed to. Once we got that under control and the valves reset, it dropped the co-op’s water costs by $100,000 a year.
What about buildings where the problem isn’t so easy to pinpoint?
When we do our original cost analysis, we visit the site to check the building systems. If we discover there’s a problem, we can generally point the staff in the right direction, and they can resolve things relatively quickly. In other cases, we recommend a conservation tune-up, where you bring in a professional vendor who’s experienced in helping buildings make their water use more efficient. It’s typically done in the residential portion of the building and consists of installing high-quality aerators and showerheads, but at the residents’ option. Sometimes a resident doesn’t want the showerhead changed. But the big focus, though, is toilets, and tweaking them to operate at peak efficiency without causing problems. Anybody can make a toilet flush less water, but a lot of times that results in problems, so people flush them more, and they use even more water. A professional knows how to adjust them so that they flush properly but save water. This can make a huge difference in a building’s water use. Typically we see savings of at least 10% to 15%, sometimes 20% to 30%.
If a co-op or condo has a retail tenant, what kinds of water issues should boards be on the lookout for?
Retail makes the building’s water use much more complicated. We had another fairly high-end co-op that insisted that its retail component wasn’t using much water despite our telling them for years that it was using about $25,000 a year worth of water, roughly one-third of the building’s total water budget. The board finally followed our advice and got submeters installed. Generally, food-service businesses like restaurants are the biggest water users. Some of them have water-cooled refrigeration systems, and if they are operating inefficiently, they use a hell of a lot of water. By monitoring submeters, we catch problems like that relatively quickly.
But boards that want to control water usage are limited to building systems, correct? They don’t have control over what each resident is using.
Correct. In a typical New York City apartment building where there’s just one master meter, it would just be too expensive to try to meter every single apartment. And monitoring them would be time-consuming and a big maintenance headache. But we’ve found that if you watch the main water use, you can tell when a building is getting out of control, and then things can be done to bring it back under control, particularly with conservation tune-ups, which really should be done about every four to six years. It’s pretty much as important to manage your water usage as it is to manage your fuel usage for heating and hot water.