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Plugging Up Apartment Water Waste with Efficiency Programs

teague-dan-wego-wiseAcross America, water rates have been on the rise in recent years. In San Francisco, for example, water rates have approximately doubled in the last five years (according to Circle of Blue), and affordable housing owners are feeling the pinch. The rising water costs for Chinatown Community Development Center (Chinatown CDC) located in San Francisco placed a new hefty financial burden on the organization. Chinatown CDC pursued a two-pronged approach to decrease water usage and costs.

Chinatown CDC first took advantage of a free retrofit program with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Low-flow toilets, showerheads, faucet aerators and other high-efficiency fixtures were installed across 15 of Chinatown’s 25 properties. To ensure retrofits delivered on expected savings, Chinatown enlisted an efficiency software provider to deliver a comprehensive view of their portfolio’s water use. The software provider confirmed a reduction of nearly 20 percent in water consumption, amounting to $40,000 in annual savings.

While all of Chinatown CDC’s properties saw significant decreases following the retrofits, the owners realized that many of their properties still had high-baseline average water use. They decided to recover additional savings through a targeted tenant engagement program. The efficiency software provider assisted Chinatown CDC further by providing analysis and graphics to educate tenants about water saving strategies. Visuals were a critical component of the program, which educated both Chinese- and English-speaking residents.

For the engagement program, Chinatown CDC selected three of its buildings, and, after educating their tenants on water usage, set up a friendly contest in which the buildings competed against one another to see who could cut down their water usage the most.

The program led to a 17 percent decrease in the average water consumption for each building on top of the 20 percent already achieved through retrofits.

Every year, more than a trillion gallons of water are wasted in households across America — that equates to the yearly usage of 11 million households, according to the US EPA. Households, on average, can waste 10,000 gallons of water per year simply due to leaks. Dripping faucets, worn toilet flappers and leaky showerheads account for the majority of leaks. According to research by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, apartment buildings tend to be twice as leaky as single?family homes.

Clearly, apartment manages have an opportunity to upgrade their portfolio and stop flushing water and money down the drain. This is especially true in California where water rates have risen and drought restrictions could lead to hefty fines. However, there are several factors that often prevent managers from moving forward with cost-saving upgrades.

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