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Water Submetering Systems vs. Cost-Effective Alternatives

For landlords or managers of multi-tenant properties, the idea of submetering water usage can feel like a headache, especially in older buildings. Between extensive construction requirements and legislature in some areas that prevents landlords from charging tenants for water, the cost of installing submeters on your property can be hard to justify. However, for many landlords, it's clear that something must be done to reduce the cost of water.

Water bills in NYC and many other major metro areas are projected to rise over the next several years. In fact, in July 2019, the cost of water in NYC was raised from $10.10 per 100 cf to $10.33. Not a huge hike, but consider that 10 years prior, it was $5.98 per 100 cf. The cost nearly doubled in 10 years! For landlords who are hoping to save money on water bills in NYC and other areas, water submetering and conservation technology may be two common considerations.

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Nationwide, electricity submetering in multi-tenant buildings has become increasingly common, and it has helped create more transparent utility costs. Water submetering, however, is rarer. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t play an important role in the utility management of your property. In this blog, you'll learn some of the pros and cons associated with water submetering systems and more cost-effective technologies.

Water Submetering Systems

Water submetering systems involve the installation of unique submeters for every unit on your property. The result is total transparency. Landlords are able to understand how much water each apartment or unit is using on a monthly, or even weekly, basis. However, submetering water is rarely a silver bullet, especially for many landlords in New York. Depending on the age and infrastructure of your property, submeters may be downright prohibitive or just too complicated to do due to the plumbing infrastructure. 

Pros of Water Submetering Systems:

  • Nationwide, evidence indicates 15%–30% savings on average with submetering on a given property. However, this data reflects utility billing in areas where landlords are permitted to bill tenants directly for water usage (not NYC).
  • Could encourage eco-conscious residents to behave in "greener" ways.
  • Provides details to both tenants and landlords about water usage on a per-unit basis, resulting in transparent utility costs.Identifies leaks and other inefficiencies within single units.

Cost-Effective Alternatives

Many landlords and building managers are shocked to learn just how cost-effective alternatives like The Water Scrooge™ can be. Even in markets where landlords are permitted to charge tenants for water, installing effective tamper-proof conservation technology can result in a greater impact on the bottom line than submetering water.

Ultimately, the only thing landlords can control directly is the measured flow-rates of tenant showers, toilets, and sinks. You can't control tenant behavior or a unit's motivation to conserve water just because it's good for the environment. While submeters may have no impact on tenant behavior, reducing the measured flow-rates of showers and other water fixtures can virtually guarantee a reduction in water bills.

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The Pros

  • Average reduction of 25%-35% in water utilization if landlords opt for tamper-proof solutions.
  • The Water Scrooge™ products alone reduce the costs of water and hot water by an average of $500 per unit, per year. Multiply that by the number of units on your property, and your savings will rise significantly.
  • A quick time-to-positive ROI - 6 months on average.
  • Reduced energy bills and utility costs from the saving of hot water, which accounts for  35% of water usage.
  • Shower water flow control can result in a noticeable reduction of water use while still providing a comfortable experience.
  • Time investment for installation takes only 10–15 minutes per unit, including leak inspection.

The Cons

  • Some alternatives, such as low-flow fixtures and faucet aerators, could have a negative impact on tenant experience.
  • Tenants may attempt to tamper with low-flow showerheads, sink aerators, and other low-cost technologies.
  • Tamper-proof solutions are necessary to realize long-term savings.

Water Submetering vs. Alternatives: Which Is Best?

The choice between water submetering systems and cost-effective alternatives depends on a landlord's goals, budget, and the building infrastructure. Assuming your building is already correctly wired and has the plumbing to support submetering, the cost of installation can still be 200%–400% higher than cost-effective alternatives. However, having a building pre-prepped for submetering is rarely the case, particularly in older multi-resident buildings.

It's important to note that submetering may not provide tenants with any motivation to reduce their water usage or check their water meters, especially in markets like New York where tenants cannot be charged for water. Unless your tenants are personally motivated to reduce their environmental footprint, having access to their water usage data will not change their behavior, usage, or wastage. Even extremely hands-on property managers won’t be able to do much when it comes to the water usage of tenants.

In contrast, cost-effective alternatives that offer a measurable impact on water flow rates, translate into savings. Landlords are not required to pass these savings onto their tenants. The savings can go into your pocket or be reinvested back into your property.

If you use tamper-proof technologies, your tenant's ability to disable sink aerators, shower flow regulators, and other tools will be limited. If your goals are to realize an immediate gain in water conservation and utility bill savings, tamper-proof water conservation technology could be the most direct means to that end.

Saving Money = Making Money

In NYC and other metro locations nationwide, water service isn't getting any cheaper and utility management isn’t getting any easier. For landlords who are already seeing the numbers on their water meters rise and rise, taking steps to lower your monthly costs could be crucial as prices continue to rise. By investing wisely and avoiding tactics with no measurable return-on-investment, you can protect their profit margins in the months to come.

Curious just how much money you could save with tamper-proof water conservation technologies? Click here to calculate your savings! If you're interested in really seeing how much of your money your tenants are pouring down the drain, you can get a detailed savings assessment for your properties.


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is the founder and president of The Water Scrooge, which offers maintenance-free, tamper-proof water conservation tools to landlords and homeowners. The Water Scrooge is based in Lynbrook, N.Y.