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Water Submetering Systems vs. Cost-Effective Alternatives

For landlords of multi-tenant properties, the idea of sub-metering water usage can feel like a headache, especially in older buildings. Between extensive construction requirements and legislature in some areas that prevent landlords from charging tenants for water, the cost of installing sub-meters 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 skyrocket over the next several years. In addition to droughts and water shortages, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports the "30,000 miles of aging sewer and water treatment systems" in New York will require significant work in the years to come. Reducing water consumption won't just have a positive impact on your pockets; it could help your entire community.

For landlords who are hoping to save money on water bills in NYC and other areas, sub-metering and water conservation technology may be two common considerations. Nationwide, electricity sub-metering in multi-tenant buildings has become increasingly common, though water sub-metering is far more rare. In this blog, you'll learn some of the pros and cons associated with water sub-metering systems and more cost-effective technologies.

Water Sub-Metering Systems

Water sub-metering systems involve the installation of a unique meter for every unit. 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, it's rarely a silver bullet, especially for many landlords in New York. Depending on the age and infrastructure of your building, it may be downright prohibitive.

Pros of Water Sub-Metering Systems:

  • Nationwide, evidence indicates 15%–20% savings on average with sub-metering. However, this data reflects only areas where landlords are permitted to bill tenants directly for water usage.
  • Could encourage eco-conscious residents to behave in "greener" ways.
  • Provides transparency to both tenants and landlords around water usage on a per-unit basis.
  • Can allow identification of leaks and other inefficiencies within single units.

Cons of Sub-Metering Systems

  • No direct return-on-investment (ROI) for landlords.
  • Automatic sub-meters are required in order for landlords to read measurements.
  • Sub-meter installation cost may range from $500 to $800 per unit.
  • Some older buildings may require extensive electrical and/or plumbing revision to support water sub meters, which can involve serious construction on floors and ceilings.
  • You may be required to have at least "70% of toilets, shower heads, and faucets" meet minimum efficiency standards prior to sub-meter installation in New York and other areas.
  • Landlords in certain areas, including NYC, are not permitted to charge tenants for water.

Cost-Effective Alternatives

Many landlords 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 conservation technology can result in greater impact on the bottom line than sub-metering.

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 sub-metering 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.

The Pros

  • Average reduction of 25% in water utilization if landlords opt for tamper proof solutions.
  • The Water Scrooge products alone reduce the costs of water an average of $500 per unit, per year.
  • A quick time-to-positive ROI - 6 months on average.
  • Reduced energy bills from the saving of hot water, which accounts to 65% 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 may be 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 shower heads, sink aerators, and other low-cost technologies.
  • Tamper proof solutions are necessary to realize long-term savings.

Water Sub-Metering vs. Alternatives: Which Is Best?

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

It's important to note that sub-metering may not provide your tenants with any motivation to reduce their water usage, 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.

In contrast, cost-effective alternatives, measurable impact on water flow rates, which translates into savings. Landlords are not required to pass these savings onto their tenants.

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 is Making Money

In NYC and other metro locations nationwide, water service isn't going to get any cheaper. For landlords who are already spending a significant amount each month on water bills, 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, landlords 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 to really see how much of your money you're tenants are pouring down the drain, you can get a detailed savings assessment for your properties.

The Ultimate Water Savings Guide



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.