Taking A Look At Water Usage In Apartment Buildings


SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The once simple act of turning on a faucet isn't so simple anymore. With California in midst of a record-breaking drought, water usage is to be taken seriously.

"Knowing that we are having a drought here in California is scary," said Santa Maria resident Cierra Castillo.

Castillo lives in an apartment with her family and is mindful of her water usage, despite  not having a water bill.

"We pay water included in the rent," said Castillo. "With this drought, we kind of changed even though it's included in our rent. We now do dishes different, by not having (the water) run the whole time."

According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, more than 16 million California residents live in apartment buildings, representing more than 16% of the state's population.

A high percentage of apartment buildings in the state operate with "mater meters," meaning tenants are not charged for individual water use.

"That's just a discount to them," said Karen Paige, community manager for Oceanwood Apartments in Lompoc. "That's one less bill that they're going to have to pay, so it's advantageous."

While some newer apartments have "sub-meters," which measure individual water use, master-metered apartments share a boiler, making measurement impossible.

"You can't," said Jim Carrillo, Vice President, Residential Properties of The Towbes Group,Inc. "It's impossible to see how much water is being used by each individual apartment without installing some sort of measuring device in that apartment."

Without a financial incentive to conserve water, tenants must simply take matters into their own hands and simply do the right thing.

"It doesn't hurt to lower a little bit of water and I think people in apartments should think of that and not think of themselves," said Castillo.

"I feel just because I'm not paying for it that I don't have to use it in excess," said Beryl Pigeon, an apartment resident from Lompoc.

However, there are some apartment tenants that may not feel so altruistic and are not reducing their water usage, despite the massive outpouring of conservation messages. Since individual apartments are not metered, it's difficult for management to pinpoint who is using water in excess.

"The only way you can monitor is watching your bill," said Paige. "If you see a spike in a billing in a building, you have to figure out where that's coming from.

To help promote conservation in apartments without sub-meters, a ratio utility billing system, known as "rubs," can be used.

"Ownership can choose to pay for a percentage of the water for each building, but then a larger percentage of the water that goes into each building could be prorated out to the apartments and there are different formulas to use," said Carrillo.

The most common formula for "rubs," is to measure the square footage of the apartment or number of occupants.

"The benefit there is a more mindful use of the water by the actual resident because while it may not be the exact measurement of what they are using, it is a good approximation of what they are likely using in their apartment," said Carrillo.

One way some apartments are saving water is through retrofitting, replacing showers and faucet heads with low flow aerators. The Towbes Group, which owns several apartment buildings in Santa Barbara County, recently made retrofitting a top priority.

"We went into all of the apartments and changed all the shower heads, all of the kitchen aerators and those now using restricted devices. It does temper the amount of the water that goes through that apartment and that does add to the conservation effort that we're trying to make," said Carrillo.

Conservation methods also include installing water efficient appliances, reducing landscaping and irrigation and through education.

"We can just encourage our residents to be mindful. We do have little information packets and paperwork for the residents," said Paige. "Especially when they move in, we give them all sorts of information in regards to saving water and how best to help us as a whole as a property."

Conservation methods implemented by apartment owners, combined with reduced water use by apartment residents has be potential to help push the state through its unrelenting drought.

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