In an area like Chicagoland, which is surrounded by water, you may not think that your condominium association needs to prioritize water conservation. However, according to Robert Meyer, director of engineering at FirstService Residential, “Even though water is plentiful in this area, rates continue to increase. Reducing your use can help offset those increases.”
A new water and sewer tax that went into effect in 2017 is adding to the cost of water in Chicago. “If your condominium association hasn’t felt its impact yet, it will soon,” says Meyer. The hefty 29.5-percent tax is being phased in over a four-year period. During the first year, Chicago homeowners are being taxed 59 cents per 1000 gallons of water.
With spring right around the corner, many communities will soon begin using more water on lawns, trees and flowers. “Now is the perfect time to look at conservation opportunities,” says Meyer. “Even simple changes can make a big difference. The key is to increase awareness among board members and other residents,” he explains.
An experienced property management company can provide the tools and resources you need to prevent higher water rates from drowning your budget. Meanwhile, here are seven ways that your condominium association can reduce its water usage and save money.
- Get an energy evaluation.
The purpose of an energy evaluation is to show you how your building is using energy and identify what you can do to reduce your total usage and lower your energy costs. It is a natural follow-up to the annual energy benchmarking that most Chicago condominium buildings must now conduct to comply with city requirements.
During the evaluation, a third-party energy expert reviews not only your electric and natural gas usage, but also your water consumption and associated year-over-year costs. This information can be invaluable in helping your association detect sources of water waste and opportunities for reducing consumption. Once you have your evaluation, you can make a plan for putting the recommendations in place.
- Address costly leaks. Leaky pipes, dripping faucets and running toilets can add up to a lot of wasted water and money. If association dues cover the cost of water for residents, make sure that the plumbing in individual units is working properly. Residents are less likely to address leaks themselves if they don’t impact their bottom line.
- Implement conservation measures in your common areas.
You can make a number of money-saving changes to your common areas that will immediately lower water consumption. For example, retrofit fixtures with aerators or low-flow alternatives, or replace sinks with touchless models. Add dual-flush or low-flow devices on toilets, or replace older toilets with newer ones that use less water. If your building has shared laundry facilities, invest in high-efficiency washing machines.
- Educate residents.
Making changes in your common areas sets a good example, but it’s also important to appeal to residents directly to get them involved. This is even more crucial if the condo association is footing the water bill for individual units. Offer seminars and communicate regularly with residents using as many channels as possible, such as your community newsletter, website and emails. Be sure they understand that the entire community is affected when costs go up, and empower them to take specific action to save water. Some of the homeowner tips on the city of Chicago website that you can share include:
- Repairing or reporting leaks. If you’re not sure whether a toilet is leaking, put a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If the color shows up in the bowl within 30 minutes -- even when you haven’t flushed – you have a leak.
- Turning off the faucet. Don’t leave the water running while you are brushing your teeth or shaving.
- Refrigerating a pitcher of water. Keeping cold water on hand eliminates the need to run the tap for several minutes when you want a cold drink.
- Defrosting food in the fridge. It may take a little more patience than placing food under running water, but it is also less wasteful. (In a pinch, you could use your microwave instead.)
- Running full loads. Whether it’s your dishwasher or your washing machine, avoid doing wash with a partial load.
- Taking shorter showers. Even shortening your shower time by a few minutes a day will save a lot of water in the long run.
- Installing water-saving devices and appliances. You can buy inexpensive items like aerators, low-flow showerheads and other devices, as well as invest in high-efficiency dishwashers and washing machines to reduce your water usage.
- Make improvements to your irrigation and landscaping.
Landscaping can be a significant source of waste usage – and waste. For example, poorly maintained irrigation systems can result in your watering unintended areas, such as sidewalks. Consider updating an old irrigation system with a more advanced one that incorporates efficient sprinkler heads, smart controllers and sensors that detect soil moisture and rainfall.
Wherever possible, replace thirsty lawns with plants that can thrive with less water. Make sure to schedule any watering for early in the day or later in the evening when less water will be lost to evaporation. In Chicago, weekday watering is only allowed during those periods anyway – from 5 to 8 am in the morning and 7 to 10 pm in the evening.
- Look for products with the WaterSense® label.
is an EPA partnership program created to simplify water conservation for consumers. The WaterSense label indicates that a product conforms to certain water-efficiency standards.
- Partner with a property management company – preferably one that is efficiency savvy.
An experienced property management company can help you develop a budget that takes into account future increases in your water bill. It can also assist you in creating a program to educate residents about water conservation, including offering seminars and managing communications.
Ideally, the company should also have the in-house expertise to perform energy evaluations, recommend appropriate water-saving strategies and manage the efficiency improvements you choose to make. You also want a management company that is able to get your condominium association the best prices on products and services. A company with both national buying power and strong relationships with reputable vendors in the Chicago area will be best positioned to do this.
You may not be able to do much about higher water rates. However, there are plenty of proactive measures you can take to reduce your usage and manage your costs. FirstService Residential and our subsidiary, FS Energy, are here to help.
Want to learn more about how the right residential property management company can make it easier for your condo association to conserve water? Contact FirstService Residential
today, the leading property management company in the Chicagoland area.
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