Growing Benefits of Water Submetering

How Your Community Could Benefit from the latest in Water Submetering
Growing Benefits of Water Submetering
By Matt Laird, CEO of Metron Sustainable Services

Park owners and managers often ask the question, “Should we submeter our water services to the homes?”  There has always been a great financial case to do so, and with new advancements wireless communications and data analytics the question has become: “How fast can we get our park submetered?”

A clear benefit  to park owners is to subdivide the increasingly large utility bill from their local water utility and distribute these costs to the people consuming the water.  The return on investment here is generally less than one year, immediately improving the owner's cash flow and increasing their property value overall. 

Technological advancements in meters and their reading systems now allow owners to:
  1. Pass on greater  water costs due to improved accuracy of the meters.
  2. Improve customer service to their tenants by automatically alerting them to wasteful water usage, empowering the tenants to reduce consumption and therefore drastically reduce their own bill.
  3. Identify leaks in the tenants' homes - notifying them the day the leak is detected, allowing further reduction in the tenant's individual bill.
  4. Identify large and very costly leaks in the park's piping infrastructure, that, when fixed can drastically reduce the park's utility bill and improve the value of the property.
In our experience, it is common for the park's overall water usage to decrease 25%-30% after the installation of submeters.  Primary contributors to reduced water consumption are identified leaks in the homes and in the park's infrastructure piping, plus the conservation efforts of the tenants who are now directly responsible for  their water cost.

Conservation Results from Accountability
The conservation efforts go beyond the savings alone.  Let's start with the normal billing profile of a park immediately following the installation of the meters where most of the homes typically use 2,000-4,000 gallons per month however, a handful will use 10,000-20,000 gallons per month.  In general, the homes using much more water respond to their first individual water bill by immediately fixing a leaking faucet, or toilet left running, or not allowing the water hose run down the gutter when they're washing their car.

In Home leak Detection, Quantification and Automated Alerts
The main benefit of leak detection, data and alerts is to the tenants, but the goodwill owners get is also very valuable.  The newest meter reading systems provide not only the total water used but also measure the actual flow rate at all times during the day.  
In looking at the water consumption for a particular home, it is noticed that 2 gallons of water is used every five minutes from 1:00 AM to4:00 AM.  This is a time that we would expect no water usage, so there is a very probable leak of about 0.4 gpm (gallons per minute).  Although it is a very small flow rate, if the leak is continuous for 1,440 minutes per day and 30 days per month, using nearly 20,000 gallons per month.  Depending on the area of the country, the leak will cost the tenant approximately $100-$250 per month. These systems automatically email the park owners of their conditions, allowing them to alert the tenants to stop or repair the leak the day it is detected rather than finding out when they receive a massive bill at the end of the month.   
(Chart: Below is an example of a leaking flapper valve on a toilet demonstrated from our online water management portal.  Nearly everyone has heard the sound of a running toilet, then you jiggle the handle, and it is quieted for the time being.  The problem reoccurs anytime the toilet is flushed again with an enormous amount of water wasted!  
New system analytics recognize the pattern of a flapper leak and notify the park owner via email so the problem can be fixed).

Irrigation Waste
Another major water waster park owner's face is irrigation or more precisely, over irrigation.  Mis-programmed sprinkler controllers have been identified as a major water wasters. Water is used at such a high flow rate that it does not take long for a major bill to pile up.  See the profile below.  The irrigation events are those periodic spikes to 1214 gpm (gallons per minute).  It is a substantial amount, increasing their bill from 3,000 gallons per month to more than 20,000 gallons per month.  On average, water costs $100-$250 per month depending on the area of the country.

Infrastructure Leak Detection Using “Water Balancing”
Meter Reading Systems are continuously advancing, providing new benefits to park owners.  Systems now compare the water metered at the inlet, to the entire park, then to the combined usage of all the meters on homes and other meters on common areas, sprinklers and swimming pools.   The difference between main park meters and the sum of downstream meters is the water lost to leaks within the park's infrastructure.  
This is known as “water balancing”.  The easiest and cheapest way to get started is to compare the water consumption from your current bill from the utility to the total usage of all the downstream billing meters over the same period.  Your utility bill should show three necessary ingredients: current read date, previous read date and water usage over the billing period.  The next step is to have your submeter reading system totalize usage of all your downstream billing meters over that same billing period.  

The accuracy of the water balancing is dependent on two major factors.  First, it is critical that the totalization period from the submeters match the billing period on your utility bill, otherwise the calculation will be inaccurate. 

Secondly, the assumption is that all meters involved are reasonably accurate.  It is common for large utility meters that serve manufactured home communities to be inaccurate sometimes as by as much as 20% to30%.  But think twice before calling your local utility and requesting a calibration because the inaccuracy is usually in your favor.  If the main meter is repaired your utility bill could increase considerably.  If you suspect the utility meter may be inaccurate (as is often the case), then consider installing your own master meter, downstream of the utility meter to get an accurate water balancing calculation to allow you to assess the health of your water infrastructure.

Similarly, if the submeters you are using are past their accuracy life, they will generally report lower than actual usage skewing the results of water balancing to suggest infrastructure leaks that may not even be there.  And, the quality of certain water submeters varies greatly.  Some can hold their accuracy for 5 or even 10 years.  Others lose accuracy quickly or use pulse counters that are notoriously unreliable for delivering consistently accurate data. Many sophisticated park ownership groups upgrade submeters regularly knowing that their accuracy is crucial.

As long as all meters are at or near their rated accuracy, the water balancing exercise should yield no more than a 5% to10% difference between the park's main meter bill and the addition of all the downstream submeters.  Anything more than 10% difference suggests potentially material leaks in the internal piping of the park.  As a side note the park owner is paying the utility for that water but not billing the tenants.  Historically we have seen leaks cost owner's from $5,000 to $10,000 per month in various parks around the country.  An example of the Reading System tracking the water purchased vs. water billed on the submeters is shown below.

Submetering systems can't fix the infrastructure leaks but it can quantify and pinpoint them.  A few well-placed zone meters will help the park owner to “zero in” on the biggest leaks and minimize repair costs.

Understand Your Utility Bill including Tiered Billing, Wastewater etc… (propose new article)
Many water utility customers review their bill each month see the cost of water = $x per thousand gallons.  Those charges range from $3-$15 per thousand gallons depending on the rates of the local utility. They are usually tiered with the amount of water used, penalizing higher usage.  There is incentive to manage and reduce peak consumption as it is the most expensive water.

As well many utilities bill for wastewater based on water usage.  Wastewater rates are usually higher than the water rates, sometimes 2 to3 times higher, so this can add significantly to the economics of submetering.  As the park owner pays wastewater charges on any infrastructure leaks (leaks before the meter at the homes) and even irrigation and pool usage (if those are not separately utility metered), there is even greater incentive to understand water usage, water loss and accurately pass on the cost of water to those who are using it.

Submetering is ‘State of the Art' not ‘The Way of the Future”

Advances in meter communication, data collection and data analytics have changed submetering at manufactured home parks from simply being a way to pass on costs to tenants to a powerful tool in water and utility management.  Mobile home park owners and tenants alike now have the information to understand their water usage, fix leaks, change behaviors and better manage this precious resource.  All of this is now available in a cost effective and user-friendly platform, giving park owners capabilities previously only available to the largest municipal utilities.
From both an economic and environmental responsibility point of view, water submetering is demanded by most mid-sized and large MHP ownership groups, and the value of any property is impacted by the quality of the submetering system.