HOA Property Management - Water Bills
For a typical homeowners association (HOA) there are three main areas where water use can be monitored and money saved: The landscaping, HOA managed facilities, and the individual units that are homeowner managed.This is important to know, because water bills are often a HOA's highest expense, are the biggest headache to manage, and can cause the greatest controversy at homeowner/board meetings.
Water bills can become the focal point of arguments about high monthly dues, unkempt lawns, slippery sidewalks, and unfair treatment if one section of the property looks better than another. It therefore behooves the board of a HOA to do whatever possible to keep those bills low, while still offering good quality service. This includes maintaining an attractive landscape.
Most HOA boards hire a professional landscape company to manage their grounds and maintain the irrigation system. This can be an expense well paid, if the landscapers know what they are doing. It is the board's responsibility to make sure the company is well qualified before hiring, that the landscapers know about local/native types of plants and understand efficient irrigation maintenance. The board can designate the identification and background research of potential landscapers to a special committee, if they wish (and if knowledgeable residents are available), but the ultimate responsibility for hiring lies with the board.
At least once a month, a good landscape company will completely check the irrigation system to make sure it's working properly. Once a week, it should check superficially for leaks. This means turning stations on and off, while walking around to make sure all the sprinklers are working.
In addition, the board can pay for independent water use audits once or twice a year, for a fresh check on how the landscapers are doing, and to acquire suggestions of further retrofits to save water in landscaping. If the board has hired knowledgeable residents to do landscape maintenance, which some do, the board could also hire the independent auditors to give training sessions. Such expenditures may seem on the surface to be excessive, but the results in substantially lower water bills and healthier landscapes more than make up for it.
Replacing energy and water-guzzling washing machine/dryer sets in the laundry room can lower the HOA's water and energy bills.
HOA Managed Facilities
HOA managed facilities include the clubhouse, outdoor swimming pool and other water features, and any offices separate from the clubhouse. Restroom and kitchen facilities, the laundry room, and the air conditioning are all candidates for increased water efficiency and subsequent savings. A professional water audit will check all outdoor water uses, including the irrigation system.
Here are some examples of retrofit suggestions:
- Cover the outdoor pool at night or feed it with a special liquid formulated to reduce losses from evaporation.
- Replace all washing machines in the laundry room with water efficient ones.
- Install low-flow showerheads in the pool area.
- Reorganize irrigation stations, so bushes are on the same station and watered by bubblers, not sprayheads.
Decorative water features can be outfitted with an automatic water recycling and filtering system. They can be stocked with a sandy or rocky filtration medium at the bottom, with fish that eat insects, and with water plants that help filter debris and shade, feed, and protect the fish. They can be made to be fully self-sufficient (as long as there are no raccoons in the area), providing both beauty and higher property values.
Surprisingly, when homeowners see the board taking care to maintain such features, it motivates them to keep paid up on their association dues. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. One of the most frightening situations a board can be in is when more and more homeowners stop paying dues. Yet from the homeowners' perspective, why should they pay when the place is not being taken care of?
Condos & Town Homes
Even though each residential unit uses water and most of them also waste water, homeowners in condominiums do not generally pay their own water bills - the board does. Hence, homeowners have little direct incentive to use water efficiently and board pleas to conserve water generally go unheard. Many boards will not even consider commissioning an indoor water audit for that reason, even though it's possible to save almost as much money by conserving indoors as it is with outdoor water efficiency.
There are ways to encourage residents to allow auditors inside their homes, however. Some residents are open to the principle of water conservation itself. Others would welcome any kind of freebie that might accompany a water audit - like efficient showerheads, faucet aerators, or even low-flow toilets. Still others could be motivated by savings on electricity, since residents do pay electric bills.
Water Savings Incentives
What the HOA board is looking for is permission to enter a unit to conduct a water use audit. A sample audit of units by a professional technician can tell the board how much water and money could be saved by replacing toilets, showerheads, dishwashers, and other water fixtures with more efficient ones. Offering homeowners incentives, like a free electrical audit, along with CFL light bulbs, showerheads, and faucet aerators should be enough to acquire the sample size needed. Once the sample is taken, the results of the audit can be broadcast to all residents and homeowners.
A board will want to motivate behavioral changes as well. Residents might respond to this kind of request if they are given a choice as to what will be done with the money saved by the board on water bills:
Improve the landscaping?
Lay new asphalt in the driveway or parking spaces (porous please)?
Install solar panels or solar water heaters to cut down energy bills further?
Savings on Water Bills
Between all three areas of potential savings - the landscaping, HOA controlled facilities, and residential units - a HOA board should be able to reduce water bills substantially. Average reductions possible for Southern California are 40-60% of the water bill, depending on location and current practices, but some could be higher.
Moving in the direction of water conservation, with all of its possibilities, brings all sorts of positive results:
- Money saved to improve facilities further or to apply to general maintenance,
- More attractive and healthier native landscaping,
- More congenial and productive board meetings,
- Pride in accomplishment, and
- A sense of living in harmony with nature.
Note that any structural and/or permanent landscape changes made - that can save the HOA money long term - can be paid for from the HOA reserve account.
Of further interest:
- Realty Times - Ask the HOA Expert
Replacing lawns with "victory gardens" is particularly relevant in older HOAs with vast grassy areas that require mowing, maintenance and irrigating.