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HOA Property Management - Water Bills

Updated on August 14, 2017
watergeek profile image

With a Masters in Sustainable Development, Susette helps Southern California water agencies carry out their water conservation projects.

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 homeowner association'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 a HOA board to do whatever possible to keep those bills low, while still offering good quality service. This includes maintaining an attractive landscape.

A knowledgeable landscaper can design and maintain beautiful landscapes using native plants and rocks.
A knowledgeable landscaper can design and maintain beautiful landscapes using native plants and rocks. | Source

Landscape Maintenance

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 assign a special committee to identify and research the background of potential landscapers, if they wish (if knowledgeable residents are available), but the ultimate responsibility for hiring lies with the board.

Repair breakages: This is the kind of water waste that a good landscaper can avoid, and a water use audit will catch. This puddle comes from a broken pipe underground.
Repair breakages: This is the kind of water waste that a good landscaper can avoid, and a water use audit will catch. This puddle comes from a broken pipe underground. | Source

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 carry out 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.

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 shower heads in the pool area.
  • Reorganize irrigation stations, so bushes are on the same station and watered by bubblers, not sprayheads.

Cover your pool: There is a viscous liquid solution available that cuts down on pool evaporation. The liquid is nontoxic and most swimmers cannot tell it's there.
Cover your pool: There is a viscous liquid solution available that cuts down on pool evaporation. The liquid is nontoxic and most swimmers cannot tell it's there. | Source

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?

Hire good landscapers: This pond was one of the prettiest features of a potentially wonderful landscape where I used to live. The quality of the landscapers made a 100% difference.
Hire good landscapers: This pond was one of the prettiest features of a potentially wonderful landscape where I used to live. The quality of the landscapers made a 100% difference. | Source

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.

Retrofit Indoors: Kitchens and bathrooms are the places to look for water savings inside. Many water utilities provide showerheads and faucet aerators free of charge. Some also provide low-flow toilets.
Retrofit Indoors: Kitchens and bathrooms are the places to look for water savings inside. Many water utilities provide showerheads and faucet aerators free of charge. Some also provide low-flow toilets. | Source

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?

Lay porous surfaces: I would have requested the laying of porous sidewalks to prevent floods like this.
Lay porous surfaces: I would have requested the laying of porous sidewalks to prevent floods like this.

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.

Comments

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    • profile image

      5 years ago

      Thank you for the advice.

    • watergeek profile imageAUTHOR

      watergeek 

      5 years ago from Pasadena CA

      Sounds like it would really be worth it to get a handle on your water use. Most utilities are very willing to work with you on this, especially since it sounds like you're using a lot of it. See if they'll help you work out conservation measures.

      Also check to see if they have a landscape conservation program. Some utilities hold contests for the best native gardens. Others let you track irrigation water use online and reward you for reducing it. Still others help you purchase conservation fixtures, like nozzles or controllers.

    • profile image

      5 years ago

      It is a huge mess. I guess they were estimating for years, then decided to begin doing actuals and had underestimated all meters except one. There are separate meters for each building and separate meters for groups of sprinklers. Some people are saying there were leaks previously. Our water is the most expensive of surrounding cities at $12/1000 gallons, when other cities are around $7 or $8. It is a mess. Thank you for your response.

    • watergeek profile imageAUTHOR

      watergeek 

      5 years ago from Pasadena CA

      Ask yourself these questions first and then look for answers: How might they have billed you wrong? Was a meter not running properly? Did a meter not get counted in earlier bills? Did prices change and someone is trying to bill you at the current price for past bills?

      Does your condo association have a dedicated meter for the landscaping? If not, I recommend you install one. Find out how much water you're using for irrigation, then check with the city to see how much your sewage charges are. They shouldn't be charging sewage for irrigation water. If you can prove they charged too much in sewage, you might get some of your money back.

    • profile image

      5 years ago

      My condo association owes $26,000+ to the City for underestimated waterbills. The City, of course, is saying we must pay this...does anyone know if this is true?

    • profile image

      ALGPL 

      5 years ago

      Absolutely wonder advice for HOAs looking to cut back on water use. The pool additive I've never heard of, although it sounds like an affordable and effective solution. Water use audits and retrofitting are tried and true methods to reduce water consumption and lower HOA water bills.

    • garage-remotes profile image

      Rob Reel 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      Super helpful! I actually switched to low-flow shower heads a few months ago & saved myself about $75 on my water bill. Simple, but cost-effective solution.

    • watergeek profile imageAUTHOR

      watergeek 

      5 years ago from Pasadena CA

      (Oops. I spelled "viscous" wrong. I'll correct that.) Thanks for your comments. Areas where it rains a lot and the soil prevents absorption are good places to install rain gardens. That's like a depression that the rest of the land slopes toward that is filled with water loving plants.The depression gives water pooling it in time to absorb, and clay soils hold water for awhile, so the plants will have plenty of it even when it doesn't rain.

    • marthamuldoon profile image

      marthamuldoon 

      5 years ago from Austin, TX

      Well done. Great coverage of a really important topic.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      5 years ago from Western New York

      Wow, this is fantastic - I had never heard of the viscous liquid that prevents pool water evaporation. I wish we had porous sidewalks - we have an area that floods and we really need to fix it. We live on top of shale and clay, and water just pools when it rains!

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