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Saving Money By Auditing Your Utilities

Sep 13, 2010 | Archive, Blog, Text Only Article | 0 comments

Associations are always looking to save money. This is more evident now given the current state of the economy, employment, and the housing crises. Homeowners do not want an increase in monthly assessments and Boards are under more pressure to keep assessments the same. This article will focus on saving money by auditing your utilities.

Saving Money – Part – 1 Recap

Through the Reserve Process – May/June 2010 Issue – Jens Johanson

1)      Acquire Thorough but Reasonable Reserve Study

2)      Develop a Preventative Maintenance Plan

3)      Take Advantage of Current “Going Green” and Other Tax Incentives

4)      Utilize Building Components with Longer Warranties

1)    Electricity

The most common way to save money on the electricity bill is replacing higher energy bulbs, like incandescent bulbs that put out 60 watts or more, with compact fluorescent bulbs (CF) that use 75% less energy and last five times longer. CF bulbs have come a long way over the last 20 years. CF bulbs come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes that can be screwed into the existing light fixtures. Also, check with your local PUD for rebate program lighting upgrades. These rebates will further reduce the cost to the association and lower the pay back period of the project.

2)    Garbage

Waste disposal (garbage) is often overlooked as a potential way to save money. Garbage cost is based on the size of the dumpster(s). The cost is the same whether the dumpster is ½ full or completely full on the day of pick up. Matching up the right size dumpster at each location can dramatically reduce the waste disposal cost.

Another way to save money is by recycling more. Many cities wrap the recycling cost into the garbage rates. Communities pay for recycling whether or not residents recycle. Increased recycling can further reduce the waste disposal container size. Educate residents about recycling and make sure the association has enough recycling containers. Have a volunteer audit the dumpsters and recycle bins for a few weeks and record the level of each dumpster or bin on the pickup morning and make adjustments as needed.

3)    Domestic Water

The only way to save money is by using less water.

Ways to use less water:

a)      Changing Habits – Educate residents about ways to reduce water by changing their habits, i.e. running the dishwasher when full, turning off the water while brushing their teeth, etc.

b)      Efficient Appliances – encourage owners to replace old appliances with new appliances that are water efficient.

c)      Reduce Waste – The biggest waste of water is from a simple thing, a leaky toilet from a bad flapper. The toilet will run all day. Once again, educate the residents on how to check for leaky toilets by providing red dye tablets that will test if the toilet is wasting water.

Implementing these programs takes time and hard work and probably requires a committee to get the results to have an impact on the water bill.

4)    Sewer

Sewer rates are either a set charge per unit or they vary with the amount of domestic water used; the more water used, the higher the sewer expense. There is nothing that the association can do to reduce the cost if the rate is a “fixed cost” per unit. If the cost varies with the water consumption, then reducing the amount of domestic water use can have an impact on the sewer expense.

5)    Irrigation

Irrigation is usually the smallest part of the water expense. Work with a landscaper or vendor that can perform an irrigation audit. More efficient heads can be used, separate the turf zones from the bed zones if possible, use drip systems in the appropriate places, install rain sensors that turn the system off when it rains, and install better clocks that allow more programming options. The challenge is that upgrading the system might cost a lot and the time it will take to recoup the initial cost could be a number of years out.

6)   Phone Lines

The phone line capability will vary with each application. Office lines will need most of the bells and whistles, whereas the elevator line will only need the most basic functions. Deciphering a phone bill can be very difficult and most people don’t understand all the phones charges on the bill. I recommend working with the phone company to match up the application with the type of lines needed. For example, eliminate long distance if you don’t need it, and reduce the number of lines if you can. Sometimes secondary lines can be used for multiple applications by piggy-backing the same line for two different systems, for example, the front entry and the fire system.

New technology can also eliminate phone lines. Fore example, consider using a web based phone company that offers a lower price for the lines, or use a radio system to monitor the fire system that will reduce all the phone lines used for the fire monitoring.

These money saving projects usually come down to two categories: (1) no money is required, just time, or (2) both money and time are required. The projects that simply require time to implement, such as reducing the dumpsters or reducing domestic water consumption, should be a “no-brainer.” The challenge is finding the volunteers to work at implementing them. The projects that require time and money like lighting or irrigation upgrades; need to be assessed on a case by case basis. In these cases, calculating the pay back period is important and necessary. A five-year payback period is a lot easier to sell to the members vs. a ten-year pay back period. It may not make sense to invest in upgrading the irrigation system. For example, if the initial investment is going to take ten years to recover. How long it will take to recover the initial investment will determine if the project makes sense to implement or not.

These potential money-saving ideas are worth looking into!

By Kevin Ducotey, CMCA, AMS, PCAM

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