How dry we are: Water audits quantify the need to conserve
Check out the U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest map of water conditions in the West at the Regional Drought Monitor. That ominous blood red splotch from the middle or Orange County to the Oregon border says that California is in the midst of an “exceptional drought.” Other Western states are suffering their own serious dry spells.
Water — and the lack of it — is in the headlines every day. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates U.S. consumers use approximately 29 billion gallons of water every day and an average American family wastes up to 10,000 gallons of water a year.
Given drought conditions and the specter of severe water use restrictions, even the most recalcitrant water users are beginning to pay attention. So, the climate is ripe for water conservation education. And, plumbers are in the perfect position to be on the conservation front lines offering water audits to their customers.
If your residential plumbing customers aren’t into water conservation or don’t have a clue where to start, the answer may be a water audit. A water audit involves working through a detailed checklist that analyzes a building’s water use. Then the auditor can suggest cost-effective ways to conserve water and reduce energy use and sewer costs.
For commercial clients, it may be strictly a bottom line issue, as the cost of water escalates and fines for not cutting back on water usage are promised to get even more painful.
Why don’t more plumbers and contractors do water audits? Why should you be offering them to your client list? For most plumbers, the biggest roadblocks to offering full water audits to residential and commercial clients are time and money. Thorough audits can take two to three hours, and they can’t be billed at a plumber’s hourly rate. Solutions include offering a water use survey on a more informal basis to talk water conservation and introduce high efficiency fixtures and water-saving behaviors. Those surveys can be followed up with a complete water audit for those customers who become genuinely interested in taking action to use water more efficiently.
It’s also been suggested that plumbing companies consider training younger employees to do water audits, which can be billed at a much lower rate or offered free. This not only builds enthusiasm among young professionals about “green” products and conservation methods, it also offers a low-pressure way to help customers recognize where and how much water is being wasted. Plumbers who’ve taken this path say it can change the perspective of the entire company and how they look at what products and services they put out there. It also can attract more tech savvy, environmentally concerned employees to your staff.
There are different types of water audits, said Doug Kirk, popular Reeves Journal columnist and director of Green Plumbing Curriculum, GreenPlumbers Training and Accreditation, a business unit of The IAPMO Group. “Some water audits are only to find out if there are leaks. There are different water audits depending on the goals.” A water utility would want to conduct an audit, locate a leak and resolve an issue with someone who has an inordinately high water bill, Kirk said. “A GreenPlumber trained auditor looks at how much water someone is using and what we can do to reduce that use. Then, we offer them both equipment-and behavioral changes that can help them reduce their water use.”
“In GreenPlumbers training, there is a lot of preliminary information and the last class is what we call Inspection Report Service,” he said. “The IRS looks at all the water use on a property and focuses on developing a plumbing inspection report using inspection documentation, checklists and analysis.”
The goal of the GreenPlumbers training is to help the plumbers grow their businesses. That’s why plumbers should be involved in getting this training, so that they can grow their businesses. If you can show your customers how they can save money, you’ll have the opportunity to sell them the products and services. You’re growing your business while helping your customer and using less water. Everybody wins.”
Some municipal water districts do offer free or low-fee water audits, but most customers will have to seek out professional advice. That’s where plumbers and plumbing contractors have chance to both provide a valuable service but also sell the advantages of water-saving fixtures and practices to their clientele.
Municipal districts that provide “home surveys” often limit their audit process to outdoor water use and refer their customers to their water sources that serve several communities for an indoor water use audit. For example, Southern California’s Moulton Niguel Water District in offers a free Home Survey to help its customers work within the district’s budget-based billing system. They can sign up on the utility’s website at http://bit.ly/1d8m7i6.
MNWD water conservation director Greg Hooper explained water “budgets” are determined by the kind of structure—apartment, condo, detached home, etc. — with specific gallon units allocated by irrigated area and number of occupants per dwelling. The Home Survey offers a chance to recommend water–saving irrigation products and inform customers about available rebates.
Most people don’t understand their water bill, Kirk said, because they never took the time to analyze it. “It’s not that difficult to understand, but there’s resistance.” What a GreenPlumbers water audit does is translate the numbers to something consumers can relate to.
“If I talk to a customer and I say, ‘if I do this and I do this and I do this, you can save 50,000 gallons of water’ that doesn’t mean anything to the average person. But, if I know how to convert the 50,000 gallons into dollars and cents — that’s one of the things our classes teach — now all of a sudden I’m talking about $800 to $1,000 in savings.”
“Doing a thorough water audit is time-consuming and a lot of people don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it. It can take two to three hours, but it can be worth it. Water and sewer costs are increasing faster than the rate of the other utilities. They are low to begin with, but they are increasing exponentially and so if I’m talking $800 savings now, how much am I going to be saving in four years time, probably at least half again as much.
“It’s not just water, and a lot of people don’t get that fact,” Kirk said. “It’s water, sewer and energy. Our audit takes the water, sewer and energy components and shows them how to convert that into dollars. I can talk about dollars, and if I talk dollars, that has the potential to motivate somebody to do something, if it isn’t going to negatively affect the quality of their life. The sewer part of it is made up of how much water goes through the water meter and the sewer rates are typically two to four times more than the water rates are. What we try to help the plumbers do in their training is to understand what to look for.”
And there is a third component, which people don’t understand or recognize, and that is the energy used to heat water. “If we assume that some portion of your customers have done something to defeat the flow restrictor in their shower head, then all of a sudden the shower head that was rated at 2.5 gpm, is flowing at 5 or 6 gpm. So we have to measure what the flow rate is, then put in a high efficiency showerhead that is 1.5 or 1.8 and do a terrific job, are really good showerheads out there that use less water, I’m saving 2.2 gpm and there’s a hot water component.
“I’m not only saving water and sewer; I’m saving energy, and we show them how to compute how many dollars are in the energy that they saved. If they replace an old clothes washer that used 40 gallons per load with a high-efficiency washer that uses 15, there is an energy component there assuming that some of the loads are washed in warm or hot water,” Kirk explained.
GreenPlumbers suggest that plumbers send their customers a questionnaire prior to going out to the property, covering such areas as number of occupants, how often they bathe or shower, how long are their showers. It’s a good idea because it gives the customer the chance to really assess what they are doing before you come in and ask all the questions, and also can shorten the interview portion of the audit. RJ