Governor Brown’s recent executive order requiring California residents and businesses to reduce water consumption by at least 25% challenges us to start changing wasteful habits and implement some easy but effective ways to conserve water.  Our drought is unlikely to end anytime soon. 

As rental property owners, we face a double challenge.  Many of us have older buildings with only a single water meter, so we end up having to pay our tenants’ water bill.  With that reality in mind, here are some simple and relatively inexpensive things you can do to make your rental property as water-efficient as possible: 

  • Inspect all units for leaks in faucets, toilets and plumbing joints.  A small drip from a worn faucet washer can waste 20 gallons of water per day.  Larger leaks can waste hundreds.  Encourage your tenants to be proactive and report any plumbing leaks in their unit. 
  • Replace all older toilets with high-efficiency units.  Toilets account for a big chunk of water consumption and many out there still use 1.6, 3.5 or even more gallons per flush (gpf).  A $125 rebate is offered for each greater-than- 1.6 gpf toilet you replace with one that uses 1.28 gpf or less.  For information on rebates, go to www.sfwater.org/index.aspx?page=173 
  • Install low-flow aerators on faucets and water-saving showerheads in showers.  A new “smart” showerhead, the 1.59 gpm Evolve Showerstart, automatically slows water flow to a trickle once the water reaches 95 degrees F.  When ready to shower, just pull the cord and water flow resumes. Low-flow showerheads in tandem with getting into the habit of taking shorter showers can save huge amounts of water over time. 
  • Use a broom, not a hose, to clean your driveway and sidewalk. 

Educate Your (Non-Water-paying) Tenants

Tenants who don’t pay for water have no financial incentive to conserve.  Yet to reduce water usage significantly you’ll need their cooperation.  To improve chances of that happening: 

  • Set the example by optimizing their unit’s water efficiency as described above and
  • Raise their awareness and ask for their cooperation.  Download from our website and print copies of Conserve Water.doc. It explains the severity of our crisis, tells them what you’ve done to improve the water efficiency of their unit and lists way they can cut water use significantly more with relatively little effort.   Give this document in duplicate to new and existing tenants; ask them to read and sign it and to return the signed copy to you.  Append it to their rental agreement.  The document has no legal weight, but it lets them know and to formally acknowledge that you take water conservation and our water crisis seriously and are asking them to do the same. 

Commons Sense Ways We Can Conserve Water

Here are some of the common sense ways we all can conserve water in our daily lives: 

*Don’t let the water run when:

  • Brushing your teeth, shaving, washing hands, etc.
  • Washing dishes by hand
  • Waiting for water to get hot.  Catch the flow in a container to use later on house plants or garden. 

*Don’t use the toilet as a trash can to flush down small bits of trash or anything else besides waste matter. 

*When using the washing machine and dishwasher, run only full loads.  Don’t pre-rinse dishes.  With clothes washers, avoid the water-guzzling permanent press cycle.  For partial loads, adjust water levels accordingly. 

*Minimize garbage disposal use.  Disposals use a lot of water. Instead, keep a small food waste container in the kitchen, and dispose of it in the green bin. 

Gideon Kramer is SPOSFI’s News Editor.Reprinted with permission of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute (SPOSFI) News.  For more information on becoming a member of SPOSFI or to send a tax-deductible donation, please visit their website at www.smallprop.org or call (415) 647-2419.