Resident and Staff Education Help California Apartments Stay Ahead of the Drought
Alliance Residential Co. turns to detectives to track down wasteful leaks
Since 2014, Alliance Residential has piggybacked each March with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Fix-A-Leak Week to create awareness and education not only among residents, but also with maintenance teams and other employees. Onsite staff can become leak detectives and sniff out where water is being wasted through property inspections.
When the company started the program more than a year ago, not many donned trench coats and a monocle to find drips and leaks. Only 33 leaks were detected at a dozen properties.
This year, Alliance sent out the hounds and got more participation. A nice bounty of prizes were awarded to teams that identified the most waste. At stake was a first-place $1,500 bonus for the top maintenance team to share, a $500 Visa gift card for the runners-up to split and a $200 team lunch for third place.
When the dust settled on the one-week campaign, more than twice as many properties had participated and 168 leaks were found.
“We did increase the incentive,” Vickers said with a laugh, “so that may be a reason for the higher turnout. But it’s a fun incentive for our maintenance teams. Leaks waste so much water, and they are so common, especially in our industry. Many leaks go unseen, and often times our residents aren’t reporting them. The event is a good time to bring awareness back to this issue.”
Vickers, who will be a panelist on the “Maximizing Green – Using Environmentally Sustainable Practices to Drive Brand and Asset Value” session at NAA’s Expo in June, said residents and prospects are messaged via social media and e-blasts to let them know maintenance teams will be looking for leaks. Residents are also encouraged to report leaks.
On a higher level, properties are graded for not only their water conservation efforts but for overall green efficiency through Alliance Residential’s Focus Green program, a seven-step series designed to make properties more sustainable. The company is focusing on energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction and recycling, environmental air quality, sustainable purchasing, sustainable construction and redevelopment and education and awareness.
“We work really hard to implement a lot of different initiatives under each of those categories,” Vickers said. “We’re consistently focusing on and targeting those areas at any given time, so there is a lot in place.”
Finding ways to save water is a part of daily life.
“Apartment owners and operators like WRES and Alliance are practicing what many others should not only be doing during water shortages but in everyday business” says Danny Ward, Vice President of Market Development at Carrollton, Texas-based RealPage.
“Visibility into how a property uses water and energy is important,” he said. “Engaging residents in the discussions will make it easier to implement new policies.”
Ideally, sub-metered properties give operators more direct insight into who’s using water, but many apartments are not set up that way. Stressing conservation through education and increasing efficiency around the property becomes even more important. Also, establishing a baseline for water usage and continuous monitoring will help identify waste and overuse.
Vickers said Alliance Residential has experienced significant reductions in water usage through various water conserving projects. One is installing smart irrigation controllers, which is saving about 30 percent at properties. A community located on Coronado Island near San Diego is set to begin installation and is estimated to save about two million gallons of water per year.
In Phoenix, a drip irrigation system coupled with smart controllers and drought tolerant plants is combining to save 44 percent more water than comparable properties in the area.
Toilet retrofits are also a big focus for Alliance. One current installation nearly complete in the Los Angeles market is estimated to save over one and a half million gallons of water annually.
There are always opportunities out there to save, and it takes a collective effort, Vickers said.
As part of the Focus Green program, managers keep tabs on local mandates and restrictions and must stay abreast of rebates and incentives for water-conserving products. Every little bit helps, Vickers says.
“It’s just paying extra attention to our consumption, and all of the different water restrictions and mandates out there. We’re trying to stay on top of that, and constantly sending updates to our properties when a local city has changed or adopted a new restriction or mandate. And continuing to message why conservation is important. We’ve also increased our training efforts to include more classes on water conservation and smart landscaping practices.
“It’s something that I think you need to keep at it, even if it’s redundant.”