How to Boost Your Cash Flow With a Water-Efficient Rental Property

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Of all the rental properties I’ve ever owned, there is one utility bill I’ve always gotten stuck paying out-of-pocket.

The water bill.

There are a few reasons why the water bill always ends up being my problem.

  1. In my area, unpaid water bills go as liens on a property (instead of collections to tenants), so if my tenants ever stop paying—it hurts me, not them.
  2. Water bills in my city are read quarterly (not monthly like gas and electric), which makes it very difficult to track which tenants should be paying which portions of the bill when one moves out and another one moves in.
  3. Most cities don’t have the infrastructure to deal with “landlord situations” very well. Frequent tenant transfers, notifying landlords if water is shut off, transferring to landlords when a tenant move out—it’s a hassle to make tenants pay this bill directly.

A lot of multi-family landlords have to deal with this issue. Water is one of those ever-present utilities that is always needed, no matter who your tenants are, what time of year it is or what region of the country you’re in.

Luckily, even though the extra cost of water is mildly annoying, its usage is consistent enough (without any major spikes from month to month) that I can factor this cost into the price of rent fairly easily and it all comes out pretty square in the end.

Last year, the cost of water at one of my duplexes was approximately $800 for both units combined (I should mention that all of my properties are Michigan, where fresh water is abundant and the price of it is about the cheapest in the nation). It wasn’t the end of the world, but I certainly would’ve been okay with that bill going down to, say, $400-$500 or lower.

It got me thinking—what if I could save a few hundred bucks on all of my rental properties each year? Would it make sense for me to invest in some new, water-efficient plumbing fixtures at this property?

If I was able to justify this kind of investment in Michigan, it would certainly make even more sense to do it in places like Atlanta, Seattle or Santa Fe, where the cost of water is three to six times more expensive than it is in my hometown. For landlords in these more expensive markets, savings could be more like $900-$1,800 per year for a similar duplex, maybe even more!

According to, the cost of water has gone up 33% in 30 major U.S. cities since 2010, which means we can probably safely assume it will only continue to increase in future years (click the chart below to enlarge).

WaterPricing2014GraphsFinal-1image: circleofblue

With this in mind, I wanted to find out how much it would cost to install some new fixtures with higher water efficiency and how long it would take for this increased efficiency to actually pay for itself and start adding a real contribution to my bottom line each year.

A Look at the Numbers

All of my rental properties were built about 100 years ago. Each unit is in decent shape, but the toilets, faucets and shower heads are all showing their age.

While it’s difficult to say how old each individual fixture is, they’re clearly dated from an era prior to 1992, which allows me to draw a few conclusions:

  • Each toilet consumes anywhere from 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush [Source]
  • Each faucet runs anywhere from 3 to 7 gallons per minute [Source]
  • Each shower head runs as high as 5.5 gallons per minute [Source]

According to the EPA website, the U.S. government set a number of water consumption standards throughout the 1990s that set new limitations on the flow rate of faucets to 2.2 gallons per minute, toilets to 1.6 gallons per flush and shower heads to 2.5 gallons per minute. In short, today’s plumbing fixtures have become WAY more efficient than they’ve ever been before.

Finding the Right Fixtures

After a bit of shopping and a few months of trying them out in my own house, I was able to find some solid choices to act as replacement fixtures in each of my rental units. There were a few basic criteria I used to decide which ones I would end up installing in my rental properties. They were as follows:

1. The reduced flow rate cannot inhibit the tenant’s experience.

Obviously, the goal with these new fixtures is to use less water and save money, but nobody wants to take a shower under a faint trickle of water, nobody wants a cheap bathroom faucet that hardly does the job, and nobody wants to be stuck with a toilet that backs up, clogs and doesn’t “take care of business.” There should be no negative perception from before and after these new fixtures are installed in each unit.

2. The cost of each fixture must be reasonable.

As I was shopping around, I found that some plumbing fixtures can get really expensive, making it very difficult to justify this kind of “improvement” to a rental property. In order for this cost to make sense, these plumbing fixtures needed to be justifiable as an investment with a real, positive end result in the form of cost savings. If a faucet, toilet or shower head is so expensive that it takes 15 years to pay off, it’s not going to work.

3. The fixtures need to be highly rated, well-built and able to take a beating.

Make no mistake about it, these fixtures are going into rental properties; they aren’t always going to be treated with “tender loving care.” I’d be remiss if I wasn’t planning for these things to take a real beating over the next couple of decades. As such, each of these fixtures had to be built to last for several years without needing replacement.

Related: When Going “Green” Counts: 7 Ways to Save Money on Your Rentals Through Water Conservation

The Fixtures I Chose (and the Results)

Delta Foundations Single Handle Kitchen Faucet, 1.8 Gallons Per Minute

71AgbUh8BxL._SL1500_Coming in at less than $60, with a 4.5 star rating on Amazon and a flow rate of 1.8 gallons per minute, this faucet was an easy choice. I actually bought this faucet for my first house back in 2006 and we used it there for over 3 years. Not only does this thing look great, but it works flawlessly.

It’s a well-built faucet that seems to be made mostly of metal (which makes the price surprisingly low). I was also pleased to find that the 1.8 gpm water flow didn’t seem to cause any annoyances or get in the way of our daily kitchen tasks. Delta sells an aerator that goes with this faucet as well. For an extra five bucks, you can increase the water savings even further by reducing the water flow to 1.5 gpm (assuming your tenants don’t figure out how to take it off on their own).

Delta Classic Single Handle Centerset Lavatory Faucet, 1.5 Gallons Per Minute


Again, coming in at less than $60, with a 5 star rating on Amazon and a flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute, this one was another winner.

I installed this faucet in my bathroom about a year ago. I’m not a plumber and I’m not very handy, but I was able to figure it out myself. It took me about 45 minutes to install (not bad for my level of incompetence) and while it took some patience on my part, it was relatively easy to do with the right tools. The hot and cold hoses came pre-installed into the faucet itself, so it was a couple less steps in the installation process (which was a couple less opportunities for me to screw something up).

I certainly don’t have any formal complaints about the product, but I’ll admit that there was a slight “cheapness” factor to this one. While it appears from the picture to be made of metal, it is actually made almost entirely of plastic — not that plastic is a “bad thing” per se, but judging by this picture, the faucet looked deceptively higher-quality than it actually is.

I will say that this faucet put out noticeably less water than the faucet I replaced it with (which was to be expected), but in all honesty, even with less output, we haven’t noticed any problems or annoyances with it. We’re still able to wash our hands just as quickly with less water. It really hasn’t seemed like a big change in the grand scheme of things.

Would I buy this faucet again? Absolutely. I actually ended up buying two more of this exact model for the other bathrooms in our house. Regardless of the VERY small issues (if you can even call them “issues”), it delivers as expected and the price is acceptable for what we’re trying to do.

Kohler Forte Single-Function Shower Head


The shower head was the one I probably struggled with the most. Mainly because:

1. Generally speaking, a shower consumes more water than any other plumbing fixture (which makes it a big opportunity to save money).

2. When the water flow of a shower head is restricted to less than 2.5 gpm, it becomes very noticeable (in my humble opinion).

Don’t get me wrong: I want to save water, but not at the expense of creating an everyday annoyance for my tenants. Not to mention, if my tenants decide they don’t like the shower head, it’s about the easiest thing in the world to switch out.

With this in mind, I went with a shower head that had the maximum 2.5 gpm water flow, recognizing that even the most liberal usage of water with this shower head would still be a substantial improvement from the older shower heads that consumed up to 5.5 gallons per minute.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Including Utilities with Your Rentals

In my experience with this shower head, it has a nice, even distribution of water and doesn’t seem overly restrictive in terms of its output (probably because it has the highest water flow available by today’s standards) and coming in at approximately $35, it’s not a bad choice.

Toto Drake Two-Piece Toilet, 1.28 Gallons Per Flush

51q3i9WupML._SL1280_Simply put, I love this toilet (and I don’t care if you judge me for it). I’ve been using the Toto Drake in every house I’ve lived in since 2006 (if there hasn’t already been one there, I’ve gone out of my way to buy one and install it). Simply put, this toilet is the bomb.

“Toto” is a Japanese brand that is both the Cadillac and the Honda of plumbing fixtures. This company has mastered the design and functionality of toilets to the point that they don’t clog—ever (unless you’re trying to flush an entire phone book down the toilet).

Better yet is that it uses the bare minimum of 1.28 gallons per full flush, and this particular unit is reasonably priced at less than $250. The low maintenance, high efficiency, quality design and reasonable price of this toilet make it a great choice for just about any/every property out there.

Running the Numbers

All in all, this is what it will take to replace all the plumbing fixtures at my duplex:

  • 4 toilets at $223.03 a piece ($892.12 total)
  • 4 bathroom faucets at $59.00 a piece ($236.00 total)
  • 2 kitchen faucets at $56.75 a piece ($113.50 total)
  • 2 shower heads at $35.15 a piece ($70.30 total)

Altogether, I’m looking at a cost of approximately $1,311.92 to overhaul the plumbing fixtures at this point (assuming I do all of the installation myself).

According to, the savings from these new plumbing fixtures will likely be anywhere from 25%-60%. In my situation, I’d be looking at a savings of approximately $300-$400 per year. This means it would take about four years for this $1,311.92 cost to pay for itself (and every year thereafter would simply add another $300 – $400 of savings to my bottom line).

Again, given that water in my town is about as cheap as it’ll ever get, it’s not the most astonishing savings. Is it worth the time, money and trouble to switch out these fixtures? Probably, but the savings won’t be anything to write home about.

That being said, if my properties were in a more expensive market for water (like Atlanta, Seattle or Santa Fe) and my annual water bill was substantially higher, my savings would be MUCH more significant each year, which means this cost could potentially pay for itself in less than a year—with a permanent savings of this same amount every year thereafter.

In my opinion, if a landlord has a property in one of these more expensive markets and their plumbing fixtures aren’t as efficient as they can be, they’ve got a no-brainer decision on their hands (and every year they don’t take action, they’re just throwing money away).

It’s also worth noting that with the replacement of these plumbing fixtures, landlords are also able to eliminate any and all of the leaky faucets throughout their building (an unseen cost that can waste a ridiculous amount of water and money).

Is It Worth It?

In the end, the conclusion I take away from this study is that unless a property is already running with plumbing fixtures that are mostly water-efficient (e.g. – homes built within the past 20 years probably won’t realize as much of a benefit), most property owners—especially of older properties—can probably justify investing in some updated plumbing fixtures that will waste less water and save them a ton of money in the long run.

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out our newer readers.]

What do you think—will you consider moving to water efficient fixtures in the future? If you’ve already switched over, have you noticed a difference in your bill?

Leave me a comment below, and let’s discuss!

About Author

Seth Williams

Seth Williams (@retipsterseth , G+) is an experienced land investor, commercial real estate banker and residential income property owner. He is also the Founder of - a real estate investing blog providing real world guidance for part time real estate investors.


  1. Sam McPeek

    I like the ideas. In my area, often the utility company will provide low flow shower heads and aerators at no cost…all you have to do is ask.

    Although I don’t know about the Toto Drake, I do have a Toto Aquia wall hung toilet in my powder bathroom. Sometimes I find myself walking downstairs just to use that toilet…so I must be weird too. I like the flush, and the depth/size of the bowl over my American Standard in my main bath. 🙂

    • Seth Williams

      That’s awesome Sam! I wonder if my water company would do the same thing. That sounds like a nice (free) way to get a head start on improving water efficiency.

      And I know what you mean about those Toto toilets… I do the same thing all the time (glad to hear I’m not the only weirdo out there). 🙂 It’s hard to beat such a well-designed marvel of modern plumbing!

      • Sam McPeek

        I just looked it up again, and in our area (Richland, WA) it was a partnership between the city’s Energy/Water Conservation departments. They had/have a limited supply of the low flow fixtures and CFL bulbs. They have been running the program for at least the last 10 years…so I think they just limit the supply each year.

        I looked up Grand Rapids and I didn’t see anything on their website, although it does say that they partner with the EPA’s Water Sense program. It would be worth the ask for sure.

  2. Nathan Emmert

    Did you measure the actual water flow prior to making the changes? Take a big 5 gallon bucket or something and run water for 60 seconds?

    I’ve actually spoken to my PM about these kinds of improvements… but due to the 100 year old homes I have and the clogging of the pipes, he says I already have low water pressure helping out on that front. I’m curious if you have the same thing in your older house.

    • Seth Williams

      Hey Nathan – I didn’t get quite that scientific about it, but I did see some similar suggestions when I was researching this stuff online. I know that some older buildings have this issue with naturally restricted water flow (though mine doesn’t see to suffer from it). My plumber actually told me that the real restriction is usually residing in the actual faucet itself – not necessarily in the pipes… so replacing the fixture usually does have an effect on some level.

  3. Darren Sager

    I only use Toto for my rentals as well. Besides the low water usage as Seth mentioned they’re built to run a long time. The only issue I’ve found with them, now that we’ve been using them for more than a decade, is their flapper. It’s made of a material that even though its almost always under water seems to dry out over time. This happens much faster when tenants put the chlorine tablets into the tank, something which is not good to do because it causes premature failure of more than just the flapper. You can pick up a replacement by Korky at Home Depot that works well and seems to be made better than the original flapper that comes with the Drake.

    We also found some shower heads that perform well at 1.5 GPM and you wouldn’t know they’re using such low consumption. They also have a shut off valve that turns the flow off when hot water reaches them so that the tenants don’t walk away and let money go down the drain. Most people turn on the shower and start doing something else while waiting for the shower to get hot. This low flow shower head also stops the tenants from letting the hot water get wasted when they’re not using it. It’s from Evolve and it works well.

    • Seth Williams

      That’s actually REALLY good to know Darren. I believe Toto actually recommends that users don’t use those chlorine tablets (but of course, I can’t expect every tenant to automatically know that). I haven’t had the flapper fail on any of my Totos just yet, but I’ll keep that in mind, because I’m sure the day is coming.

      Thanks for the tip on the Evolve shower heads as well, that sounds like a brilliant innovation. If you can find a link to the shower head you’ve been using, I’d love to know exactly which one you recommend. That’s a great idea!

  4. Cody Steck

    I really like this idea. One thing you could do, is to only replace the kitchen faucets, shower head, and bathroom faucets and leave the existing toilets in place. This will of course not save you any water in the toilets but, it would cut down on your up front cash cost significantly. This makes your total cash cost $419.80. Let’s say your savings are only $200-300 because you didn’t replace the toilets. Now, it only takes 2 years (instead of 4) for this project to pay for itself. Just another way to look at it!

    Great article!

    • Seth Williams

      That’s a great point Cody – as the toilets easily represent the worst cost-to-savings ratio. Even though I love those Toto toilets, it may just be worth holding off on them until the old ones are literally broken and MUST be replaced.

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great article! I just replaced an ancient toilet in one of my apartments with a new American Standard 1.28gpm Cadet 3. The best part is I found out my local city will pay a rebate of 50% of the purchase price (up to $75) PER TOILET. Make sure to always check for rebates with your local municipality, county, or water utility!

  6. Switching the name on the water bill is not that difficult in Pittsburgh. However you must be notified if the bill has not been paid to avoid a tax lien. The tax people are always very cooperative.

    Single lever faucets are mostly garbage. In a few years they leak. I tried many brands. Separate hot and cold rarely leak even after many years. Trying to replace the seals or install new internals on any faucet can be very time consuming…..which is expensive . Installing a new fixture takes only minutes. Every tenant and indeed every person in the USA hates a week shower. They would rather pay than stand under a weak trickle. I have replaced the shower heads in vacation rentals that I stay for a week or more. I put the tricklers back when I leave.

    • Seth Williams

      I didn’t realize there was this issue with single lever faucets Larry. I’ve never seen these become a problem in my limited experience, but I suppose that’s something to keep in mind over the long term. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Deanna Opgenort

    The only problem I’ve had with newer faucets (not delta) is the chrome pitting after a few years. The Glacier Bay and Price Pfister are the ones I’ve had issues with. Doesn’t affect the function, but looks awful and makes it impossible to clean.

    • Seth Williams

      That’s good to know Deanna. I’ve talked to a few plumbers about this and I know that all plumbing fixtures are definitely NOT created equal. Some of them might look great but they have terrible longevity issues. It’s probably good to read a lot of reviews before buying.

  8. Curt Smith

    Just my view re landlord paid water. I think that your replacing with low flow is a nice gesture, but I feel your #1 todo is to transfer billing of water to the tenant ASAP. Your property marketability will go up significantly. Every business owner’s #1 job is to be pushing the selling price of their business up.

    There’s a system that apportions out the main water bill do the tenants that’s 3rd party. So you aren’t involved and the tenants have a 3rd party to complain to.

    My area of expertise is mobile home parks. We walk from making offers on parks with park paid water,, or the offer is low ball. The same must be true for MFs right?

    • Seth Williams

      Hi Curt, there are a few reasons why I pay the water bill instead of my tenants:

      1. Unpaid water bills go as liens on the property instead of collections to tenants, so if my tenants stop paying – I’ll hurts me, not them.
      2. The water bills in my city are only read quarterly (not monthly like gas/electric), so charges that tenants should pay at move-out are very difficult to know in time to get their deposit out within the 30 days required by law.
      3. Most city’s don’t have the infrastructure to deal with landlord situations–frequent tenant transfers, notifying landlords if water is shut off, transferring to landlords when tenants move out, etc.

      For these reasons, it’s the industry standard in my area for landlords to pay the water bill on each property – not the tenants. It’s also worth noting that the rents we charge take into consideration the water being included, so from a cash flow perspective, it all comes out pretty square in the end.

  9. Seth Williams

    That’s a great insight Curt, thanks for sharing. I might just do some digging into this, because I see your point. Maybe there’s an easier way to shift this cost onto the tenants (though it might also cause the price I charge for rent to go down). Either way, I think it warrants some homework on my part. Thanks!

    • Seth Williams

      Great to know Nicole, thanks for the link.

      I actually started doing some of my own research on these shower heads after I saw some the comments above. I’m looking forward to trying them out in my own house – they sound like a great idea!

  10. Ben Staples

    This is good stuff. I really enjoyed not only stats about water cost by region, but specific recommendations on appliances. Best recommendations I’ve seen yet and I’ll definitely remember the use of this comparison: “the Cadillac and the Honda of plumbing fixtures.”

  11. Dan Sifuentes

    I have the Moen Nurture shower head which uses 1.75 gpm in my personal residence. At first I noticed the difference in flow but played with the modes and found one where it was much less noticeable. Now I don’t even notice the difference and it’s pretty efficient with water usage. If only I could cut back on the length of my showers…

  12. Anna Watkins

    In metro Atlanta, there is a rebate program for installing low gpf toilets in older houses – $50 for a 1.6 gal, and up to $100 for a 1.28 gallon per flush. I’ve installed the Lowe’s basic AquaSource toilet twice — once in a rental and once in my own house.

    So far so good — it flushes well, and my water bill was 30% less (only one billing cycle so far, and also installed a low-flow shower head and sink faucet)) The AquaSource toilet is only $99, has hundreds of good reviews, and looks just fine. With the rebate, the toilet is free! and if you install it yourself (one of the easiest projects out there), it’s a no brainer.

    • Terri Dyer

      Anna I’m going to have to have you come install our toilet’s for us! I dread when I have to help my husband install them, it seems to be one of the biggest pains in the rear to install a new toilet to set it down just right, not tip the bolt’s, not splash water all over the place. If you have a secret please do share?

  13. Terri Dyer

    Great article, research, and details. We have a duplex we pay utilities for and another one we will be purchasing soon that we will most likely be paying utilities for. The town they are in has astronomical utility costs.

    I’ve been thinking of ways to save money by putting a max setting on the thermostat (not 80 which they like to keep it at since I’m footing the bill). Also changing out all the light bulbs to energy efficient one’s. I hadn’t even thought about the fixtures, but where the water bills are high in this town it just might pay off.

    Where did your purchase your toilet at? We usually shop Menard’s or Home Depot and I don’t think I have ever seen that brand. Thanks

  14. Raymond Jensen

    Seth, one thing about single-handle faucets I’ve found is that they tend to leak after only a few years use, which is something I that does not seem to happen with 2-handle faucets. You may want to consider only buying 2-handle faucets.

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