Water Usage - Removing/Monitoring Washing Machine

20 Replies

Friday after submitting my water meter reading I received a call from the water company informing me that the water usage at my 6 unit property was twice the average and that I should expect ~$1000 water bill for the quarter. This is up from $400. Over the weekend I installed a lock on the outdoor hose and informed tenants I would be making visits to check for leaking toilet flappers etc.

After word got around I was contacted by one of the tenants to inform me that the one unit that has in-unit laundry (preexisting when I bought the property last Nov) has been running the washer at least once a day. The unit is occupied by an unemployed single female on section 8 assistance. So she's not cleaning uniforms for multiple jobs or anything that would explain running the laundry that often.

I want to do my homework before contacting the tenant. Is there any way to monitor washer usage besides separate metering? i.e. a single meter in a lock box behind the machine? With no way to prove she is using the appliance for a commercial use I think my only option is to modify the lease to exclude washer/dryer which would take a month or so to take affect before I could remove the machines.

This is a month-to-month lease. Water rates in the area are high and also include sewer based on the amount of water used. So excessive water usage is a double edge sword. Any advise or tips would be appreciated! Thx

One washing machine doesn’t sound like it would account for that much usage.  Check each unit for leaks - toilets, faucets, etc.  My guess is an internal toilet leak.  Can you increase the rent on the section 8 unit?  

@Justin K.

It is possible to put a meter behind pretty much anything some places have them behind sinks and toilets to monitor usage. Manual readings would obviously be much cheaper to install and you can check them every quarter.

A better suggestion is to replace the aerators on all 6 units. From the bathrooms to kitchens. Every bathroom sink install a 1-1.5gpm aerator and for kitchen sinks I wouldn't go below 1.5 gpm. These are only $2 a piece and take 30 seconds to install yourself. They are typically chrome colored and can be installed on any faucet. If you have a fancier kitchen faucet it may not work unless you get one for the specific model. Note: most older sink aerators use 2.2 gpm

Also replace shower heads ($6 a piece) also a 30 second DIY with 1.5-2.0 gpm shower heads. You may get some complaints at first until tenants get used to them or decide to go with 2.0 gpm on all units.  Note: most older shower heads use 2.5 gpm

This will drastically  reduce water consumption.

The last and most expensive option is to replace toilets to low flow models. They are typically around $100 and take time to replace so you may have to pay labor on that as well if you can't do it yourself.

Note: older toilets can use up to 4-5 gallons PER flush. Newer models are about 1.5 gallons per flush - if you need a recommendation on a low flow toilet that won't clog just PM me.

I would start with the aerators and shower heads since they are very cheap and can be done in an hour on all 6 units. Make sure to market this as an "improvement" to your tenants.

@Sant Li Thanks for all the suggestions. I didn't realize aerators could be used to reduce flow like that. I'm currently rehabbing one of the 6 units and replaced the older toilet with a .8 gpf Niagara toilet. It hasn't seen any tenant usage yet, but I'm impressed with it's flushing power.

@Justin K.

I'm familiar with the toilet although never chose to get that specific model. Price was about double other reasonable toilets with 1.2/1.6 gpf. 

I wouldn't make all the toilets 0.8 gpf since there are concerns with not using enough water when flushing sewage all the way down older cast iron pipes to reach the street although it is rare to hear about. Typically showers and washing machines will make sure the sewage gets to the street!

A newer washing machine will use a lot less water. If the tenant is making your bills that high then look for a way to get her a new one. Your utility might have a program to offset the cost.

Aerators and showerheads are a great investment. Toilets will save more water than anything that you do.

Dishwashers, believe it or not, will save a lot of water as well.

Lastly, make sure that there are no unlocked outdoor faucets.

this is the main reason I took out my washer and dryer in my triplex . It won’t matter how new your appliances are if they do massive laundry for all their family members and friends because it’s free . Common problem in low income areas . Put In Coin laundry or yank them out

It sounds like you suspect the "washer for hire" is the culprit.  It wouldn't surprise me if she is doing other people's laundry as a side gig to hide income from section 8 and use your water to that end.  That being said, I would see if you can get a handle on where exactly the spike in use came from and investigate all those leads.  All the suggestions above are good, but that's not why you had a dramatic increase suddenly.

Get to know your water meter.  In our municipality, they are pretty fancy, and can tell you if there is a leak.  (It detects a constant water demand during several consecutive 15 minute intervals, for example.)  With a little digging, you should be able to find the manual for your particular meter model online.  That's what I did.

Lastly, you can add an addendum to your lease that sets rules in place for washers in the unit.  My main lease prohibits washer/dryers in the units unless we give written permission (which would be the addendum).

Here's what mine looks like:

THIS ADDENDUM IS HEREBY MADE A PART OF THAT CERTAIN LEASE AGREEMENT EXECUTED ON _______________ BETWEEN _______________________ (“Tenant”) AND ______________________ (“Landlord”)


Rental Unit Address:

This agreement serves as consent from the Landlord to permit Tenant(s) to attach and use a clothes washer and/or dryer within the aforementioned rental unit under the following conditions:

Any damage to the Premises caused by water originating from the washer and/or its connecting hoses will repaired by the Landlord at the undersigned Tenant(s) expense.

Tenant agrees to regularly maintain and clean lint/debris from the dryer unit itself as well as attached ducting. Any damage caused by improper maintenance of the appliance or its malfunction will be repaired by the Landlord at the undersigned Tenant(s) expense.

Tenant’s clothes washer and dryer will only be used by the legal occupants of the rental unit (as determined by the signed Lease Agreement, referenced above).

Dryer must be vented to the outside.

Tenant agrees to install, at his/her own expense, steel-braided washer hoses to the washer, and metal ducting to the dryer.

Landlord reserves the right to revoke consent given in this agreement via 7-day notice (as outlined in Paragraph 12 of the Lease Agreement).

Date Executed: _______________ Date Executed: ________________
Tenant Signature(s): Landlord or Property Manager Signature:

____________________________ __________________________________

I've also seen other landlords in my area put a cap on the water usage.  Here's an excerpt from a colleague's lease:

**41. NO EXCESSIVE WATER USE

No washing cars, playing with water, filling swimming pools or other excessive misuse of water please. $150 worth of water usage per apartment per water billing period (three months) is included in the rent. If the bill for the building exceeds $150 per billing period per apartment the excess amount will be split evenly among tenants in building. 

If you have an old fashion washing machine it is 45 gallons a load,  newer high efficiency washing machines use 23-30 but some can use less.   If you have an older machine I would replace it with an High Efficiency machine and if it is a small apartment it should be a small machine. You are removing for this tenant but just another idea as I know not having laundry can be an issue.  Also replace toilets if they are very old.  Note that I found a single leaking faucet can double use 

You need to determine first what has changed. If a new tenant has moved in this may be th esource of the problem. After you check each unit for leakes I would then give notice that you are removing th ewashing machene. It is th emost likley cause of th ewater use increase if you do not fnd a single source major leak.

Keep in mind you are likely looking for a single cause of th eincrease usage. Something new to the building.

IfI had to guess I think It is more likely the idiot tenant is washing other peoples clothes . Very common practice . Why would her mom , sIster, cousin ,or friends go the laundry mat and pay 2.50 a load when they can just stop over your property and do it for free !

@Justin K. I recommend adding a clause to all your leases that prohibits people from running ANY business from their residence. Just like I have a clause that prohibits any illegal activity. Keeping the clauses high level and generic allows you to get ahead of any crap your tenants can think up. For example, doing laundry for people is a business. 

Regardless of what your lease says, I would talk to the tenant immediately about laundry and let her them know only personal use is allowed. Personal use means clothing either her or other occupants of the unit wear. Not running a laundry service or even doing laundry for their boyfriend or parents for "free". 

One word of caution on the low flow toilets. Less water can lead to more clogs. It is better if the clog occurs at the toilet because it doesn't require a plumber. I would stick to 1.6 gallon. 

@Justin K.   In one of my Section 8 rentals I had a water bill that had gone up by almost 300 percent gradually over a year's time. I gave the tenant 24hour notice that I was going to look in her unit and I wanted her to be there.    Upon walking in the bathroom I could hear a slow continuous noise.....called a plumber out....and the plumber said there was a slow internal leak in the toilet.....they fixed it.....Water bills back to normal.

On a side note, there is a book out there called the Section 8 Bible. In the book he mentions that when he takes over a property that he will put Section 8 tenants in, he immediately takes out the washer/dryer, Garbage Disposal, Ceiling Fans and Screen Doors.

If it's not there when the Section 8 applicant or inspector comes through....then they have no reason to expect it.

@Colleen F. Those High Efficiency washers sound good in theory but they don’t clean well at all. There are multiple YouTube videos that show a red rag in a load of white rags in a HE machine. The red rag barely moves at all when the cycle is running due to such a small amount of water and poor agitation, both of which you need to actually clean cloths and rinse out all the soap completely. A good quality washIng machine like a speed queen with a coin box is the only way to keep someone from doing all theIr frIends laundry for some extra cash.
@Justin K. This isn't the washing machine. One person doing multiple loads of laundry reach day won't make the water bill jump from $400 to $1000. You have a running toilet or a leak in your service line (or somewhere else on the supply side).

@BOB CRANEY   yes some of those machines aren't good, some are fine. I use them,  the rentals that I have with washing machines (single family) have them.  I  don't believe everything I see on U tube.    For MF we have no washers due to well and  it makes things less desirable but they can put the quarters in the speed queens at the Laundromat. 

I got a pack of 1.5gpm aerators in from Amazon that'll be going in all bathrooms and kitchens this weekend. I'll also be dye testing the toilets and checking what shower heads are installed. My gut still tells me to remove the washer but I don't want to do so without clear evidence of misuse. Maybe talking with the tenant about water usage tomorrow will be enough.

Just one more tip when buying aerators make sure they are always bubble aerators, at 1.5gpm they usually will be but at 1 gpm they can be spray which most don't like. 

If you change out the shower heads make sure to market them as "new" because the old ones were so rusted out.. etc. 

I've never come across a shower head in a flip that was already less than 2.2 gpm but in NY you might have better luck.

@Justin K. I just take meter photos each time I go and calculate water use per person/ per day on an excel sheet but we have a well. I also note upgrades and leaks on the days I find them/ or install changes.   We also have a little spinning wheel that just keeps moving if there is a leak. Not sure if commercial meters have the same type of thing.