New water fixtures save water

Efforts to reduce water consumption over the past few months across 50 Centretown properties are paying dividends for both the environment and the residents themselves. 

According to the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation – a non-profit organization that owns and manages about 1,500 affordable housing units throughout central Ottawa – new low-flow water fixtures installed last fall have led to a 35- to 65-per-cent decrease in water usage and average savings of 40 per cent on water bills. 

“While we knew that the undertaking would provide benefits to our tenants and to the environment, we had no clue that the effects would be so drastic,” says Meg McCallum, a member of the corporation’s board of directors. “The city actually had to call us because they thought their water meters were broken – that’s how much we managed to reduce water consumption.”

The installations, which involved the replacement of every toilet, showerhead and faucet aerator across the properties, cost approximately $370,000 in total and took about three months to complete. Some residents were not able to use their toilets and sinks for a week at a time during the process. 

But for the corporation and its tenants, that’s all just water under the bridge. 

With the savings on water bills and its repair budget, the organization expects to be able to recover its investment in 18 to 20 months. 

“We coined it ‘flush economics’,” says McCallum. “In the long run, we decided that the benefits for our tenants were well worth the cost, especially given rising water rates in the Ottawa area.”

Although Ottawa’s water consumption has held steady over the past few years, the city’s hydro rates have continued to rise significantly in order to address an aging system of old and failing pipes. 

The latest city budget will see an increase in water and sewer rates by another six per cent, after a combined 14-per-cent hike in the past two years alone. The average household water and sewer bill per year is projected to be around $1,045 by 2020. 

For many living within the corporation’s affordable housing mandate, that amountis too high. Although there are certain units that include utilities in the rent, the vast majority of tenants have to pay their own water bills separately. 

“That number is pretty scary to look at,” says resident Jesse Bird, who lives on one of properties on the corner of Bank Street and Argyle Avenue “If it keeps going up like this, it will really be hard to stay afloat – pun intended.”

“But the difference that the new showerheads, faucets and toilets are making is extremely noticeable, especially on my wallet,” he adds. 

David Caldwell, a supervisor at the corporation’s 455 Lisgar St. location has also noticed the benefits in his rounds. 

“I’ve been approached by many of the residents here over the past few months who are ecstatic that their bills have dropped drastically since we installed the fixtures,” he says. “Some of them have had their (water) bill cut in half.”

According to Caldwell, the building has also had fewer problems with plumbing and sewage since the changes. 

Low flow water fixtures conserve water by using a high-pressure technique that produces an equally strong flow as traditional models but uses much less water. Many models, including the ones installed by the corporation, also feature advanced leak detection and prevention systems.