Commercial conservation

When it comes to irrigation on a larger scale, property managers and contractors have to work together to get the most out of their water usage.

© Mykola Sosiukin | iStockphoto

As a property manager, saving water is at the forefront of Brian Harnetiaux’s mind, and the minds of many of his tenants as well.

“We get proposals with questions that ask how we are being energy efficient, water efficient, that kind of thing,” says Harnetiaux, senior vice president of McCarthy Cook in southern California. Being water conscious has even secured tenants for the company.

Recently, Harnetiaux says the company oversaw a $35-million renovation on an office campus built in the 1980s. The first thing they did was remove a large fountain on the property to eliminate the water being used for it, and they installed primarily artificial turf. McCarthy Cook oversees 11 properties totaling about 4.5 million square feet. Harnetiaux relies on his contractors to bring him water-efficient ideas.

Contractor communication.

Property managers have tenants to please and contractors have property managers to please. Open communication about what types of water-saving systems are available is important. From the property manager perspective, they are looking to contractors to bring them the latest and greatest technology.

“I see their job as having to educate (property managers) on what cool new technology is out there,” Harnetiaux says. “In my experience, the contractor mostly approaches us with ideas.”

Matt Jones, irrigation manager for Ruppert Landscape, also thinks it’s the contractor’s job to share new ideas. “We’re always bringing customers new ideas,” he says. “I think 95 percent of customers are pushing to get more water-efficient systems going.”

Jones manages irrigation installation systems in Virginia, and without the same urgency for conservation coming from the West, it’s a tougher sell for many clients. His job is to bring customers new ideas, many stemming from drought-prone areas like California.

The main point he makes when working with property managers is the increased ROI they’ll start to see once more efficient systems are in place. “(The customer) always wants to know how long it’s going to take to get their money back (from the initial investment),” he says.

In his area, he is working against a system in place that actually rewards residents for using more water in a sense. The more you use, the more of a discount you get because the cost per unit goes down as usage increases. To battle the appeal of those savings, he focuses on education and explains the capabilities that efficient irrigation systems have.

“It’s about cost saving, but also sustainability,” he says. His team also keeps records of the savings their customers get due to conservative irrigation systems. “We study water bills, and we’ve been noticing about a 30 percent savings,” he says.

A different kind of green.

Marc Fischer, president and CEO of InspiRE Commercial Real Estate Services, says many corporate tenants pay attention to the efficiency of their facility but generally, they’re looking for an opportunity to save money.

Fischer says that it’s impossible to lump together all property managers because of differences in property sizes and experience, but generally speaking, property managers are interested in sustainability and water conservation one way or another.

“If they’re not focused on the sustainability and green aspect of it, they still want to save money,” he says. “The more sophisticated property managers are really going for it, while the low hanging managers are already doing (sustainable things) to save money.”

Most property managers already look to make sure they aren’t watering the sidewalks or running the sprinklers in the rain, but Fischer believes the vast majority are focused on water conservation and the environment.

“Generally, larger properties are owned by institutional investors,” he says. For some of those properties, things like LEED certification are high on the list of facility requirements, regardless of cost up front.

Many of the conservation and sustainability efforts have been pushed from western regions. But even in the East, contractors are doing their best to educate property managers on efficient irrigation solutions.

Jones recommends monthly irrigation inspections, flow monitoring and precision nozzle to his clients.

But the best is yet to come. The future of large-scale water conservation will likely lead to even more widespread conservation efforts by property managers and contractors alike. The president of Harnetiaux’s company brought the most recent innovation to the forefront of their water management practices.

“It’s called a Midori-chan,” he says. “(Our president) saw it in use in China and he brought it over for us to start using.”

The Midori-chan works as a sort of basin for a garden. It holds and stores water and sends it back up into the plants, reusing the water as it goes, and getting replenished from rain. The company piloted it at one of its properties, and the results were great.

“Our contractor was very excited to see the new technology,” Harnetiaux says. “The integration was easy and we definitely plan to use it on our other properties.” Hatnetiaux also uses the Midori-chan as a selling piece with potential tenants.

Jones says soil moisture sensors are becoming more common, as they provide a more accurate depiction of the conditions of a property compared to ET sensors.

“ET sensors are theory-based,” he says. “We also are using flow sensors for 100 percent efficiency.”

July 2018
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