Adam Bartman with Reed looks at this very issue in the Toronto area.
Bartman said Toronto’s overall infrastructure is weak, and it faces higher water costs, which put a strain on things. The cost per cubic meter is up seven percent a year, according to Bartman.
Water conservation is important to the foundation of this company.
“It kind of goes back to why the company is named ‘Reed’,” Bartman said.
Four years ago when the company started, it’s original mission was to give one particular customer who owned a large apartment building a way to understand water use, according to Bartman.
The Building was 16 stories with three wings. It held apartments in the 300-unit range. For about 10 years the building exchanged hands between three different owners. All three managers struggled with water use, Bartman said.
Compared to profitability with other buildings they owned, this one destroyed them. Bartman said information from suites remains the holy grail of what Reed can provide to building owners and landlords, granular information on per suite usage.
As sensors get cheaper, they’ll be even more viable to monitor water usage in the years to come.
Rising costs are starting to make landlords care about water usage more, Bartman said. Engineers have squeezed as much as physically possible out of traditional HVAC systems. Boilers are efficient. Systems, in general, are efficient. There’s tons of incentives for energy retrofits, but most decently-run commercial buildings can only do so much in terms of gas and electricity.
In the past 15 years, no one really paid attention to their water bill until they get a random invoice with double the normal usage, according to Bartman.
And the reason for spikes in usage is often a toilet. The inner fixtures can leak without it really being obvious to the naked eye.
Roughly 90 percent of the time leaks are related to the toilet flapper malfunctions, according to Bartman. Those leaks running on times 20 households in a 300-unit building really starts to up usage.
“It really adds up, especially in these buildings with so many units,” Bartman said.
It’s not feasible for a building owner to spend that much time on this issue and ask maintenance staff to go through each unit every two months. They’re too busy.
Companies are trying to monitor usage via online dashboard or app, see in real time what’s going on.
“I think that goes a really long way,” Bartman said.
It’s conservation through awareness. When people know what’s going on, it’s much easier to resolve these issues.
New buildings are implementing sensors to track hot and cold water usage in every suite and billing customers for it. When people are responsible for their own individual costs, usage typically declines.
When it comes to artificial intelligence impacting the future of smart plumbing, Bartman said he sees it having an effect down the road. But there’s one important thing to keep in mind.
“It’s important for us and a lot of other businesses that they don’t give customers a new job to do. That’s the point of AI,” he said.
The point of it all is to make people more efficient.
“If nobody ever uses our dashboard when it comes to the water conservation side, then it’s kind of a good thing. Let the program monitor the water and only alert you when something’s going on. The more autonomy an app can provide, the more valuable it typically is, until the user needs to make an action,” Bartman said.
It’ll work better for some people than others. That’s the automation side of things. Technology is affecting every facet of life, including water conservation.
As for the future of Reed, Bartman said it’s simply more data, cheaper sensors.
Water meters are expensive right now, but customers need them. There’s a foothold with a few major companies that make these devices.
It comes down to the ability to extract more and more data from a building and make it easier on the front lines. Companies like Reed have to make it more affordable and realistic to implement more and more technology into buildings so they’ll be efficient.
Bartman said there’s still a long way to go with efficiency, especially in domestic water. Nothing much has changed in 80 years.
“It’s gonna be exciting for sure. For us, it’s about connecting more and more sites to obtain more data.”
In the future, when enough devices are on the market tracking data, they’ll be able to send a homeowner a message and say their neighbor is using less power.
Apartment owners can compare buildings they own to each other. If that can be done across a region, province, or state, property owners can start to understand if a building they run is operating the way it should.
Buildings will get a general “How smart is it?” rating. Bartman predicted that’ll be the future.