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Question DetailsAsked on 6/23/2016

need water meters for 6 apartments in 2 story building. Is this a complex, high cost project?

currently, a 100gal water heater provides for 6 apartment units. There is no metering. There is no crawl space.

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Not easy - and unless you (as the management) eat the cost of the hot water consumption and the water heating cost and keep the central water heater (feeding all units from one), you will need to put in new separate water heaters AND individual water and gas or electric meters (by living unit) to measure/bill for the water and energy consumed by them - ditto for furnace energy consumption, cooking/drying gas, household electric, etc if trying to divide up all the consumptive costs by user.

Changing from building-metering to unit-metering can run into the several thousands per unit very quickly, between installing individual meters assuming your utility allows that in your area - and they usually charge a hefty fee for that hookup change unless you are installing "private" meters on the backside of the utility meter. Even then, you have a lot of wiring and plumbing and gas line changes to make, installing meters, individualizing heating/cooling systems, etc - and of course the hot water system is almost always far from the most expensive utility as far as consumptive/billing cost. Cost of course varies by utility consumption charges - in unmetered water areas of course the heating of the "hot" water is 100% ofthe consumptive (as opposed to flat service fee) cost - whereas in very expensive water areas like say parts of California the lawn watering and toilet flushing water is the major part of the cost for water.

Each meter addition can run generally around at least $300-500 and except for water commonly more towards $1000 or more per utility per meter for private meters (not "official" utility ones) hooked on "behind" the official billing meter to use internally for billign allocation - official utility meters broken out to serve the individual consumers more commonly a couple thousand EACH or more, especially if a lot of piping has to be run in the wallsor underground to go from the current main feed to individual meters, or from (more commonly) ganged meters to the existing connections for the individual units.

One other problem - if installing "private" individual meters, as opposed to individual utility meters, in most if not all states you have to have those meters certified by the State Bureau of Weights and Measures (typically annually) to ensure that the billings to the customers are fair - this can run in the quite a few hundred $ per building per year alone, not to mention maintenance costs.

Maintenance is another issue - in many or probably most states, especially with rentals as opposed to leased apartments or owned apartments/condos, you cannot directly charge the individual tenant for maintenance of their part of the split-apart system, so by converting to individual tenant-based HVAC you may be shedding the consumptive utility costs to the tenant, but generally not the maintenance overhead, which by going from central building to tenant based units of course goes up - the more complexity and the more individual runs and individual heating units, the more maintenance cost and hassle overall.

It commonly works out that individualizing the utilities, expecially if not as part of a planned (or post-disaster) total building rehab and replacement of all utilities, does not save money over just splitting the utility cost between the various tenants as part of their rent. Of course, if your city or state has passed a law that consumptive utility use has to be individually measured and allocated between each user based on their usage, you have no choice in the matter.

Cost - I have seen and heard of individual metering changes costing from quite a few thousand $ minimum all the way up to $40-50,000 range for a typical 6-10 plex, depending largely of course on local utility changeover fees (which can run as high as $500-2000 or more PER UNIT in some cases PER UTILITY), how centralized or distributed the utility lines are in the building, and also on whether the building configuration and law allow you to "gang" the service in one utility room area, or you have to split each out to a location at the individual unit's individual unit - which can get close to about half a total building utility replumb/rewire in the worst cases.

I would say you need a commercial architecture firm with in-house mechanical and probably electrical design capability who specializes in remodel/rehab designs to rough out a configuration and cost estimate for you, but unless you are being forced into this by regulation or law, I certainly would not figure it will be economic in any short-term period for water alone unless your local area is under drought pricing. Normally, electric is the first to pay off in this sort of case, followed by gas (except sometimes gas is tops in very high-use cold wintry areas). Bear in mind though - putting aside any regulatory requirement for metered billing to the unit holders - if you are billing for the utilities now in the rent say averaged across all units, shedding that cost to the tenant directly will generally not save you any money in the long run - because generally you cannot shed the utility cost to the tenants without reducing the rents by about the same amount, unless you are in a non-rent controlled environment with a rental housing shortage.

Also, if using back-end meters (as opposed to individual unit utility meters) you may have to comply with regulations on utility billing and so forth, will have to do meter reads on a regular schedule, and each unit will have a different rent payment due each month because of the utility component. Also - back-end internal metering is out of favor because when a renter moves out collecting that consumption becomes a hassle, because you are not billed by the utility for it until after the tenant has moved out, and sometimes not until after the deadline for returning any security deposit, so you run the risk of "eating" some of the utility costs in those cases. This is the reason most new small (under about 10-20 units per building) buildings you see a bank of individual meters outside - the building is designed and built with individual utility metering in the first place, as it makes it simpler all around for building management. Even in large high-rise buildings individual metering is one the rise, especially with the easily monitored ones like electricity. Tougher to individually meter water and gas in large buildings because of the maze of piping running to each unit that would result, though some are built with individual consumption meters in utility closets on each floor or at each unit to allow for cost allocation between units by management.

Bear in mind also, if going to individual metering - generally, if the tenant fails to pay his bills, in many areas the building owner is still responsible for the utility bill payment in the long run so you might not be shedding that risk, if that was on your mind - you would have to check local law or talk to a rental/lease specialty attorney about that, and might vary by utility.

One other thing to bear in mind - on the layout - and considering legalities if trying to shift responsibility for utility maintenance to the user too like in a net zero lease or "occupant owned" apartment/condo situation - if the meters or connecting runs pass through other units or a common building area that can cause issues with access for repair by the unit owner, as opposed to individual outside runs leading to the individual units before the meter is installed at each unit. However, if running individual branches to individual meters at each unit and not built that way originally (with individual leads to the street from each unit) commonly the utility puts in a central meter on the main to measure the total building usage, and any difference between that and the total of the individual meters gets charged to the building owner to measure leaks and any illegal taps in between the main and the individual meters. Usually not a big issue, but in areas where people tend to make illegal taps or end-run meters, or where water is very expensive and you get a connecting line break, can quickly run into the thousands without warning when you get the next bill as building owner.

Note - if doing individual taps, you still have some common use water and electric and such for the building overall most likely - power for central phone panel if so equipped (probably not for 6-plex) and alarm system and A/C power for common areas such as halls and entries, power for common area ventilation fans, etc. In cold areas if you have vehicle block heater connections reconnecting them to individual units and providing locking or keypad-activated connection boxes (so only the tenant can plug into it) runs at least another $500-1000 per installation too, so converting all utilities can run a bundle, and is generally only done during a vacant-building complete remodel.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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