Upgrading to Individual Water Meters

Individual water meters

This article looks at the process the body corporate should consider when upgrading to individual water meters.

Water meter funnel

Are there existing water meters?

Some buildings are constructed with existing separate water meters, of varying quality and standards.

For townhouses, separate water meters are generally located:

  • Low on the outside of the building, where the main water line enters the townhouse
  • In an in-ground water meter box with plastic or metal lid, in the garden or grass areas
  • For groupings of townhouses (e.g. duplexes), the group of water meters may be located in a central area

For apartment or unit buildings, separate water meters are generally located:

  • In a meter room or service room
  • In a meter cupboard, usually on every level of the building
  • Inside each apartment, behind an access panel in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry

In an apartment or unit buildings, there may be other separate meters for hot water, gas, air-conditioning chilled water. These are not suitable for separate water metering as they do not measure the normal cold water supply into each lot.

Are the existing water meters compliant with billing standards?

If your body corporate has existing separate waters meters, it may be possible to arrange for the water distributor-retailer to read these existing meters and issue water bills based on those readings. For that to occur, the existing water meters must meet very strict requirements which are set by the water distributor-retailer. Each distributor/retailer has different requirements for water meters, and this depends on the local government area of your body corporate.

The requirements generally are:
  • Specific meter manufacturers’ products and serial numbers must be installed
  • Installed in-ground or above-ground depending on the manufacturer’s product
  • In-ground meters must be installed in an approved meter box with lid
  • In-ground meters must be buried at the correct depth, and cannot be installed in driveways
  • The water meter must have an upstream isolation valve
  • The isolation valve must be a specific manufacturer/brand and type
  • Above-ground water meters must be mounted at a specific height, and with a minimum gap between each meter
  • If above-ground meters are used, they must be installed with adequate lighting during daylight hours, not in a classifiable confined space
  • The cupboard must be identified with specific words, locked with specific locks and must be waterproof

Automatic Meter Reading (AMR)

If the separate water meters are installed behind any gate or fence structure (whether it is locked or unlocked), or inside any part of a building, the body corporate must also install and maintain an Automatic Meter Reader (AMR) which is a device which takes the water meter readings in an electronic format. These can be wired or wireless systems, and enable the water distributor-retailer to visit the site and use a special device to collect the meter readings, usually without needing to enter the property.

These AMR systems are an additional expense to the body corporate if they are required.

How to know if existing water meters are compliant

The water distributor-retailer does not carry out inspections of water meters, or give advice. The distributor-retailer will provide a document containing the relevant standards, but it is up to the body corporate to self-investigate to determine if its water meters are compliant.

If the body corporate believes the water meters are compliant, it must then arrange for a properly qualified plumber to inspect every single meter and provide a detailed report including:
  • The meter product, serial number, location and reading for each lot
  • A statement that all meters are working, and comply with the required technical standard
If some or all of the meters do not meet the standard, the body corporate cannot apply for individual water metering and will need to rectify any meter non-compliance, and have the property re-inspected.

The cost for the plumbing inspection only of each meter (not making any upgrades or replacements) is generally around $50-100 per lot, depending on the size of the development.

As a general rule – if your body corporate building was built before 2008, or is not currently on individual water meter billing, that is a very good indication that your water meters will not be compliant with the current standards.

Our body corporate needs to upgrade meters to apply for individual billing – What are the steps?

If your body corporate wants to upgrade the existing water meters to be compliant with the correct standard for separate water meter billing, or wants to install brand new meters for this purpose, the normal body corporate decision-making rules will apply.

The body corporate will have to consider:
  • The body corporate major spending limit
  • The body corporate improvement limit
  • What type of decision is required?
Installing brand-new water meters, or upgrading water meters to meet a higher standard is an improvement, which is distinct and separate to simply repairing and maintaining existing infrastructure.

The type of survey plan is relevant to whether the body corporate can make this decision on behalf of all owners, or if all owners will need to individually decide to comply.

Building format plan (BFP)

Applies to:

  • Apartment/unit buildings
  • Some townhouse complexes
  • The body corporate generally owns the building structure.
  • The body corporate generally owns the cold-water service pipes, and any existing meters.
  • The body corporate can decide (at an AGM) to install new meters, or replace existing meters which it owns.
  • All owners are bound by the majority decision at an AGM.

Standard format plan (SFP)

Applies to:

Some townhouse complexes

  • The lot owner generally owns the land on which their townhouse is situated.
  • The lot owner generally owns their own cold-water service pipes, and existing meters.
  • The body corporate cannot force the owner to upgrade meters, or install new meters on the lot owner’s own property.
  • The body corporate may install new water meters on the common property, if the individual water supply lines run through the common property.
  • Remember, the meter must be installed after that water line has branched off to the individual lot.

Note: the format plan (BFP or SFP) is set at original development and cannot be changed.

The difficulty for SFP schemes

The reality is that for most SFP body corporate schemes, the location of the plumbing makes it nearly-impossible for the body corporate to install water meters on common property.

In that case, 100% of owners would need to:
  • Agree with the project
  • Install and pay for their own compliant water meter on their own property
  • Agree to pay for any related costs (such as the automatic meter reading (AMR) system)
As the entire complex can only have one billing method which applies to all lots, if even one single owner does not agree with the project or the costs, then the body corporate cannot move to individual water meter billing.

How can the project be funded?

You’ve identified that your body corporate is a BFP type, and has the ability to make a decision to replace or upgrade the water meters to move to separate water meter billing.

What about paying for it?

The body corporate sinking fund is a cash reserve that is collected for specific future maintenance expenses for the common property. Installing new water meters is an improvement, so it cannot be paid from the existing sinking fund balance.

The body corporate must issue a special levy to owners for the installation or upgrading of separate water meters, and related AMR devices.

Costs compared to benefit

A typical installation of new separate water meters may be in the range of $600-$2,000 per lot. Owners who are anticipating a saving in their water bills should weigh the saving against the up-front cost, and consider whether it is worthwhile to progress the project if it will take up to 20 years to break even on the investment.

For owners who can expect their water bill to rise, there is a substantial up-front cost, plus then the responsibility to pay increased water bills based on higher usage.

The real winner in the project may be the plumber who receives a large contract for the installation of the water meters and gets paid by the body corporate up front.

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