Pelican Cove

2010 COE Winner for Water and Energy Conservation Larger Communities

Pelican Cove: From Pipe Dreams to Dream Pipes and More

by Kathy Danforth

At 77 acres and 731 units, Pelican Cove Condominium Association in Sarasota is the single largest condominium association in Florida, but they are succeeding in keeping their environmental impact small. They were a winner in the Environmental Category of last year's Communities of Excellence contest, and are a winner this year in the Water and Energy Conservation category.

The primary project completed last year to conserve water was replacement of the hot and cold potable water lines due to pinhole leaks. Kevin Richards, manager of Pelican Cove for the last four years, reports, "It had been an issue for several years, with significant damage done to dozens of units. Kitchens, cabinets, hardwood flooring, carpeting, and drywall had been affected, because if you don't catch it right away, you can lose a lot of water from a pinhole leak under pressure."

The cause for the deterioration of the pipes is largely unknown, though the quality of the copper and the chemicals added to the water supply may play a part. Richards admits, "We honestly don't know the cause, but it's not unusual in Florida to experience pinhole leaks in copper piping over 25 years old."

Rather than mopping the problem under a rug, the Pelican Cove community evaluated options and decided to hire their own staff to re-pipe the buildings. The option of lining the pipes rather than replacing them was considered, but Richards reports, "The cost of lining the pipes was much higher, and five years ago the technology wasn't as widespread as now, so there was not enough data and solid analysis of how long it lasts."

The association began in 2005 with a $1.5 million special assessment and hired a three-member team to begin working their way through the association. Richards explains, "In February of 2007, I realized that with one team it would be a six to eight year project so we added two more teams. The employees were told when they were hired that it was for a project." Nevertheless, when the project concluded and teams were phased out, Richards observes, "It's hard to let anybody go in this economic environment."

The cost was revised when teams were added and the total cost ended at over $2.4 million. However, Richards reports that the final two years of the project came out five months ahead of schedule and under budget. "The homeowners actually had money returned to them because we didn't have to spend it! That was very well-received, as you can imagine. And out of 731 units there have only been two callbacks for connection problems so the success rate has been phenomenal."

Richards describes the project itself as very intrusive. "We had to cut drywall away to remove the copper and replace it with PEX piping. All the way down a living room wall a two-foot strip of drywall would be removed. The scheduling was the biggest headache and the biggest challenge," Richards recalls, "because we were actually going into a home and cutting drywall. It's very messy and dirty and never a pretty thing, so it's important for the resident to have a good idea of when that's going to happen." This was obviously a very visible operation, but the monthly Pelican Cove News and bulletin boards kept residents abreast of the schedule and deviations. Variations are inevitable but Richards notes, "Ninety percent of the owners understood that it was a schedule and wasn't written in stone. When we varied from the posted schedule, we would contact the unit owners even if they were up North." Richards estimates that almost 75 percent of the owners did leave their home for the project, which took seven to nine days per residence.

After pipes were replaced, the walls were prepared and textured to bring them back to a paintable condition. Rather than match the multitude of paint colors in the community, painting was left to the owners. Richards says, "We had a fluff and puff team to mop and dust to get the unit back to an acceptable condition. We didn't want an owner to return and have to wipe drywall dust off the countertops."

Richards reports, "After solving the pinhole leaks, we were convinced that we could find some additional savings by checking all our feeder and main lines underground." The Water Loss Subcommittee of the Buildings and Facilities Committee provided the steam for this project. "This group would take the time to get forms, knock on doors to get signatures, take photos—anything they needed to do to get grants. They're some amazing people," Richards acknowledges.

The cost to the community for the master meter tests was $12,250, of which $6000 was provided through grant money from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). The project also took over 1000 hours of volunteer time plus the involvement of residents in the "Great Water Turn-off" for their area. Several significant areas of water loss have been identified and fixed, and testing will continue through next year.

The re-piping project resulted in cutting potable water use by 4,000,000 gallons from 2007 to 2008. Since there was also a major system leak (which was repaired) in 2009, the community hopes to see even more improvement for the 2010 year of usage following completion of the project. The financial savings from reduction of water use is estimated at over $23,000 per year.

Additional perks during the project included installing a water valve for each individual unit so that water flow to the home could be totally stopped if the owner is absent. Also, free installation of energy-saving hot water heaters was performed if an owner chose to purchase one.

Separate meters have been installed at each of the six pools on the property as well as for faucets at the harbor. Though this does not conserve water, it conserves over $500 per month on the association's sewer bill. Richards notes, "Since we had six pools and a marina with faucets on both ends, it was worth proving that the water didn't go to the sewer. At a cost of $150 per meter, the meters paid for themselves in two months!"

Richards says that installing separate meters for each home is under consideration. "When an entire association is splitting the water bill, there's not much financial incentive for people to make sure their toilets aren't running and faucets aren't dripping." Issues to consider include whether the move is compatible with their documents and whether any funding from outside groups is available. Pelican Cove is also considering installation of a leak detection system for the main water line.

The community is currently involved in a pilot project determining the status of their sewer stacks, which are suffering from leakage. "In February of 2010 the board agreed to fund a study to determine how many sewer stacks there are, identify the scope of the problem through camera work and cleaning, and use one of the pipe lining methods or replacement as needed. Though pipes wasn't practical six years ago, now it's really a smart way to go with existing sanitary pipes." 

Pelican Cove has used solar panels for four of their pools (others lacked adequate sun or space) since 2002, and one set of panels was replaced in 2009. "The solar panels help with our electric and gas bills, and it's a step in the right direction," Richards observes. They were able to purchase a cover for their sauna last year, which also reduces their energy loss.

Following the recommendations of an energy audit, the community is proceeding to replace electrical equipment and light bulbs with higher-efficiency models. "When we replace a bulb, it's with an energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulb," Richards explains. "With bulbs inside, outside, and on the walking trails, it's just too expensive to go through and do it all at once." Air conditioning units have been replaced at two of the three clubhouses with higher SEER models. The pumps at the pools and two wells have been switched from single speed to variable speed, and Richards estimates, "These changes have enabled us to save 10–15 percent on our monthly electric bill."

Pelican Cove has initiated a partnership with a neighboring homeowner association to the south, Portofino On the Bay, to divert a significant portion of their stormwater runoff away from Little Sarasota Bay. In what Pelican Cove hopes will be a win-win situation, Richards says, “We’ve come up with an idea to divert that water onto Portofino’s land into a large retention pond which becomes overgrown because it can’t keep enough water. We went to several meetings and finally got approval to put an inlet box in the middle of the road that the runoff is channeling down to capture 70–80 percent of the runoff and divert it into this pond. Not only will it keep their water level up with oxygenated water, but it will keep the runoff from going into the bay.” Richards is excited to report, “It’s the first time we or SWFWMD is aware of that two properties have agreed to work together to reduce the stormwater runoff. It sends a message to other properties to think outside the box, and you can make a difference when it comes to the environment.”

Becoming a more mature community is not just a matter of combating leaks. Pelican Cove is celebrating their 30th birthday this winter, with over 40 original residents still living in the community to recount and enjoy the tales of their community through the years. A video montage is planned for November and December celebrations, and Richards says, “The residents will speak about their memories in terms of what Pelican Cove was and where it is now and how we drove down that long road.” Pelican Cove’s energy and innovations will ensure that becoming stagnant is not part of their community’s story!