By Tal Eyal, FirstService Residential, 1/15/2014
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While winter made its official debut on December 21, the cold weather has been upon us for some time now and has gotten to extreme levels, including 20-year record lows across the country at the start of the year.
For boards, managers and other key decision-makers at multifamily housing properties, the dropping temperatures bring a rising interest in energy saving strategies, and a renewed focus on negotiating better utility rates. Facing a host of pressing management challenges throughout the year tends to put the issue of energy efficiency on the back burner. But each year, as the cost of heating common areas rises and fluctuates, the questions flare back up again: how can we save on costs and reduce our carbon footprint, and how can we help residents do the same? The fact is, by helping residents reduce their energy costs, properties are more likely to gain buy-in for those critical capital projects that come along.
With this in mind, some condo associations and executive groups have created energy committees to explore potential infrastructure improvements to common areas that create efficiency, and to determine how to negotiate better energy rates. Other HOAs—and rental property managers—have worked with their management companies to take concrete steps toward savings: conducting energy audits, implementing comprehensive energy conservation plans, and leveraging their collective purchasing power.
At FirstService Residential, for example, through our affiliate FS Energy, which focuses exclusively on energy management and advisory services, we have implemented a benchmarking and energy savings program for nearly 600 of our multifamily properties. The program, which began in New York City, has expanded to properties in Florida, and is launching in Chicago. In essence, the approach involves analyzing a building’s energy use and comparing it to similar structures; developing an energy maintenance plan to reduce consumption based on the findings of the initial analysis; and in the case of our northern properties, integrating an Energy Aggregation Purchasing Program to reduce natural gas and electricity costs.
The simple fact is that energy conservation is not just an important environmental goal, it should be a critical financial goal for every multifamily property. The correlation between better energy practices and real savings is irrefutable. Our program in NYC has realized more than $19 million in cost savings, while reducing the carbon footprint of our buildings by 68,630 metric tons, or 15.6 percent. We expect a similarly positive result in other regions of the country.
Ultimately, every multifamily property can benefit from some basic energy planning, along with some long-term infrastructure considerations. Some of the most important steps for properties to take include:
Conduct an energy audit: By assessing current energy usage patterns and costs, and by determining where conservation opportunities exist within a property, management can begin to develop a plan for savings. Every property that has not conducted a comprehensive energy audit should get one under way.
Pursue efficiency: Not only should boards and managers implement a procurement policy that prioritizes energy efficient products—including lighting, water heaters, and water saving devices—for common areas, they should develop a communications plan to encourage individual residents to take similar actions. Building management should consider offering regular energy savings tips in communications with owners and residents, along with opportunities to purchase energy efficient products at wholesale prices.
Train property management staff in energy conservation: Simple steps such as programming thermostats in common areas around usage patterns, and turning off lights in unoccupied rooms, can lead to savings. Staff should be trained to pursue strategies that reduce energy use.
Consider infrastructure improvements: Based on the outcome of their energy audit, properties may want to undertake more significant energy saving improvements, such better insulation, insulating window film, landscaping changes, and automated systems that monitor energy use.
While the winter weather puts energy use in the hot seat, the fact is that conservation and savings are year-round endeavors. Just consider the fact that in warmer climates, such as Florida and Southern California, cooling is the greatest expense. Even in New England, A/C use in the warmer months is a significant energy drain. With this in mind, decision-makers at multifamily properties should keep energy issues high on their list of priorities.
Tal Eyal is founder and president of FS Energy, the energy management subsidiary of FirstService Residential which advises residential property management clients of ways to reduce energy consumption, costs and emissions while improving property values and quality of life. Eyal oversees FS Energy’s operations, energy procurement business, as well as the data analysis and reporting of energy usage.