BY CHRIS NORMANDEAU, C.E.M., LC, LEED AP BD+C®,
Many high-rise condominium associations are interested in energy management, but believe it’s too hard to get a savings program off the planning table and into action. Boards often face time crunches, competing priorities, pressing financial challenges and unpredictable operational emergencies, which push energy management to the side. Fortunately, a few basic steps can lead to immediate and significant financial savings and energy savings.
Track your utilities
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” The first step to saving money on utilities is tracking what an association spends every month and every year on electricity, fuel and water. Many major cities, including Orlando, New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Chicago, have implemented benchmarking ordinances that require certain multi-family buildings to track and report energy usage.
Compare your building to others
Knowing if the high-rise down the street is paying quadruple per square foot in electricity with fewer amenities, or if a similar-sized community across town is irrigating its property with one-third the water, is useful. This information helps the management team know what resource management/conservation goals are realistically possible to attain.
Conduct an energy audit
Understanding how energy is used and where it can be conserved on your property can be achieved by conducting a full energy audit from the local utility, utility partner or third-party contractor. Some property management companies, like FirstService Residential, even offer these audits as part of their management duties in select markets. While there can often be an upfront cost for the audit, the end product is a detailed roadmap to real savings that can more than offset the initial investment. Managers should emphasize the importance of an audit in conjunction with benchmarking as vital first steps.
Create a plan
An audit report may be difficult to understand because of the jargon, technical terminology, abbreviations and numbers. Make sure to request that a summary document of the findings is presented and explained in a way that is easy to comprehend and digest. Turn the summary into an actionable plan that is valuable to your community. Determine which conservation measures are important to the association, and plan for them. Budget for the coming years and give the association every opportunity to succeed and save.
It’s OK to start small – just get started
Promoting smaller, daily energy conscious behaviors is a valuable way to open the door to a larger program. Take the building’s lighting system, for example. High-efficiency light bulbs pay for themselves many times over and reduce maintenance efforts because they are changed less frequently than incandescent bulbs. Boards should also consider installing lighting controls in their stairwells, clubhouses, meeting rooms, common areas and amenities. Shutting off your lights is the quickest way to save, and these controls can help you do that when they are not in use. Other minimum-effort, maximum-reward solutions include changing the irrigation time clock from day to night; using the programmable thermostats that were purchased but never programmed; or adjusting the economizer settings on the roof top unit.
Regular HVAC maintenance leads to real energy savings. Heating and cooling systems represent one of the largest portions of a community’s energy budget. Poorly maintained compressors, air handlers and water heaters create a measurable drag on the bottom line, and costs will creep up over the years. Create an annual schedule of preventive maintenance with your HVAC contractors to keep your equipment clean and efficient.
Look for the added benefits
In many cases, board and association members may be intrigued by the added benefits that come with some projects. For instance, installing tankless water heaters is not only more cost-effective and efficient, but it can also free up much-needed space for owners to use for storage.
Don’t assume you can’t afford it
Many incentive programs available make energy retrofits and improvement projects easier and less costly. In addition, shared-savings agreements can sometimes finance retrofits with limited upfront cost. In these instances, a project is financed with the promise that it will be paid for with annual savings over time. Similarly, low-cost loans are available that can make a project with a good ROI cash flow positive.
Taking some basic steps right now to trim energy spending in the areas of lighting, equipment operation, and energy efficient practices can make a real impact on your budget. When board members and managers see how much savings can be realized, a fully implemented, comprehensive energy management program is sure to follow.
Chris Normandeau, C.E.M., LC, LEED AP BD+C®, is director of FS Energy, the energy management and advisory subsidiary of FirstService Residential. FS Energy guides FirstService Residential clients on ways to reduce energy consumption, costs and emissions while improving property values and quality of life.