From single-family neighborhoods to high-rise condominiums, many community 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.
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” While this management mantra is not true for everything, nothing is truer when trying to save energy. The first step to saving money on utilities is knowing what an association spends every month and every year on electricity, fuel, and water, and tracking it. Many major cities, including New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Chicago, have implemented benchmarking ordinances that require certain multifamily buildings to track and report energy usage.
Knowing how much electricity, fuel, and water an association consumes every month and every year is the first step. Making sense of that information is the next. Knowing if a similar association is consuming half of the fuel in heating season, if the high rise down the street is paying quadruple per square foot in electricity but they have fewer amenities, or if the same size HOA across town is irrigating their property with one-third the water but their grass is greener, is useful. This information helps the management team know what resource management/conservation goals are realistically possible to attain.
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. While there is often an upfront cost for the audit, the end product will be 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.
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 are presented and explained in a way that is easy to comprehend and digest so that you can turn it 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.
With the plan in hand, take action. Engage contractors or engineers for the first conservation measure on the plan. Implement any low cost/no cost conservation measures that were highlighted. This may be to replace lights with LEDs in house, change the irrigation time clock from day to night, sub-meter water that isn’t entering the sewer, switch to a time of use electricity rate, program the programmable thermostats that were purchased but never programed, or adjust the economizer settings on the roof top unit.
Promoting smaller, daily energy conscious behaviors is a valuable way to open the door to a larger program. A great place to start is with the lighting system. High-efficiency light bulbs pay for themselves many times over and reduce maintenance efforts because they have to be changed less frequently than incandescent bulbs. Boards should also consider installing occupancy sensors in their stairwells, clubhouses, meeting rooms, common areas, and amenities. Shutting off your lights is the quickest way to save, and occupancy sensors will do that for you.
Whether you’re in Minneapolis or Miami, regular HVAC maintenance can lead to real energy savings too. Heating and cooling systems represent one of the largest portions of a community’s energy budget, and poorly maintained compressors, air handlers, and boilers create a measurable drag on the bottom line, and it will creep up and up over the years. Create an annual schedule of preventative maintenance with your HVAC contractors to keep your equipment clean and efficient.
There are many incentive programs available today that 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.
In many cases, board and association members may be intrigued by the added benefits that come with some projects. For instance, better heating and cooling systems may translate into more comfortable units and common areas. New energy efficient appliances may also be more attractive and up to date. In some cases, changing systems, or installing new tankless water heaters, may free up space for owners to use for storage.
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.
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.
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