Five Simple Ways To Help Multifamily Buildings Go Green

More than 38 million Americans live in buildings with five or more households. That’s a lot of opportunity for energy efficiency. Going green not only satisfies tenants’ demands but adds to the overall value of a development – both reasons property owners and managers benefit from building upgrades that improve energy efficiency. In fact, it’s time buildings become more sustainable or lose out to the competition.

“What used to be exceptional is now every day,” National Multifamily Housing Council’s Dave Borsos told the American Apartment Owners Association in an interview.

Borsos is right. In 2017, 42 percent of all multifamily financing provided by Fannie Mae qualified for its Green Rewards program, which offers lower interest rates to finance apartment properties that are already green certified or whose owners pledge to reduce energy use by at least 25 percent with renovations.

The savings aren’t designated solely to lending programs. According to the 2017 NHMC/Kingsley Renter Preferences Report, which surveyed 269,000 renters, 61 percent of tenants said they were either “interested” or “very interested” in living in apartment buildings that have been certified for energy efficiency or sustainable design. Efficiency is no longer considered an amenity but instead an expected standard feature.

“There is no cost difference anymore – green has become standard practice,” Borsos explained.

Still, not every property owner or manager has the means to completely revamp a building – especially while tenants are residing there. Fortunately, there are steps that will not only reduce energy consumption in a building but also save money for tenants and owners alike.

After all, upgrades not only reduce utility bills paid by residents, but also reduce energy consumption and maintenance in common areas where water and electricity might be paid by the owner. Actions as simple as replacing old models with programmable thermostats can save a family an average of $180 a year in electricity usage.

Interested in learning how property owners and managers can reduce energy consumption in multifamily buildings? Look no further than the following five tips for turning a multifamily building green:

Seal Windows and Doors

Many older windows and doors allow a lot of air to flow in and out of an apartment, taking hot or cool air with it. Replacing windows and doors with newer options that provide a more insulated barrier and better seal will prevent hot and cool air from being lost, therefore reducing the amount of energy needed to keep a unit comfortable.

If replacing windows and doors isn’t in the budget yet, simply caulking around windows and adding weather stripping around doors can make a dramatic difference. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, weatherizing windows and doors with caulk, weather stripping and spray foam can save as much as 20 percent on heating and cooling costs – and 10 percent overall on energy consumption.

Install ENERGY STAR-certified Appliances

The ENERGY STAR qualifications were established to reduce appliance energy consumption and save consumers money at the same time. The label can make a significant difference in efficiency. According to the ENERGY STAR website, “The typical household spends $2000 a year on energy bills. With ENERGY STAR [a household] can save 30% or about $575 on energy bills, while avoiding more than 5,500 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions”. Typical energy savings are:

  • Refrigerators – 20 percent reduction in energy use
  • Freezers – 20 percent reduction in energy use
  • Washing machines – 37 percent reduction in energy use
  • Water coolers – 45 percent reduction in energy use

Of course, replacing appliances can be a costly venture for multi-family property owners. Keep in mind, however, that eventually all appliances will need to be replaced. Property owners and managers, therefore, can simply pledge to replace all appliances with energy-efficient models moving forward. The initial costs might be a few dollars more, but the decision will save money for current and future tenants, serving not only to attract renters, but to entice them to stay longer once they are there.

Install Energy-Efficient Lighting

Did you know that if every American home replaced one traditional light bulb with an ENERGY STAR certified model, the result would be about $600 million in saved energy costs each year? It’s not so hard to believe once you understand that compact fluorescent light bulbs – CFLs – use only about a quarter of the electricity used by incandescent bulbs.

Not only do traditional light bulbs use more energy, but they burn out quicker, as well, and need to be replaced. How much do property managers spend on maintenance costs for light bulb replacement alone? Swapping out all light bulbs in a property with either CFLs or LED bulbs is a task that will quickly pay for itself.

While swapping out light bulbs, property managers can also take a look at the old T12 lamp fixtures in their buildings. Not sure what those are? You’ll recognize T12s as the long, halogen bulbs that are mounted in many common areas such as laundry rooms and parking areas.

Simply swapping the T12s out for the more efficient T8 bulbs produces a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption.

Replace HVAC System

The type of heating and cooling systems used in apartment buildings can make a huge impact on energy consumption. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 30 percent of HVAC costs are lost to waste, and property owners who upgrade an older model – anything older than 10 years will not be ENERGY STAR-certified – with an energy-efficient HVAC system can save up to 40 percent on cooling costs.

Replacing HVAC units isn’t the only way to improve heating and cooling efficiencies. Apartments using baseboard heat, wall heaters or even radiator heaters will consume far more energy than a forced-air furnace or air conditioner. Upgrading the entire apartment complex can be expensive, but it can also be the best long-term plan.

Make Data-based Decisions

Of course, the path to true energy efficiency involves continuous improvement. How are upgrades reducing energy consumption, and what are areas that still need improvement? If capital investment is needed, how much and will it pay for itself?

“Owners and operators often have a multitude of communities, with a wide variety of mechanical asset types across the country and often in very diverse places. It can become a very cumbersome task to understand ‘What am I spending where?’ and ‘Why am I spending that money?’” explained Motili’s vice president of multi-family Matthew Sallee.

Fortunately, apps and other data-driven platforms are available to help property owners and managers navigate the road to net-zero energy consumption. Motili offers just such a platform, including asset tagging and management.

Each time Motili dispatches a technician to service an HVAC system, data obtained from the job is used to help create a multi-year plan for the property. That way, building owners and property managers can devise a plan toward energy efficiency.

“For customers who have recently acquired a building or have a building that they know they’re going to put some capital into over the next few years, we consider this to be an investment-grade project,” Sallee said. “Investment-grade project data gives the customer more robust detail about what’s going on in the building, community or portfolio and exactly what needs to happen moving forward.”

Sallee’s not just blowing smoke, either. Motili followed resident satisfaction reports at almost 1,100 apartments and found its asset tracking technology led to a 20-percent increase in resident satisfaction, as well as a 15-percent decrease in average installation costs.

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