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Jun. 10, 2014

Maximizing Energy Efficiency

By Jessica Fiur, Senior Editor

How much savings do you actually receive from your energy-reducing programs at your community? What about a year down the line—are you still saving money? The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) recently completed a study of more than 200 communities throughout New York State, including 1,500 buildings and approximately 33,000 apartments, which measured the effectiveness of energy programs.

The results were reassuring

“We asked people to put together a customized workscope that’s going to reduce energy usage by 20 percent for most of the buildings,” Lindsay Robbins, senior project manager, NYSERDA, tells MHN. “We look at energy bills one year post-construction and see if people actually got the savings they were expecting to achieve.

“We’ve seen that 73 percent of the projects that have come through the program have hit [their] savings target. And for most projects, that was a 20 percent savings target. For some projects it was a 15 percent savings target.”

Mixing it up

The sample communities that NYSERDA investigated for their study included a wide range of buildings, from high-rise apartments in New York City to historic mansions that were converted into five-apartment buildings upstate. Likewise, there’s not a band-aid solution to reduce energy costs across the board. Instead, different approaches to energy savings should be applied depending on various individual factors.

“The most cost-effective aspects are going to be different for every building,” Robbins says. “The program has been a huge advocate of the customized approach.”

Diversity seems to be key

“It seems to be important to have a wide range of measures if you’re actually going to achieve the 15 or 20 percent savings,” Betsy Jenkins Parrington, senior energy engineer, Taitem Engineering, says.

Additionally, when starting a savings program, look beyond individual buildings.

“This is definitely something that everyone can do successfully on the portfolio level,” Robbins says. “If you look at stuff from a portfolio perspective, the numbers are really good, but on a project-by-project basis, it’s challenging to get the savings that you’re predicting you’ll get.

There are some general steps that all buildings can make towards energy efficiency. Take, for example, heating.

“Investing in improving the heating system in your building is a great way to see significant improvements,” Robbins says. “Only 13 percent of the projects [we studied] failed to see a reduction in their heating usage, and 58 percent of them saw improvements of 25 percent or more in the efficiency of the heating in their building, which really does represent the lion’s share of the heating costs with energy for multifamily buildings.”

However, not every energy-saving option will show large returns. And some measures, such as installing energy-efficient lighting, might seem like a good start, but might not yield the results you’re hoping for.

“Lighting is a low-hanging fruit and a standard measure, but the savings for a multifamily building looking to do a whole-building lighting renovation are fairly small, because very few buildings are willing to go into the apartments and change out the lights there,” Jenkins Parrington says. She claims, instead, that buildings typically just focus on the lights in the common areas. This alone usually won’t make a big enough difference overall.

“We like this measure, and almost every project in our portfolio has this measure, but the savings from it are fairly small, and a lot of people don’t realize this,” she says.

Ultimately, seeing the biggest return on investment involves research, some trial and error and hard work.

“Project management and expertise are really key to the success of these projects,” Robbins says. “It’s not as simple as choosing a list of measures and getting them into the building. It’s about choosing the right set of measures, making sure that you have a reasonable savings estimate, making sure that stuff is properly installed, making sure that residents are educated and making sure that the building staff is educated and knows how to run the systems. It also means having a holistic view of your building.”

Jenkins Parrington agrees.

“If you hear some marketing material that says, ‘This is going to save you 20 percent of your building energy use right away,’ that’s too good to be true,” she says. “In our experience, you need a whole range of measures to achieve big energy savings.”

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