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Dec. 28, 2011

Trimming Expenses: Energy Assessment

By Cameron Bard, NYSERDA

These days, it’s more important than ever for multifamily building owners and boards of condos and co-ops to find ways to cut expenses without sacrificing residents’ comfort.

One way to do that is with a whole-building energy assessment, a comprehensive look at every aspect of your building that contributes to energy waste. In most cases, this kind of assessment, conducted by a professional energy consultant, can identify energy-saving opportunities that can yield 15 percent or more in energy reductions.

The purpose of the assessment is to create an energy reduction game plan for your building so you can implement the most effective upgrades based on your budget.

An assessment could start in your building’s boiler room, where you are likely to find one or two “home-run” energy-saving opportunities. Heat generation and distribution can account for a substantial portion of your energy bills, and replacing your present equipment with higher-efficiency models can help alleviate increasing fuel costs.

The controls that govern your boiler room are important, too, because their settings can have a big impact on energy consumption. For example, what are your night-time setbacks? Where are the temperature sensors that govern your boilers? In some buildings, an outdoor heat sensor tells the boiler when to fire (for example, when the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees). A collection of indoor zone sensors could be more efficient.

Domestic hot-water heating should be a target for energy-saving upgrades as well. If you de-couple water heating from your main boiler, you can power it down during the summer months. Instead of using your main boiler to provide domestic hot water, consider smaller, scalable units and storage capacity.

In tandem with equipment inspections, the assessment will look at other “low-hanging fruit” measures, such as lighting and pipe insulation in the boiler room.

Air sealing is important throughout the building. The assessment will measure how effectively your building envelope (e.g. foundation, roof, walls, floors and windows) is working to keep heated air in and cold air out during the winter (and vice versa in the summer months).

Other aspects of your building’s energy-saving opportunities include:

  • Upgrading to appliances that are Energy Star-qualified. Your energy assessment can provide annual savings projections.
  • Distributing CFL bulbs to residents, and using them in your common areas.
  • Replacing magnetic ballasts with electronic ballasts in fluorescent lights, and using the more efficient T8 units rather than T12s.
  • Installing bi-level lighting controlled by a motion sensor for stairwells and corridors, since you only need to light these spaces when someone is walking there.

Multifamily building owners and board members of condos and co-ops in some states may be able to take advantage of programs specifically designed to help them achieve energy efficiency. For example, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) conducts the Multifamily Performance Program. Its objective is to provide
financial and technical support to implement energy-efficient upgrades in multifamily buildings.

Each building participating in the Multifamily Performance Program has a target energy reduction of 15 percent based on an initial assessment.

Buildings that implement the energy reduction steps outlined in an assessment, and that achieve a reduction of at least 15 percent, are eligible for incentive payments to offset the costs of the building improvements. On average, multifamily buildings that complete  the program achieve an average 25 percent energy reduction, and some buildings realize substantially larger savings.

With options—and results—like this, taking the first step in having a whole-building assessment conducted by a professional energy consultant will put your property on the path to saving money, reducing waste and making your tenants and residents more comfortable.

Cameron Bard is project manager for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

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