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Feb. 12, 2013

Data Benchmarking—The Key to Reducing Gas Pains and Flushing Out Inefficient Water Use

By John Magee, Assistant Facilities Director, Maloney Properties Inc. 

Buildings in the Northeast are among the oldest in the country and weather conditions can be notoriously harsh. Other key factors, like the escalating costs of all utilities, contribute to the fact that less efficient buildings in the Northeast can cost four times more than efficient newly constructed buildings of similar size.

Maloney Properties Inc. strives to remain on the cutting edge of multifamily housing management. With utility expenses representing one of the highest operating costs, we remain committed to making our properties energy and water efficient in order to lower the financial and environmental impact—lowering costs and reducing our carbon footprint. Lower utility costs can provide more cash flow for capital improvements, site amenities, daily operations and owner profitability.

The first critical step to determine building performance is to collect the usage and cost data for each building, each utility and each meter. The next step is to break the data down into common factors and then have the ability to compare the data with other buildings/developments with similar traits. It is equally beneficial to compare usage among buildings within the same development to help identify problem areas.

In our search for a means to efficiently track and compare utility usage and costs, we evaluated a number of products capable of assessing utility data to uncover inefficiencies. Many of the products required intricate sensor systems or sub-metering with interval data that was far more than we needed. Other programs required excessive staff time and gave little back by way of reports or comparative data for benchmarking. Our search eventually led us to WegoWise.

Unlocking energy efficiency

While there are a number of products on the building data analytics market, we found that the web-based platform WegoWise was best suited for our needs. The platform provides comprehensive insight at an affordable price of $5 per building per month. WegoWise also offers water-usage data collection and benchmarking, which most energy-data service providers do not.

The WegoWise platform is able to automatically collect and download utility data for most of the properties we serve. Although data from individual meters on their own do not offer much perspective, WegoWise is able to normalize the data by square footage, weather, building characteristics and resident demographics. This allows us to make meaningful comparisons and determine the least efficient buildings in order to prioritize our efforts.

WegoWise provides customized reporting with visually engaging charts and graphs to help us illustrate inefficiencies to staff, residents and property owners. It enables us to target building audits and retrofits, and to track data after efficiency projects to help verify improvements are achieving the projected savings.

We currently track 397 buildings in WegoWise representing over five-million square feet of property, and we are adding more continuously. With this ability to identify comparative usage and prioritize efficiency improvements, we have been able to complete 69 energy and/or water efficiency projects over the past two years. Our managed sites have realized an over-all utility savings of nearly $400,000 due to a combination of efficiency related improvements, utility purchasing and the milder temperatures during the 2011-2012 winter.

Reducing gas pains

Between 2011 and 2012, in gas savings alone, Maloney Properties Inc. managed sites that saved more than 20.6 billion BTUs (normalized for the difference in temperatures between the two years) and $206,000 at current costs. We also reduced annual CO2 emissions by 1,030 metric tons (equivalent to removing nearly 200 cars from the roads each year).

 Case study—George Close Building, 243 Broadway in Cambridge, Mass.

243 Broadway in Cambridge, Mass.

Maloney Properties, Inc. began management of this building just a few years ago and we immediately noted opportunities for improving efficiency in usage for all utilities. This 61 unit multifamily housing building was converted from a factory/warehouse in 1976. Utility usage had never been benchmarked previously for the building. Clearly the systems were inefficient and usage was high, but after uploading two years’ worth of prior utility data, the WegoWise reporting allowed us to compare and analyze how poorly this building was performing. We were now able to see that the building was operating 46 percent less efficiently than the benchmark average of all buildings in WegoWise, and 64 percent less efficiently than benchmarked energy efficient buildings tracked in WegoWise. This information was instrumental in accessing grants and utility programs to fund efficiency improvements.  We quickly made this a top priority.

Following an in-depth energy audit, we identified added ceiling insulation (top floor), replacement of the heating boilers and the domestic hot water system as being the most cost-effective efficiency improvements. In addition, we were able to improve indoor air quality by replacing a de-commissioned fresh air intake unit on the roof. (We knew this would offset some of the savings since the intake air would be pre-heated using natural gas.)

With the projects complete, WegoWise reports that current gas usage alone dropped 22 percent. (After normalizing the data for heating-degree days, savings from improvements was 11 percent between the two years.)  The George Close Building realized a one-year savings of $14,940. Of this total saved, we estimate $4,800 was saved due to the milder season last year, $4,700 was saved due to negotiated gas purchasing, and, $5,400 was saved due to the energy efficiency improvements. The building saved over one-billion BTUs and 53 tons of CO2.  Surprisingly, these figures include the added energy requirements of the new rooftop intake air system. The cost for all improvements (roof insulation, heat boilers, DHW system and intake air system) exceeded $250,000, which was supported by the grants and utility programs thanks to the data we were able to present, identifying the building as a prime candidate for efficiency projects.

Flushing out inefficient water use

Four of the notable water-savings and retrofit projects over the past two years have saved nearly 1.5 million gallons of water combined annually, according to the data from WegoWise. This equates to $22,500 at current rates.

Case study—Saint Helena’s House, 89 Union Park St. in Boston

89 Union Park St. in Boston, Mass.

This 74 unit apartment building for seniors was added to WegoWise just a little over one year ago. WegoWise provided us with the most effective tool for comparing usage for this site against other property data for similar building types with similar demographics. With two-years’ worth of back-data at hand, we could immediately determine that the issue was not a recent occurrence, and we could see the extent of the inefficient water use. We quickly realized that the site was using 38 percent more water than an average building being tracked in WegoWise. We noted this as a high-priority, and an audit was conducted.

The audit identified a number of water retrofit opportunities, including replacement of all toilets in the building. Since the replacements, the property has saved 300,000 gallons of water according to WegoWise. At today’s current Boston Water & Sewer Rates, this is an annual savings of $4,600.

Maloney Properties Inc. provides multifamily and commercial property owners/developers a full range of real estate services including real estate management, development, sales and construction management. They are a foremost leading partner of community development corporations and non-profit resident groups working toward community development in the Northeast. Their customers include condominiums, cooperatives and leased multifamily housing across a diverse portfolio. To learn more about Maloney Properties, Inc. please visit:  www.maloneyproperties.com.

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