Multifamily Utility Data Woefully Incomplete, Says New Study

2 min read

A new study by Recap Real Estate Advisors concludes that the lack of large and robust data sets, a common data taxonomy and accepted industry standards for data collection all impede efforts to promote better utility usage.

New York–How exactly do the multifamily properties that house about 34 million Americans use energy and other utilities? According to a new study by Recap Real Estate Advisors on behalf of the nonprofit Living Cities and funded in part by the the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the data on the subject isn’t complete enough to tell.

The study, “Multifamily Utility Usage Data: Issues and Opportunities,” surveyed databases operated by federal, private and other organizations and estimated that these databases capture only 2 percent to 3 percent of all of the multifamily units nationwide. There are some significant data-collection efforts underway, according to the study, but no common standards. Moreover, most owners, utilities, lenders and regulators aren’t required to collect or report information about the amount of energy and water that their properties use.

The report concludes that the lack of large and robust data sets, a common data taxonomy and accepted industry standards for data collection all impede efforts to promote better utility usage. They inhibit meaningful benchmarking of multifamily properties, the identification of appropriate energy-conservation measures, and the development of large-scale retrofit financing programs.

The report asserts that the state of data collection about multifamily utility use is a missed opportunity to obtain the information necessary for policy makers, energy experts and capital providers to create new strategies to reduce consumption and costs. This has a very real impact on multifamily property dwellers, since most of them live in buildings that were built before the adoption of state-wide energy codes beginning in the early 1980s. About 17 million households currently spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities, so the value of energy-efficiency improvements would be considerable for them.

“The first step to ensuring larger, usable datasets is to create standards around the collection and use of utility data,” Todd Trehubenko, CEO Recap Real Estate Advisors, tells MHN. “The standards should be firm to ensure their integrity, but flexible enough to be used for many purposes. We see increasing collaboration around developing standards and protocols, and this holds great promise for increasing energy efficiency in multifamily rental housing.”

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