On Your Mark

One of the projects I’ve enjoyed most this year is editing the new monthly roundup of energy-related news and trends for MHN’s sister publication, Commercial Property Executive.
Executive Editor Paul Rosta
Executive Editor Paul Rosta

One of the projects I’ve enjoyed most this year is editing the new monthly roundup of energy-related news and trends for MHN’s sister publication, Commercial Property Executive. The multifamily sector comes up regularly, as it did this summer when I had the opportunity to interview the Institute of Real Estate Management’s Todd Feist about the organization’s comprehensive new study of benchmarking.

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Drawing on responses from IREM members, the IREM Energy Efficiency Survey identifies the potential benefits of energy benchmarking for multifamily and all other real estate asset categories. It also brings what certainly looks like sobering news: Only about 48 percent of respondents from the residential realm report benchmarking properties. By contrast, fully 73.4 percent of survey participants from the commercial side do so. 

The discrepancy for other metrics is no less striking. Only half as many multifamily as commercial respondents conduct whole-property benchmarking (24 vs. 48 percent). And nearly 75 percent of commercial property owners and managers who benchmark their properties use the free Portfolio Manager tool offered by Energy Star; among multifamily benchmarkers, the tally is just 29 percent.

As is often the case with statistics, however, the numbers themselves don’t tell the whole story. “Another way to look at multifamily ‘lagging’ behind commercial is that multifamily is just getting started,” Feist told me. Portfolio Manager for commercial properties has been around much longer than its multifamily counterpart, he noted. And multifamily benchmarking does seem to be making headway. From 2016 to 2017, the number of multifamily respondents who benchmark increased 4 percent. 

Individual metering turns out to be something of a mixed blessing when it comes to benchmarking. Residents have a strong financial incentive to conserve energy, but they get most of the financial benefits, as well. Without comprehensive information about energy consumption, operators are limited in their ability to evaluate the energy performance of their communities and identify opportunities for improvement.

Better access to utility data on whole-building performance would go a long way toward promoting benchmarking. Forward-thinking owners and property managers are already demonstrating the will to make their communities use energy more effectively. Now they just need the necessary tools.