Utilities, Boost Multi-Family Housing Efficiency with These Tips From WegoWise & ACEEE

Dec. 19, 2013
Multi-family housing is often ignored by utilities, but shouldn’t be. WegoWise and ACEEE provide tried-and-true tips for boosting efficiency in these units.

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Traditionally, utilities have ignored multi-family housing efficiency—because it’s harder to reach the owners and tenants.

But don’t give up on these buildings; utilities can reach them by following in the footsteps of those who are already succeeding, says a new report from ACEEE that identifies best practices.

ACEEE looked at several successful programs already offered by utilities and state program administrators. These programs are typically funded by utility customers through their monthly bills, and they provide services and financial incentives to help businesses and households reduce their energy use, according to an ACEEE press release.

Successful programs include those from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and Puget Sound Energy, according to the report, “Apartment Hunters: Programs Searching for Energy Savings in Multifamily Buildings.”

First of all, create a program specifically for multi-families, says Dan Teague, director of business development, Wegowise, which provides software that helps utilities collect data. “When you have programs serving that space, you are also serving low-income families most in need of efficiency.”

Utilities need to get holistic when serving multi-family units, he said. That means serving both the tenants and the owners. For tenants, that means encouraging behavioral changes. For owners, it means focusing on operational and mechanical changes. “You want people investing in the improvement of the entire building – not just their portion of the utility spend,” he said.

For example, for the Mass Save program, the gas and electric utilities worked together to provide one-stop shopping. “Owners can go to a program, sign up, the auditor comes and looks at the boiler and reviews the tenant spaces.” The auditor then offers rebates to improve the mechanical systems.

Another key to boosting participation is benchmarking laws. Many cities have enacted laws requiring the collection of basic information about buildings and their energy use. “You normalize the information for things like weather changes so you know how much better or worse your building is doing compared to average or other buildings,” he said. The buildings that score low then apply for energy efficiency money.

Benchmarking helps utilities because it helps them identify where their energy efficiency money is best spent, added Teague.

Utilities should also measure the success of their programs by collecting data and measuring the programs’ successes.

Utilities, it’s not impossible to reap multi-family energy savings and help low-income families. It just takes some creativity and knowledge about what has succeeded. Learn more by reading the ACEEE report here: ACEEE Multi-Family Housing Report

About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

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