by Elizabeth Merzigian
Located at the intersection of Washington and East Concord Streets in Boston’s South End, Hearth’s Anna Bissonnette House opened in 1997 to provide permanent supportive housing to low-income and formerly homeless elders. Originally the Aerated Bread Company factory, the property was beautifully renovated to provide 22 studio and 18 one-bedroom apartment homes with roof-top deck and outdoor patio space. Yet given that Hearth is a non-profit organization (dedicated to the elimination of homelessness among the elderly), the issue of the “balancing act” – maintaining their commitment to their mission against the hard realities of limited cash flow – makes upgrades and improvements difficult to finance. Peabody Properties, as management agent, approached Hearth, Inc. and its senior management team with a proposal for water upgrades that would result in significant water savings; collectively, they came up with a plan to make it happen.
The property was retrofitted with .8 gpf (gallons per flush) toilets replacing very old, sometimes original, equipment. Additionally, all shower heads and aerators were updated to low-flow devices. The residents were instantly in love with the new equipment and the property immediately noticed savings on their quarterly bills. Everyone was expecting the savings to be significant, but no one anticipated the actual results – over 60% in one year.
Additionally, the ENERGY STAR Water Score for the Anna Bissonnette House – which measures how efficiently a property is using water compared with similar properties when normalized for climate and operational characteristics, and is on a 1-100 scale (where one represents the worst performing buildings and 100 represents the best-performing buildings, and 50 indicates that a building is performing at the national median, taking into account its size, location, and operating parameters) – went from 29 pre-retrofit to 94, where it currently stands!
The senior management team was so happy with the results of this project they were able to green-light water upgrades at four of their other Hearth properties around the Boston area, realizing savings ranging from 23% to 40%. Leadership at Hearth has been incredibly impressed with the impact these efforts have had on the financial well-being of these properties, and are now advocating for others to prioritize water conservation. “We were told the payback would be quick, but we did not anticipate the immediate and significant savings these toilet upgrades have provided to our portfolio of low-income properties,” confirmed Bill Porcello, CFO of Hearth, Inc. “We’ve been so happy with the results,” he added.
Non-profit organizations – especially those that maintain housing or own property – are always cognizant of the numbers. By partnering with a forward-thinking property management firm and being willing to share in a vision of energy savings, all of their numbers are going in the right direction.
Elizabeth Merzigian is Energy and Sustainability Manager for Peabody Properties, Inc.