Most homeowners today are implementing greener practices to contribute to the well-being of the environment, as well as to save money on their energy expenses. When a property management firm that oversees thousands of housing units starts to incorporate sustainability initiatives, however, those benefits and savings really start to add up. Many property management firms have found that implementing sustainable practices can be very beneficial, especially when they commit the time, organization and energy.
For property management firms interested in making a big impact, the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge is worth a closer look. Started in 2012, the challenge is based on the idea of encouraging property managers to cut energy intensity in their buildings portfolio-wide by 20% over a 10-year period.
Peabody Properties joined the Better Buildings Challenge in 2014, and has committed to a 20% reduction in energy use by 2022, with over 10 million square feet in housing participating and 281 utility property accounts. By researching and capitalizing on utility and state-funded energy conservation programs, we have already received funding in excess of $13.9 million, realized an estimated energy savings throughout the portfolio of over $3 million annually, and have improved more than 7,500 units of affordable residential housing through energy retrofits.
Massachusetts is a model state when it comes to the energy efficiency programs it offers. In fact, for the seventh consecutive year, the Commonwealth was recently named the most energy efficient state in the nation by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). One of the great programs offered by Massachusetts is the Low Income Multi Family Energy Retrofit Program (LEAN). Eligibility requirements include that the project is for one or more multi-family (5+ units) residential buildings, at least 50% of the development households have income at or below 60% of the area median income, and that the site is served by a specific energy supplier.
One example of a community that benefited through the LEAN Program is Peabody Properties’ Julia Martin House in Jamaica Plain. In September 2015, this 56-unit community underwent a gas retrofit. The Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), which locally administers the LEAN Program, provided 100% of the cost for a new boiler system ($102,963), resulting in a total gas consumption reduction of 34% and shaving $6,086 from the gas bill.
Another example is the heating retrofit project which took place in 2015 at Peabody Properties’ managed Braintree Village Apartments (built in 1972). The project benefited from $990,000 in funding through RISE Engineering & National Grid. As a result of this project, 47-year-old equipment was brought inside the buildings and off rooftops, and 27 new high-efficiency Lochinvar® boilers (wall-mounted, 285,000 BTU/hour) were installed. Additionally, new indirect water heaters were placed at each location, high-efficiency pumps replaced outdated ones, and separate domestic hot water was added. These improvements resulted in a site energy reduction of 42%.
Although the LEAN Program does not cover water upgrades, many avenues to address water savings exist. Some easy in-house upgrades to consider include installing efficient low-flow showerheads, aerators, and irrigation meters.
Property managers looking to make changes should explore local funding programs, no matter where they’re located. Develop relationships with overseers of these programs and ask lots of questions. Also, be ready to say “yes!” without hesitation based on time of year or program timelines. Try to be proactive with resident engagement and listen to their concerns. If there appears to be a possible lack of enthusiasm, try and ride out the “shock and awe” associated with a new system, as, before you know it, they too will be able to appreciate the better equipment supplying energy to their apartment homes. Finally, capture changes in net operating income at the time of a refinance to further fund conservation projects – and keep the savings coming!
Elizabeth Merzigian is facilities manager – sustainability initiatives for Peabody Properties, Inc.