Multi-family Apts. & Energy/Water Efficiency

existing building

I have spent countless hours of the last few years thinking about making existing multifamily buildings energy efficient.  The short answer is that it’s very, very hard, because there are so many structural hurdles in the way.  The long answer is finally, I see a glimmer of hope…

Here are a few of the structural barriers:

  • there are many stakeholders (utilities, regulators, owners, funders, energy assessment experts, tenants, and more) who all need to be on the same page to succeed
  • utility programs intended to encourage improvements work for other building types but don’t (currently) make sense to the world in which property owners function – it would be irrational to try and use them
  • there is almost no way to figure out whether a given building is an energy hog or an energy sipper – even energy experts can’t give a sense of “typical”
  • it is difficult to identify a professional who can assess a multifamily building, and impossible to know whether the recommendations and predicted savings are likely
  • there is no agreement on the protocol for assessment
  • if an owner pays for improvements but tenants benefit from them, there’s a rational motivational disconnect – there’s no way for the owner to recoup the investment
  • lenders don’t know how to underwrite utility efficiency loans, for many of the reasons already listed

And here’s why I see some hope:

  • more and more of the stakeholders are showing understanding of the need to do something and interest in doing something to improve multifamily energy efficiency
  • utilities understand why current programs don’t work for this sector and are exploring new ways to deliver efficiency incentives
  • a coming multifamily benchmarking pilot will help fill in the information gap of “what is normal use?”
  • there’s another coming multifamily study to assess savings potential for the sector, which will help identify whether predicted savings are likely
  • lenders are also interested in improving the stability of their portfolios

A solution isn’t right around the corner, but there’s real progress.