Is your condominium or co-op association required to report your building’s annual energy usage? If not, and if yours is a mid-rise or high-rise building (50,000 square feet or larger), get ready. Chances are that mandatory energy benchmarking will be coming to your area soon as energy conservation becomes a higher priority for jurisdictions.
Benchmarking regulations allow anyone – including prospective condo buyers – to see how your building’s energy usage compares to that of other buildings. For many buyers, a building that gets poor marks is less desirable than a higher-ranking condo. And less desirability means lower property values.
In part one of this two-part series on energy efficiency, we answer common questions about energy benchmarking. In part two, we’ll look at how an energy audit can identify energy efficiency improvements your association can make that will help maximize property values and shave thousands of dollars from your annual operating budget.

Where Is Energy Benchmarking Currently Required?

Seventeen cities and one county in the U.S. already have benchmarking policies in place. Many of these cities’ policies apply to mid- and high-rise multifamily buildings as well as commercial buildings, including Chicago, New York and Austin. California, the first state to pass a statewide energy benchmarking law, will require large multifamily buildings to report their energy use beginning in 2019, although some California cities currently have their own policies in place as well.
In Canada, the first such regulation recently passed in Ontario. Multifamily buildings throughout the province will be required to benchmark and report their energy usage beginning in July 2017.

Why is Mandatory Energy Benchmarking Becoming So Widespread?

Residential and nonresidential buildings account for a significant portion of total energy use. For example, according to the Ontario Environmental Registry, buildings accounted for about 19 percent of the province’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2013. A report released by the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability reveals that buildings were responsible for a whooping 68 percent of the city’s GHG emissions in 2014.
Like many other jurisdictions that have implemented regulations, both Ontario and New York City have made energy conservation a high priority, with energy benchmarking being just one part of their overall sustainability plans. In Chicago, the Sustainable Chicago action agenda served as the impetus for its energy benchmarking ordinance.
“These regulations help to raise awareness about energy performance,” says Mark Paris, project administrator of engineering services at FirstService Residential’s FS Energy subsidiary. “By making that information transparent, building owners – as well as potential condo buyers and lenders – can see the building’s year-to-year energy use and compare it to other similar buildings.”
In addition, buildings that are required to benchmark show improvements in energy use year to year. This is true even when their jurisdiction does not mandate that they make any efficiency upgrades. Paris provides a couple of reasons for this phenomenon.
“Building owners often don’t realize how much energy their building uses until they start benchmarking,” he says. “Transparency also can be a big incentive. If owners see that their building falls short relative to other properties, they are motivated to improve their position. No one wants to be at the bottom of the list.”

Why Should We Bother Benchmarking Our Usage If the Law Doesn’t Require Us To Do So Yet?

Every condo or co-op board wants to find ways to save money. And reducing your building’s energy consumption can save your association a significant amount. However, you can’t make energy- and cost-saving changes unless you have the right information.
Chloe Ouyang, director of energy information at FS Energy, points out that benchmarking is the first step toward making your building more energy efficient. “It provides your board members and residents with data about your year-to-year usage,” she says.

What Can Our Association Learn From Benchmarking Our Building’s Energy Usage?

Reviewing the variations in your energy use month to month and year to year can provide insight into areas that may be eating away at your utility budget. If you have made some efficiency improvements already, seeing how your building compares with others will let you know if those improvements are having enough of an effect.
“Most buildings could save up to 15 percent on their energy costs,” says Ouyang. “Even if you’ve made some improvements, there are probably many other things you could still do to save money.”
FirstService Residential takes an innovative approach to benchmarking energy usage. In certain key cities, we provide our managed buildings with a customized, comprehensive Energy Report Card. The Energy Report Card is created by FS Energy using benchmarking data that compares the energy usage and energy cost of similar buildings. Each building is given an efficiency ranking – called a Building Energy Rating Guide (BERG) Score – of 0 (lowest) to 10 (highest).
The Energy Report Card also contains strategies that FS Energy has recommended and successfully implemented in other FirstService Residential managed buildings. “Because of these detailed reports, properties in the FirstService portfolio are the most informed in the industry when it comes to operational efficiency,” says Ouyang.

Now That We Know How Our Energy Usage Measures Up, What Can We Do Next?

Once you have good benchmarking data, Paris recommends getting an energy audit, especially if you haven’t done one in a few years. Your condo or co-op management company may be able to do this for you. An audit lets your association know what retrofit options make the most sense for your building. It should also provide cost estimates for each option, as well as estimates of how much energy and money you could save by implementing the measures. (We’ll discuss energy audits in more detail in Part 2 of this two-part series.)
Paris also notes the importance of education and suggests asking your condo or co-op management company if it offers training for board members, residents and building staff. “If your management company has energy expertise, it is likely to provide energy-saving workshops or seminars at no extra charge,” he says.
In addition, he says that you also may be able to take classes through your city, state or province, especially if it has shown a strong commitment to sustainability. On the federal level, he suggests exploring the Energy Star® programs in both the U.S. and Canada. These programs provide a wealth of information about efficiency strategies and products.
It’s probably only a matter of time before energy benchmarking regulations come to your area. Getting ahead of the energy-saving curve will make it easier to comply when it does and will help your building rank higher right from the start. Your association – and the environment – will also benefit sooner from any improvements you make now to your building’s efficiency.
FS Energy looks forward to expanding its services to all cities that will require benchmarking compliance in the future. Learn more about how an experienced property management company can put you on the path toward saving energy and money for your association. Contact FirstService Residential today, North America’s leading condominium and co-op management company.
Tuesday April 18, 2017