Baby, it’s cold outside! For many people, the shivery weather and shorter days aren’t the only things causing an icy chill. Energy takes a big bite out of everyone’s budget each winter. Many people pay steep costs to keep their homes warm and well lit – the same goes for homeowners associations (HOAs), and condo and community associations, which also often pay higher costs each winter to keep temperatures comfortable and lights on in common areas. 

So what can condo boards or community associations do to mitigate or even reduce costs this winter? Let’s start with what you can do in the summer and fall, before winter actually begins. This includes cleaning, tuning and performing any necessary repairs to heating systems, furnaces and boilers to make sure they won’t be working longer, harder or less efficiently than they should. Other pre-winter tasks include cleaning gutters to remove leaves and debris to ensure water can flow freely. Otherwise, water can become trapped and freeze, which can not only damage your property’s gutters, but also cause ice dams and possible roof leaks. 

Whether or not your board has taken these precautions, there are additional energy conservation steps you can take while winter’s underway to reduce usage and costs for the remainder of the season. 

1) Make energy conservation a priority. 

Educate and train your staff on the importance of energy conservation and ways they can reduce usage and costs for your association. A good property management company will provide professional guidance based on its experience. If your HOA or community association is professionally managed, your property manager should already have an energy and cost reduction plan in place for your building or community. This should include proactive efforts such as renegotiating utility rates, developing policies to emphasize energy efficient products and equipment, and leveraging bulk purchasing programs to reduce commodity costs. 

But don’t stop there – it’s also important to get homeowners and residents involved in energy conservation. For example, your board can create an energy committee to identify ways to reduce energy usage and costs in and around your building or community. In addition, your board or property manager can send emails, e-newsletters or other digital correspondence to residents that promote the association’s commitment to save energy, as well as provide conservation tips they can implement at home.

2) Turn it off – or turn it down. 

No matter where you live, energy costs take a bite out of community association budgets all year long. Heating indoor spaces in colder climates and cooling balmy areas like Florida or California can pinch your association’s budget. While you can’t change the weather, a few simple steps can keep costs manageable for your association. 

In common areas, for example, take a look at patterns in occupancy and energy use, and program thermostats accordingly. Can you reduce the temperature in your clubhouse or other community buildings when they’re unoccupied? Never turn off the heat completely – this can cause pipes to freeze, which can result in bigger problems. And while it may sound like simple advice, you’d be surprised how often people keep lights turned on in unoccupied rooms. Rather than relying on building staff or residents to manually turn lights off when they leave an area, consider installing motion-activated sensors or programming a timer to make sure it gets done.

3) Have an energy audit. 

How much energy does your building actually use? Are there steps you can take to increase efficiency and lower costs? An energy audit will tell you for sure. Most local utilities perform energy audits, usually at no cost, to help your building or community identify ways to lower usage and costs. Common solutions include improving or replacing insulation, applying window film, and installing energy-usage monitoring systems in common areas.

For specialized support, you can work with an energy consultant. A recognized innovator in this field is FS Energy, the energy management and advisory subsidiary of FirstService Residential. FS Energy creates Energy Report Cards to measure and benchmark the energy use of FirstService Residential’s managed properties in New York City, and has recently expanded its services to Florida and Illinois. By benchmarking each building’s Building Energy Rating Guide (BERG) score and comparing its performance against buildings in its extensive database, FS Energy can tailor specialized strategies to lower a building’s energy use, carbon emissions and costs.

Even though winter is already here, it’s not too late to take steps to reduce your association’s energy use and costs all season long. For more energy conservation guidelines and tips, contact FirstService Residential.
Tuesday January 26, 2016