Summer Energy Costs: How Your Association Can Save
Summer's longer days offer more chances to enjoy Florida’s abundant sunshine, but we also know what they do to the electric bill. When temperatures are in the high 90s, your air conditioning seems to run non-stop! Implementing an energy management program in your community association can help lower costs and protect your operating budget while keeping your common areas comfortable.
“When it comes to energy conservation in your community, it’s important to look at things rationally and in a measured way,” said Chris Normandeau, director, FS Energy. “There is a lot of information out there, and not all of it is accurate. That being said, there are huge opportunities to lower costs in most properties. Working with experienced and knowledgeable professionals can help you determine what to do first, and how to make it happen.”
You may get some initial pushback from other Board members or from residents, but navigating that process will ultimately pay off in reduced energy use and lower bills all year long. Check out our hints to get your community association on track to saving money.
Have an energy audit done.A full energy audit will show how energy is being used in your community – and show you how it can be saved. You can have an audit performed by a third-party contractor, or some utilities may provide the service. After taking over the management of One Bal Harbour in Bal Harbour, community association manager Russell Smith was approached by the Board about conducting an energy audit. “They were eager to get an audit done because the One Bal Harbour Corporation pays for all of the common area power usage for three associations in the complex. They thought they’d have to pay for that, but I knew that FirstService Residential offers its communities the services of FS Energy,” Smith explained. “Chris Normandeau met with the Board and analyzed possible savings for them. Normandeau has the knowledge of current technology and vendors that I may not, and he was able to present ideas that saved us money immediately.”
Examine what similar communities are doing.Cities across the United States have passed ordinances that require managed communities and high-rise buildings to “benchmark” their energy use. Orlando, Florida, is one of those cities. Benchmarking means tracking and reporting what they spend on electricity, gas and water. Data is collected both before and after efficiency measures are implemented, so the community gets a clear picture of what it is saving. To help inspire action from your Board, find a community similar to yours in one of these benchmarking cities. If your property management company serves a large number of communities, it will also be able to help you find a comparable community that has undertaken energy-efficiency steps so you can see its results.
Educate your community on saving energy.There are some things you can do to lower energy costs, like increasing the temperature setting on thermostats. Did you know you can save 1-3% on your energy bill for every degree the thermostat is set above 72º? By changing air conditioning filters on a regular basis, you will reduce the energy use in a range from 5% and 15%. Replacing your filters regularly will also keep your air cleaner and reduce the need for coil cleaning and other maintenance.
At One Bal Harbour, they started by talking to Florida Power & Light, the local electricity provider. “Normandeau sat down with FPL and with us, and went through our current billing structure. We have six meters, all with different function. We had some meters labeled “commercial” that we were able to reclassify to “residential,” which garnered us an immediate $80,000 credit on the bill, as well as substantial savings moving forward,” Smith explained. “We changed from demand-based to annual-average billing. That saved us another $75,000. Simply working with FS Energy and our electric company has saved the community $150,000!”
Be creative when financing capital improvements that save.Financing the capital improvements necessary to increase your energy efficiency may not be as difficult as some Board members think. Your local energy utility company may offer incentives, rebates or grants to install efficient equipment or appliances. Nonprofit and government programs are available as well. Those grants typically have funding cycles, so you need to research application deadlines and requirements.
Low-cost loans are another option and some vendors may have ‘shared savings’ programs. No matter which financing route you choose, be sure to emphasize how any initial expense will be recouped through savings over time and how long that is projected to take.
Emphasize the positives.Explaining the return on investment will help overcome any initial objections from residents and Board members. “Thanks to seeing the immediate results of our initial no-cost effort, we now have a $150,000 line item dedicated to energy saving initiatives for the next three years,” Smith said. “Normandeau gave the Board a checklist of about 20 items, and they’ve approved about 90% of it. We’re going to replace all toilet flappers to save water and we’re going to invest in carbon monoxide sensors in the parking garage so that the fans only run when the levels are high enough to require exhaust instead of running 24/7. That alone will save us $20,000 a year.”
Skypoint, a high-rise in downtown Tampa, conducted an LED lighting upgrade that will pay for itself in only 13 months and is projected to save the association almost $50,000 each year in energy costs. Not only did the upgrade save the association money, it also, along with other improvements, contributed to an increase in value for the units in the building.
Energy savings can go hand in hand with other kinds of conservation plans as well. Bayfront Tower, a FirstService Residential managed high-rise in St. Petersburg, recently embarked on a water treatment program for its HVAC cooling towers. Bayfront Tower saved almost four million gallons of water and more than $35,000 in water costs in 2016. They implemented a water treatment program in mid 2015. Both the water used by the cooling towers and the water used by the building as a whole reduced dramatically.
Terence Rushmore, of Terlyn Industries in Clearwater, designed the water treatment plan used by Bayfront Towers. Rushmore explained the benefits of a water treatment plan and the savings it can provide. “Our programs make your cooling tower run more efficiently and maintain its integrity by targeting scale, corrosion and biological buildup, all of which can cause it to use more water and require more energy to run because each of those can impede heat transfer, making the system require more energy,” he said. “Our primary goal is to save water, reducing waste water discharged from the tower from 50% to about 3%. Over the long haul, that saves your community on water and sewer costs, energy and replacement of equipment.”
If you’re finding opposition in the form of cost-conscious Board members, keep in mind that they are fulfilling their fiduciary duties. That’s good news – it means you have responsible Board members. The strategy here is to convey that energy efficiency is more than an initial cost...it’s a way to save significantly over time.
Make an energy savings plan.Once you have buy-in from your Board and your audit is complete, the next step is to create an efficiency plan. The best property management firms have entire divisions devoted to this effort, made up of experts who will help your community develop the strategies that will maximize your savings. This will include ongoing efficiency metrics so you can show the Board how the community continues to save.
Don’t sweat big energy bills this summer, or any time of year. Start educating your Board and community on the benefits and feasibility of conserving energy and you’ll be lowering those costs before you know it. For more on energy management programs, contact FirstService Residential, Florida’s property management leader.