Energy Benchmarking Part 2: How Chicago Condo Associations Can Save Energy – and Money
Even though the Chicago ordinance does not mandate making energy efficiency improvements to your building, your benchmarking results let you know where your building stands in terms of its consumption. The lower your score, the more opportunities you have to reduce your consumption. However, you first need to know exactly what those opportunities are.
The Importance of a Detailed Evaluation
Bob Meyer, director of engineering services at FirstService Residential’s FS Energy subsidiary, recommends getting an onsite evaluation by an energy expert. This enables you to identify which efficiency improvements will have the most impact. Meyer points out that it is important that the evaluation includes a review of your operations and maintenance.
“If a building’s systems aren’t functioning according to their design requirements, it’s like throwing money out the window,” he says. “Most operations and maintenance improvements can be achieved at little to no cost but can save an association thousands of dollars a year.”
Measures Your Condo Association Can Take
Once you have the final evaluation report, your condo board can set goals for accomplishing each improvement. Depending on the extent of the work, you may need to adjust your budget and possibly set aside money in your reserve fund. Here are just a few of the energy improvement measures your evaluation might suggest:
- Lighting. Replacing incandescent light bulbs with LED lights – both indoors and outdoors – is one of the easiest ways to reduce your energy use and save money. The cost for LED lamps has dropped significantly in the last two years, and rebates for these lamps are available through ComEd. Typically, you can recuperate the amount you spend on new lighting within about two years.
Alternatively, you can swap out your bulbs for more efficient CFL bulbs or fluorescent lights. You can also install lighting controls or sensors in common areas for even greater savings.
- Air sealing and insulation. Uncontrolled air leakage is a big contributor to energy waste (up to 25 percent). Although some air exchange is inevitable and even necessary, you can take a few simple measures to reduce the amount of warm air that escapes your building in the winter and that gets into your building in the summer.
One of the easiest ways to minimize leakage is by sealing cracks and other openings with weather stripping, caulk and foam spray. Also make sure that basements and roof cavities are well insulated.
- Heating and cooling. Better efficiency of both your heating and cooling systems is a matter of retrofitting or replacing older systems with newer technology and energy-efficient equipment. “These types of updates will result in savings almost immediately,” says Meyer. Replacing an entire heating or cooling unit requires a large financial commitment that most associations must integrate into their long-term plans. If you don’t have any immediate plans to replace your systems, there are still many high-impact, low-cost measures you can take.
In particular, Meyer advises scheduling seasonal tune-ups and combustion analyses. You can also insulate pipes and boilers to reduce heat loss, and install variable frequency drives to decrease the amount of energy used by your cooling system. In addition, programmable thermostats will allow you to adjust temperatures in particular areas according to room usage, time of day, etc.
- Hot water heaters. Insulating your domestic hot water pipes and water storage tank is another energy-saving measure that does not cost very much. You may also want to consider switching to a tankless water heater. If your boiler has the job of also heating your water, consider installing a separate hot water heater. Be sure that the size is appropriate to your building size. If it is too small, it won’t provide enough hot water. If it is too big, it will waste energy by heating more water than you need.
- Window replacement. Replacing older windows with newer, more efficient ones does save energy. However, you may be surprised to see this measure missing from the recommendations you receive during an evaluation. That’s because compared to other measures you can take, the cost to value ratio is relatively high.
From rebates to low-interest loans, a number of organizations, companies and utility providers offer financial incentives. These incentives can make the cost of energy efficiency projects more manageable for your condo association.
- Elevate Energy. Does your building use electricity for heat? If so, your association may be eligible for free lighting updates in your common areas and discounts on other improvements, such as insulation. The program is offered by Elevate Energy in partnership with the city of Chicago. It also offers unit owners free programmable thermostats and smart power strips.
- ComEd loans. If your condo association qualifies as a small business and is a ComEd customer, you may be able to obtain a low-cost loan to make energy efficiency upgrades to your building. Offered through the Illinois Energy Efficiency Loan Program, small businesses can borrow up to $20,000 with a 10-year repayment term. ComEd also offers cash incentives for energy-efficiency products, such as lighting, sensors and controls.
- Lighting distributors. The Business Instant Lighting Discounts (BLID) program allows buyers to purchase high-efficiency lighting from participating electrical distributors at a reduced price.
Saving energy is good for everyone: your association, your residents and your city. From benchmarking to conducting an assessment and providing specific recommendations, FirstService Residential is here to help. Let us show you the best steps to take to improve your energy efficiency and save money every year. Contact FirstService Residential, Chicagoland’s leading condominium management company, today.