Every day in the media there are mentions of the “green” initiatives asking us to consider ways to limit our impact on the environment. We are encouraged to save water, buy hybrid cars, recycle, compost, consider public transportation, etc….all personal lifestyle modifications that will limit our environmental impact. Above and beyond individuals’ efforts, community associations also have many opportunities to invest in the conservation of resources with the added benefit of decreasing expenses in the long term.
Take advantage of rebate opportunities. One of the largest expenditures in any community association’s operating budget is the non-negotiable utility operating expenses, which are subject to annual increases by service providers. Most utility companies offer incentives or rebates if green efforts are undertaken like lighting retrofits, wind turbines, solar panels, low flow toilets or shower heads, Energy Star rated appliances and more. These rebates are customarily offered on a limited-time basis, which incentivizes owners to expedite energy efficient upgrades.
Consider a pay-back analysis. The best tool to persuade owners to support new discretionary operating budget expenses is a comprehensive pay-back analysis. This reporting compares the total investment to the estimated annual energy savings; demonstrating the expense associated with the proposed retrofits will pay for itself within a certain period of time. The analysis will illustrate the association’s short-term investment and the long-term benefits.
Schedule an energy audit. There are also many mechanical equipment contractors or independent engineering consultants who offer energy audit services to associations. The audit includes the inspection of common equipment to identify strategies for the conservation of energy and reduction of overall utility expenses. These strategies could be as simple as installing motion sensors or as complicated as full replacement of large mechanical components.
The following are real stories of associations who creatively pursued energy efficient upgrades, resulting in significant utility cost savings.
The first example is a mid-rise building with a hydronic loop system, which uses water to support heating and cooling within residential units and common areas. This particular system consumes natural gas when it is in a heating cycle.
At an annual meeting of the membership, an owner encouraged the board to consider researching methods to conserve energy. The association manager asked each regular service provider to identify opportunities for energy conservation. This request resulted in the submittal of a proposal to insulate heat loop pipes in the roof space. The mechanical system technician informed the board that the lack of insulation on the pipes resulted in increased gas consumption because there was an unnecessary loss of heat when the pipes were exposed to the cold air. The board approved a proposal in excess of $10,000 to proceed with the insulation of the pipes and the results were astounding. The overall natural gas consumption for the association was reduced by 30 percent and the project paid itself off within six months.
Example: 24/7 Lighting
The second example is a building with stairwell and garage lighting running 24 hours a day. The city offered rebates to retrofit the incandescent common-area light fixtures with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs. The facility manager inquired whether or not there were any options for installing motion sensors in the stairwells and garage in order to reduce the number of fixtures running 24/7. The inquiry resulted in the city approving the installation of motion sensors shutting off a portion of the lights when the common areas were unoccupied. The retrofit of the lighting and installation of the motion sensors reduced electricity consumption by 20 percent. The project is in the process of paying itself off within a period of 30 months.
Example: Roof-top Turbine
The final example involves wind turbine installation on the roof top of a high rise building in a downtown corridor. The wind power vendor was interested in locating a building in the city with sufficient wind activity to support a specially designed turbine that did not detract from the appearance of the building. Unfortunately, there was inadequate wind to justify the installation of a turbine at this location. The facility manager creatively suggested the vendor review the roof vents to see if any supplied sufficient air power to support turbine activity. This idea ultimately led to the installation of a wind turbine supported by exhaust vents. The association is now making revenue off of the wind turbine power they are returning to the city’s grid.
It has been both interesting and fun to see the results of board members, vendors and facility managers thinking outside of the box in support of energy conservation. These associations took risks by investing working capital in projects that were projected, but not guaranteed to succeed. The financial and rewarding benefits of energy conservation should inspire all associations to review green living opportunities on an annual basis.
Sarah Anderson, PCAM®
EMB Management, Inc. AAMC®