Going green is not just a passing fad—it’s a way of life for many Canadians.
“Nevertheless,” explains Ted Whitehead, Director of Certification, Certified Rental Building (CRB) program, “multi-res apartment residents are among the last group of consumers to become actively engaged in the ‘save the environment’ regime that has permeated Canada in recent years.” This, he suggests, is largely due to the fact that renters have never been responsible for paying for their own energy consumption.
Peter Mills, Co-Chief Executive Officer for Wyse Meter Solutions Inc., agrees, noting that energy savings initiatives have increased in priority among apartment owners. “Twenty years ago, energy efficiency was not always on the radar for landlords,” he explains. “Today, energy efficiency and managing utility expenses typically rank in the top three or four as priorities.”
Mills also notes that as the “real” cost of utilities continues to rise, energy savings initiatives are becoming important tools for increasing Net Operating Income and driving new value into existing properties—particularly when electricity and water rates throughout Ontario are scheduled to increase by 10 per cent annually.
With those rising energy costs in mind, here are some important energy saving tips to consider:
Hop on the submetering bandwagon
Submetering has become a buzzword in the multi-res apartment industry. Submeters are connected to the electrical panels in a building’s electrical room. Energy consumption data is digitally collected and renters are billed based on individual use. According to Mills, “Submetering converts all residents into energy managers. When people pay for what they use, they consume 30-40 per cent less.” The bonus is that this technique is accompanied by what Mills refers to as “an infinite ROI” as there is no capital cost to the landlord. Plus, savings start immediately and continue to grow over time.
The effort to save water is an important one, both for your bottom line and the overall health of the environment. According to a 2009 Statistics Canada study, by simply installing low-flow showerheads throughout an apartment building, each resident will use up to 70 per cent less water and cut water heating costs but up to 15 per cent. Installing the showerheads will take no more than 15 minutes each, making the investment worthwhile. Even switching the aerators on kitchen faucets to the low-flow variety helps to cut water and energy usage while still maintaining ideal water pressure.
Installing low-volume toilets is another available option, although these come with a higher initial price tag. That said, low-volume toilets use less than six litres of water (that’s less than half of a traditional toilet); so something to consider when looking at increasing the energy efficiency of any building.
Check those bulbs
The traditional incandescent light bulb, which was banned as of January 2014, is inexpensive, but loses over 90 per cent of its energy as heat. Compact fluorescent and halogen bulbs are more energy efficient and have longer life spans, helping to offset the higher cost. Mills adds that LED and energy efficient lighting retrofits provide a ROI of greater than 50 per cent and qualify for incentives up to 55 per cent of the project costs. He points out that LED technologies have become more stable, also dropping significantly in price in the last two years. “We see projects all the time that take advantage of new LED incentives from the Ontario Power Authority, which, combined with motion sensors, generate savings of over 80 per cent,” he says.
Encourage residents to make the switch, too, and change out the bulbs during each suite on turnover. Just remember that all fluorescent bulbs should be recycled at the end of their lifespan as they contain mercury and should not make their way into landfills. Stores like Home Depot have designated recycling boxes available.
Invest in programmable thermostats
If a property is electrically heated, consider installing programmable thermostats. “There are several excellent wireless thermostat control systems for electrically heated buildings that give landlords full control over in-suite heating and cooling costs,” says Mills. “By controlling the thermostat and giving residents some flexibility on managing their own heating, you can reduce in-suite heating costs by up to 34 per cent without affecting resident comfort.” The key is to help stakeholders understand the changes being made and why, which is the reason Wyse Meter Solutions provides tailored webinars and on-site training for management and staff.
Find the “hidden human factor”
The CRB program has found that there is a growing number of landlords who recognize the need to capture a “hidden human” level of savings, which means involving and educating frontline staff and residents on active conservation programs. “Many property management firms are creating departments or committees that are primarily responsible for designing, developing and implementing corporate environmental policies,” Whitehead explains.
In response, CRB recently introduced 10 Environmental-Operating Standards of Practice (EO), designed to reflect a practical business approach to reduce the consumption of utility-based resources. “Frontline employee education coupled with resident involvement underpin the new EO standards and are critical components to capturing savings,” he notes. “Education is key and this new program encourages landlords to keep messaging simple. Ultimately, a culture of sustainability is created where everyone reaps the rewards and your people become champions for the property.” Property managers participating in the EO program can expect to save between five and 15 per cent annually in per-suite utility costs through reduced energy and water consumption, and improved waste-recycling programs.
With so many opportunities, making the move toward energy efficiency has never been easier. But above all else, Whitehead advises to keep it simple: “Do your research, educate the frontline troops, engage your residents, and watch your energy consumption go down.”
Jessica Green is the founder of Cursive, a Toronto-based communications consulting firm that specializes in brand messaging with an emphasis on digital media strategy.