Doing the Right Environmental Thing Really Does Save Building Owners Money

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

by Julie Satow, NEW YORK TIMES, December 8, 2011

image While the practice of retrofitting buildings with energy-conserving technology like efficient boilers, high-quality windows and compact fluorescent light bulbs has been around for years, data on whether these changes result in any real savings has been virtually nonexistent. Now, a new study shows that these relatively straightforward fixes can significantly reduce spending on fuel and electricity.

Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the German bank, and Living Cities, a nonprofit partnership of 22 foundations and financial institutions, commissioned the report, which will be released later this month. It examined nearly 19,000 affordable housing units in New York City that had undergone energy efficiency retrofits and found that these changes resulted in a 19 percent savings on fuel bills and a 10 percent savings on electricity across the portfolio. This translates into $240 in fuel savings and $70 in electrical savings per apartment every year.

“We have been looking for the secret sauce,” said Ben Hecht, the president and chief executive of Living Cities. “This study is definitely the first foray into data, and that is going to be critical to convince owners and lenders of the importance of retrofitting buildings.”

At Terrific Tenements, for example, an 88-unit, two-building affordable housing complex on West 48th Street in Manhattan, the installation of new boilers and heating controls reduced fuel costs by 50 percent. At one of the buildings, at 425 West 48th Street, there was a fuel saving of $551 a year per apartment, while at the sister building at 527 West 47th Street, the saving was $355 annually for each unit.

“These buildings are prewar classics and are representative of a pretty broad swath of the city’s housing stock,” said Marc Zuluaga, a vice president and director of the multifamily energy services group at Steven Winter Associates, a building consultant in New York. The company, along with HR&A Advisors, an economic development and real estate consulting firm, conducted the study.

The retrofits at the Terrific Tenements “was not achieved with any particularly exotic technologies” like solar panels or a green roof, Mr. Zuluaga said. Rather, this is the simple story “of how an owner took the worst-performing building type in the city and turned it into one of the best-performing buildings in the entire city.”

Jeffrey I. Brodsky, the president of Related Management, an arm of the Related Companies, the landlord of Terrific Tenements, said: “This study proves that the assumption that you can’t rely on savings when doing a retrofit isn’t true. It may not be perfect or exact, but you will see savings.”

The company does energy audits on all of its New York City buildings, where building engineers examine the utility usages to expose any opportunity for increased efficiency and savings, he said.

Another project examined in the study is Riverview II in Yonkers, also owned by the Related Companies. The 343 apartments at Riverview, at 47 Riverdale Avenue, were heated with electricity, and the landlord was responsible for paying all of the tenants’ electrical bills. The Related Companies started an electrical savings program, including better windows, lighting upgrades and Energy Star refrigerators, that helped reduce overall electricity usage by more than 25 percent.

In addition, each apartment was responsible for paying its own electric bills, giving tenants an incentive to conserve electricity. As a result, the changes translated into $808 in annual savings for each apartment.

The study’s authors hope the results will go beyond persuading landlords to institute environmentally beneficial retrofits. They hope that lenders will use this data and consider underwriting larger loans to landlords based on the projected savings that come from retrofitting buildings.

Currently, lenders do not consider future savings from retrofits when they are underwriting a loan because there is little data indicating what those savings would be, experts said.

In addition to a lack of data, there is also some doubt whether energy audits, like those conducted by the Related Companies, are accurate. [Read rest of story]

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