The multifamily sector could save almost $3.4 billion annually, nationwide, on energy costs with a full expansion of efficiency upgrades, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.–based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and Chicago-based think tank CNT Energy. The report, released Jan. 26, details how energy expenditures increased by 10.6 percent from 2005 to 2009 but says many owners have been able to reduce their energy bills by 20 percent or more by implementing energy-saving measures, including everything from installing energy-efficient lightbulbs and reducing hot-water consumption to replacing old refrigerator models and adding extra insulation to attics and basements to prevent energy loss.

Both longtime residences and new buildings can improve on energy savings. But Eric Mackres, senior analyst and local policy lead for the ACEEE and co-author of the report, says owners of older multifamily buildings will find it especially useful. “We were mainly looking at programs and opportunities to improve efficiency in existing buildings to save money for residents and owners,” he says. “There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to efficiency, but just about every building has at least one improvement that can save a significant amount of money.”

Mackres says the key takeaway should be the need for more cooperation between multifamily owners and local utility companies, which often provide financial incentives and programs to help offset installation costs.

The problem with that, says David Woodward, president of Denver-based CompassRock Real Estate and longtime implementer of energy-efficient measures in his own buildings, is that multifamily owners often don’t know about the programs available in their areas. He wishes there were better resources available, especially a website, detailing specific utility, state, and federal programs exclusively for multifamily owners, because, he says, the programs are constantly being updated and changed.

Still, Woodward says “everyone wins” when it comes to energy efficiency. “My message is: Just get started, because people get overwhelmed and don’t do anything,” he says. “Do energy-efficient lighting and basic low-cost things that are really easy and that your site management team can do by themselves. Not only are you providing work, [you're also creating] self-sustainability because of the labor savings involved in changing bulbs [for example].”

As the former CEO of Chicago-based Laramar Group, Woodward started a “green team” to meet once a month to come up with new ideas for energy-efficiency savings. He says that even after four years, the team was still coming up with fresh ideas after the initial basic retrofit of lighting and installation of low-flush toilets. “We found that payback was really strong,” he says. “Within one or two years, the cost savings were significant.”

Mackres says those savings are out there for all multifamily owners to take advantage of. “There are a lot of opportunities for energy savings, translating directly to cost saving for building owners and residents,” he says. “But there are also a number of [local utility] programs [available], and expanding these programs and making improvements will save a lot of energy.”

The full report is available for download from the ACEEE at