Multifamily utility billing is about to come out of the basement closet and onto a Web site near you. Several industry programs are in the works that seek to make unit-level energy usage available publicly via the Internet. Companies benchmarking from that data could then communicate the relative energy efficiency of apartment communities to renting consumers, likely in the form of a sticker or other certification that could be displayed on property and as a part of marketing collateral.
“You could consider it like a multifamily extension of the Energy Star program,” says Mike Radice, president and CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based multifamily utility management solutions firm NWP Services Corp. “People are keenly aware that buying something with an Energy Star brand on it means something. We foresee through the development of transparency on energy costs the same kind of sticker for an apartment community.”
Radice says NWP is working with several of its primary multifamily customers and other stakeholders on a program that is operating under the working title of Viastar. “We are developing an analytical database to benchmark energy performance in apartment communities to the degree that owners can boldly proclaim that they are tracking, managing, and communicating energy costs to the consumer,” Radice says of the Viastar program. “We see an absolute movement in the multifamily industry towards more energy efficiency; we see an absolute movement in resident demand for information on energy and carbon footprints; and we see that intersecting with demand for a certification system for new and existing multifamily properties.”
At an industry conference held in October, UDR senior vice president Doug Walker spoke about green building and said the Denver-based REIT was working on a pilot program to eventually create a database of energy usage by unit across the company’s portfolio and make that information publicly available via the Internet. A spokesperson for UDR says that the Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based firm is currently conducting studies and analyses across its various green initiatives and won’t be ready to comment for two to three months.
Likewise, Radice indicated that Viastar will likely continue to remain under development as a test program for at least several months. “In essence, we are talking about a consumer public awareness effort,” Radice says. “The major impediment is getting the data to the degree that we can collect it and then benchmark it comparatively in an equitable way. Then we’ll look for the real impacts of a certification on rating for an apartment community, and that will be the impact on lease-ups, on rentals, and on renewals.”
In early November, HUD senior advisor for Sustainable Housing and Communities Shelley Poticha noted at the Urban Land Institute conference in San Francisco that the department has been considering a program that analyzes transportation, energy, and costs of living metrics for specific for-sale and for-rent housing units and displays that cost to consumers via a sticker visible somewhere on the property. HUD officials were not available at press time for an update on that endeavor.