Multifamily building stock in the United States has great potential for significant energy efficiency gains, with energy savings estimated at $9 billion, according to a recent report from the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT). (Click here for related story.) The study found that while energy costs have risen 20 percent in the past decade, new energy benchmarking laws in major cities that require owners of multifamily buildings to measures or disclose their properties' energy consumption are allowing owners, policymakers, utilities, and lenders to craft better programs and incentives for energy-efficient buildings. 

Below, ECO-STRUCTURE talks to Dan Teague, director of business development at WegoWise, a Boston-based utility intelligence provider that tracks and benchmarks utility usage across building portfolios to reduce costs. WegoWise has the largest database of utility use in multifamily properties in the country and recently launched its commercial platform. 

What is the difference between energy tracking and benchmarking?
Energy tracking and benchmarking are simple yet powerful ways to understand the energy performance of your building or entire building portfolio—and ultimately reduce one of the biggest operating expenses for building owners. Energy tracking encompasses several approaches. Elaborate building management systems implement sensors and interval data to track all aspects of existing buildings—things like the usage of each light in a building or the temperature in each room. We’re also seeing the rise of a new array of cloud-based tools that provide data analysis and recommendations with less infrastructure and lower costs. 

Benchmarking means comparing the energy use per square foot of one building against similar buildings, taking into account building characteristics, geographic location, and weather. This “apples to apples” approach quickly sheds light on which buildings or units are relatively efficient—and which are wasting energy and stand to benefit the most from energy retrofits. 

How can property owners use benchmarking to yield the largest ROI?
Utility bills for inefficient buildings are four times as costly as efficient buildings. By understanding how much energy and water buildings consume, and how they stack up against similar buildings and other buildings in their portfolio, property owners can identify which buildings consume the most energy and would benefit most from an energy retrofit project. By prioritizing energy retrofits, property owners can fix their worst offenders and achieve the best ROI. After retrofits are complete, ongoing tracking and benchmarking helps users verify that their retrofits are producing savings as expected—and empowers them to address any surprises or shortfalls. 

What is WegoWise and how is it implemented?
WegoWise is a Boston-based utility intelligence provider that helps building owners, property managers, REITs, and energy auditors across the country dramatically reduce utility costs. The company provides a cloud-based software platform that automatically retrieves utility bill data across large building portfolios. WegoWise also normalizes and benchmarks utility use against similar buildings via an elegant user interface, helping building owners to quickly identify their least efficient buildings. WegoWise has the largest database of utility use in multifamily properties and recently launched its commercial platform. 

We focused on making WegoWise easy to implement. Users simply connect the platform to their utility accounts using their existing credentials, much like The platform automatically aggregates utility data and normalizes utility use across all buildings, providing an overview comparison of utility usage per square foot while factoring in variables like building characteristics and weather. 

How were you able to do this for Homeowner's Rehab Inc.? How much money did the company save?
The Homeowners’ Rehab Inc. (HRI) is a Massachusetts-based non-profit owner and developer of mixed-income, diverse communities. Since 1972 HRI has developed more than 1,500 housing units, with a focus on affordable and low-income options. As a non-profit owner for multifamily affordable housing developments, HRI pays for heat and water utilities across its 68-building portfolio at a cost of $1.65 million annually. In order to decrease this notable operating expense, HRI sought to reduce utility costs and carbon emissions by “greening up” its portfolio. HRI partnered with WegoWise to identify buildings that would benefit most from heating, lighting and water retrofit projects. 

After identifying the least efficient buildings in their portfolio, HRI worked with energy auditors to implement targeted heating, lighting and water retrofits, and installed solar and cogeneration systems across 68 properties. As a result, HRI is now saving a total of approximately $218,000 a year in utility costs, representing a 15 percent reduction in total costs. HRI continues to use WegoWise to track utility data post-retrofits to verify cost savings and ensure the retrofits are performing properly. Additionally, by showcasing savings of completed retrofit projects, HRI is more easily able to secure financing for future projects. 

Are there simple fixes that property owners can employ to cut down on their buildings’ energy use? What are some of the most effective?
The most effective fixes will vary from building to building. We regularly work with energy inspectors to find the specific source of high utility costs in any given building, and the most impactful solutions will always be unique to a specific building. 

That said, replacing old, inefficient lighting is certainly a common solution. Take HRI’s Auburn Court development in Cambridge, Mass., as an example. By tracking energy consumption for Auburn Court with WegoWise and benchmarking it against similar properties in HRI’s portfolio, HRI quickly identified high-energy usage at Auburn Court--35 percent higher than other developments in HRI’s portfolio. HRI brought in energy auditors to study the property, who recommended replacing common-area lighting with energy-efficient fixtures and installing motion sensors. The lighting retrofit included: --Replacing 150 old, double-lamp fixtures in the stairwells with energy-efficient, motion-controlled fixtures.
--Replacing 16 wall sconces in the hallways.
--Installing seven motion sensor fixtures in trash rooms, laundry rooms, and other common areas.
--Installing four exterior LED fixtures to light a walkway.
--Upgrading the lighting fixture in the elevator.

The project was completed in two phases throughout the course of a year at a cost of $57,800. The lighting retrofit has yielded an average savings of about 20 percent across the eight buildings in the development. Overall, HRI is saving 43,000-kilowatt hours of electricity and $6,800 per year in energy costs, making for a return on investments of 250 percent.