Several energy efficiency retrofit programs for multifamily buildings have started up recently. New York, California and British Columbia are locations that I know of, but I'm sure there are others.  In addition, some of these regions are looking at updating their energy codes for multifamily buildings.  And layered on top on that are the multiple market conditions - for example landlord vs. tenant split incentives, tenant advocacy, investor, intermediary managers, IEQ - that can greatly affect our ability to retrofit multifamily buildings.  These are the issues and societal context within which we need to operate. Please share your stories and suggestions in this discussion thread.




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Add Wisconsin to your list. Focus On Energy (statewide EE program) has had a robust MF element for almost a decade. Our office is one year into a two-year project to weatherize 100 buildings comprising 6,000 units.


The weatherization work is VERY complicated -- as this group develops. I'll pump into it some of our experiences AND our dillemmas!


Don Hynek

Wisconsin Division of Energy Services

Thank you Don.  I didn't know about the Focus On Energy program.  I'm looking forward to hearing more.

Norm Bourassa.

Mutlifamily Weatherization?? Who knew?

The National Weatherization Training Conference (Decmeber 12 to 15) is actually running an entire track on weatherizing MFBs. I'll be there discussing blower door testing in MFBs. And, by then, there's a good chance we will be well along on our task to begin an effectiveness study of Wisconsin's MF Wx program. (This first half will focus on typical measures/typical costs.


Anyone else planning to be there?? 

An often overlooked aspect of multifamily energy is master metering.  Many buildings built in the 1940's-1960's in New York City were built with only one utility meter per building without apartment metering.  The waste of energy has been established by NYSERDA studies as 18-26% and Con Edison and NYSERDA programs to provide incentives for submetering and billing apartments have been slow to gain acceptance.  New buildings are required to meter every apartment but many buildings are grandfathered and still have no apartment metering.  I have done many of these studies and recommend that metering should be mandated and phased in over the next five years.

Too true. I have seen the NYSERDA studies. I also found a couple of academic/economic studies in the same vein. They report savings on the low side of the NYSERDA numbers; generally around 15%.


That said, yes, master metering is generally a bad idea, whether your goal is effeciency OR occupant behavior that supports efficient use of energy. It's a little cheaper to build a building this way. However, it does shelter low-income tenants from fluctuating energy costs AND from utility shut-offs. We see it mostly in very low income apartments, where living units are very small and where occupant demographics don't support a whole lot of energy-hogging appliances. (Wisconsin outlawed master metering in the late 70s.)


And, it's a problem that can be approached effectively only through building codes. It's almost impossible to undo a master meter configuration once the building is built and occupied. (There are comapnies out there that will sub-meter in various technological ways without re-wiring, but that costs, too.) You not only have to re-wire the building, but you also have to re-structure the entire business model for the property and its rents.


There is a downside -- once you meter individual apartments, it's a LOT more justifable to use electric baseboard heat. Bad idea. It's not just that it's the least environmentally-friendly space heating system possible! It also shifts the space heating cost to the tenant and subjects them to wide swings in electric costs through the year. In the low-income units I deal with that, that's how you end up with the tenant "heating" the unit with their gas stove -- CO poisoning be damned!

Our proposed incentive for submetering MF buildings was shot down due to the unpopular idea of shifting costs to tenants.  Even though tenants will adsorb fuel costs either way, it seams utility programs fear the bad PR that goes along with a perceived cost being passed on to tenants.

I worked on a project a few years ago where the owner decided to submeter his 100-year-old mid-rise on his own dime.  He left the wall of meters exposed in an interior hallway so that tenants would take notice of the spinning meters.


A popular trend here is submetering water/sewer.

Your example reminds me of a tactic we have used when explaining submetering to tenants during our Con Edison and NYSERDA projects to promote their submetering incentives:  Imagine a bank of phones in the hallways of buildings where anyone can make a phone call to anywhere they want.  The phone bill would then be split evenly amoing all apartments regardless of the cost attribution by any individual tenants.  Tenants were appalled at the prospect, since some people make expensive calls and some do not.  That is what is actually being done with electricity in master-metered buildings.  So, the issue is really fairness.  Elderly people are often scared by the electricity "abusers" into thinking their costs will increase under submetering but our studies have shown the opposite - elderly and retired people do not have the high-use technology, computers and plasma TVs or run internet businesses out of their homes and also have more of a thrifty approach so their costs go down.

The problem is that everyone assumes that if the tenant doesn't write a check themselves, they don't pay the utility bill. In most buildings, nothing could be farther from the truth -- the tenants always pay, one way or the other.


When the utility check that the owner writes gets bigger, any/all of the below happen;

1) the rent goes up

2) maintenance gets deferred

3) security is addressed by making building access more difficult, not by making systems easier to use

3) upgrades (cosmetic, comfort) get deferred

4) tenant selectivity goes down/ "problem" tenants or tenants that don't fit in become more common

5) resident programs/amenities disappear.


Any of these affect the existing tenants negatively. Whether or not tenants pay the utilities, tenants always pay the utilities. MF programs would be a lot simpler if this could become the accepted wisdom in our world.   

So when the utility bill does down the tenants rent goes down, right? Has anyone ever seen this happen? So it is a one way street that always benefits the landlord!
Tom, there are five items on the list, and I don't think it's a complete list yet.  
How about designing a MF program in which tenants in master-metered units get a rebate from the owner/landlord based on how much they save the building, as a condition of the energy assistance program? That would provide an incentive for everyone besides subsidizing just the owner.

The owners I've been dealing with will only improve their buildings if it doesn't cost them anything. They don't want to invest in their own buildings.
I had discussed that very concept with the NYCHA Energy Director many years ago because he could not envision ever being able to bill subsidized tenants separately for electricity.  He was also interested in identifying energy hogs, including those illegally running businesses out of their apartments, which would be easy if they were at least metered.  The idea of giving "awards" to tenants who conserved appealed to him but ultimately would still have been subject to too much politics.  Perhaps it would work in a non-public housing rental situation, although it may not gain enought savings to justify the submetering investment.


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