Lessons learned in my first year as CEE’s multifamily project coordinator
I started my new position as CEE’s multifamily project coordinator last year, and it has been an extremely fun and challenging 18 months.
I came to the job after working with CEE’s residential energy program for seven years, so I was already familiar with the ways homes use energy. Still, multifamily buildings have their own
set of unique challenges, and it has been quite the learning curve... Thankfully, my CEE colleagues are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to energy use in both multifamily and single-family homes, so I have been in good hands while learning the ropes of this sector.
I primarily work on the Multifamily Energy Savings Program
, which is provided by Minnesota Energy Resources and delivered by CEE. We serve multifamily building with five or more units, from low-income housing to senior housing, assisted living, on-campus college housing, condominiums, and apartments.
Even early on, I’ve already learned some important lessons:
1. Multifamily buildings have a lot in common with single-family homes.
While multifamily buildings are truly a blend of residential and commercial buildings, there is a lot to be learned by looking at how a typical single-family home uses energy. Both building types have many of the same features and systems impacting energy efficiency: insulation, air leakage paths, heating systems, lighting, and more. And both building types serve as homes to people and families, providing a space to live, eat, and relax. Comfort and livability are important regardless of whether it’s an apartment, condominium, or single-family home.
2. A major difference between single-family homes and multifamily buildings are the mechanical systems.
Typically, single-family homes have either a forced-air furnace or a boiler system, and are typically controlled by a single thermostat. Multifamily buildings commonly have a central boiler system and water heating system distributed from one central room throughout all of the units in the building. These systems serve between five and several hundred units that are homes to residents with different comfort levels and heating needs. And you can’t just change the entire system because one person feels too cold. Often each unit has its own thermostat (commonly called “zones”), and this provides its own unique efficiency challenge.
3. It can be difficult to know who is responsible for making decisions about efficiency recommendations.
Because multifamily buildings are often commercial properties, the decision-making process is different than with single-family homeowners. Multifamily buildings have many stakeholders, including residents, caretakers, site managers, property managers, property owners, and anyone involved with the building financing. These people often have conflicting priorities that need to be taken into account when making efficiency recommendations. In addition, the key decision makers are often different from one multifamily building to another. Large national or regional companies may require approval from several different people for potential capital improvements. For smaller building owners or management companies, there may be fewer decision makers involved, and thus it may be an easier process. In working with multifamily buildings, it’s important to engage stakeholders and find the appropriate decision maker early in the process, so that you can clearly communicate the benefits of recommended energy efficiency improvements.
4. While there may be more opportunity for energy savings in older buildings, there are still opportunities in buildings of all ages.
Many people assume newer buildings have no efficiency needs. And it’s true that, as LEDs become the new standard and condensing boilers become more prevalent, we don’t see as many opportunities in newer buildings as we do with older, pre-war buildings. However, sometimes new, more efficient systems are not set up to reach their efficiency potential and there is opportunity to commission these systems. Some examples of this include improperly set boiler and water heating controls, or ventilation systems without the proper controls.
5. Sometimes the hardest part of achieving a more efficient multifamily building is finding the potential opportunity.
Many building owners and managers just don’t know where to begin. Some of the people I work with have no idea that their building is experiencing issues, and others aren’t familiar with the rebates and financing that are available to help complete efficiency upgrades.
As CEE’s multifamily project coordinator, it is my responsibility to help close knowledge gaps among building owners and managers, as I keep learning more about this field every day myself. It’s been gratifying to help our multifamily community do its part to meet Minnesota’s efficiency goals, all while saving money and improving occupant comfort in their buildings.