Three Alternatives to Tenant Utility-Release Forms
When it comes to utility data, we here at WegoWise subscribe to a "the more-the-merrier" philosophy. Despite this unyielding love for information, we're also realists. This means we understand that sometimes it makes sense to forgo collecting tenant utility data in favor of other, simpler methods of benchmarking buildings with tenant-paid utilities.
Today we're outlining three alternatives to a utility-release or waiver process. Keep reading for options we recommend to our customers.
Alternative One: Common-Area Benchmarks
A common-area benchmark is generated by dividing consumption totals from your common-area meter by the square footage of the area that it covers, such as hallways, community rooms and laundry facilities. These benchmarks can provide a property owner with enough information to start making decisions about their properties.
- Simplicity - This is likely the easiest method for benchmarking a building with tenant-paid utilities.
- Tied to the property owner's spend - While improving the efficiency of tenant-occupied spaces offers financial savings by decreasing tenant turnover and reducing maintenance calls, the efficiency of common-area space and the corresponding utility bills are directly tied to the property owner's bottom line. A common-area benchmark will orient a property owner to the building where the owner stands to save the most money.
- Automatic tracking - Like other owner-paid utility bills, you'll have easy access to the data needed for ongoing tracking and to update your benchmark.
- Might be enough for compliance - If you're in a state or city with energy disclosure laws, be sure to check whether or not whole-building energy reporting is required.
- Accuracy - Because common-areas are generally unconditioned and represent just subset of the gross square footage, they aren't a particularly refined means to assess the efficiency of your building.
- Requires common-area space - For buildings without common-area space, a benchmark of this type is not an option.
Alternative Two: Requesting Utility Data From Your Provider
Some utilities (particularly those with service territories impacted by an energy disclosure ordinance) are willing to provide a year of month-by-month whole-building usage data. In this scenario, the utility provider takes the usage information from individual units and packages it into one aggregated sum to be sent to the owner. To figure out whether this option is available to you, just call your utility provider. We know that both Con Edison and National Grid offer this service for property owners that need to comply with Local Law 84. Con Edison does charge $102.50 per building for this service.
- Whole-building picture - With aggregate data, property owners get a better picture of how much energy a building consumes from month to month.
- Ease - Property managers/owners don't have to waste time pestering tenants to submit tenant release forms.
- Turnaround time - The process of collecting aggregate data can take a few weeks, so be sure to plan ahead!
- Data gaps - The spreadsheets the utilities send can be difficult to work with and often don't report all the meters for every month. To fill in these data gaps, LL84 allows you to report estimate usage.
- Does not update - Unlike a common-area benchmark, aggregated usage sums are generally requested annually. This means that you won't have the chance to quickly respond to usage spikes.
Alternative Three: Landlord Portals
A few utility providers have started to offer usage data portals speficially for property owners and managers. We've seen two cases of this so far: DTE Energy's Landlord Utility Manager and ComEd's Energy Usage Data System.
DTE Energy's Landlord Utility Manager: This online dashboard allows landlords to manage electric and natural gas service from DTE Energy. The tool allows you to run reports about your property lists and usage, receive shut-off notifications, and view meter readings for tenants moving in and out.
ComEd's Energy Usage Data System: With ComEd's portal, owners can retrieve energy usage data for their building and benchmark it against other multi-family and commercial buildings through Portfolio Manager.
- Ease - Landlord portals require little-to-no set up. In fact, many are set up automatically.
- Automated tracking - Data acquired through a landlord portal comes directly through the utility company and will update after each bill cycle.
- Apartment-level data - Of the three alternatives, this is the only option where a property manager is able to see usage data for individual units. This granularity is by no means necessary to make smart decisions regarding efficiency, but it can be particularly helpful in targeting leaking toliets or other failing equipment.
- Availability - If your utility doesn't offer a portal of this type, you're out of luck!
- Consistency - Coverage may be available from your gas provider, but not your electric provider, so you may need to pursue multiple methods for collecting tenant data.
- Some landlord portals may not provide cost data.