Options for Monitoring Energy Usage
Excessive utility usage can often go unnoticed without an effective method for tracking. Tracking the energy and water usage in your multifamily building(s) is a good way to spot potential problems and it’s good for your bottom line! There are many ways a property manager or owner can track utility usage, each with different benefits and downsides. Some of the pros and cons of 4 different tracking methods are evaluated below.
Manually Entering Data into Spreadsheets
This refers to entering data from your bills into a spreadsheet, such as one from Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.
- Manually entering data into spreadsheets is usually free (except for your time) and many people already have access to Microsoft Excel. If you don't have Excel, there are other option available, such as Google Sheets.
- Because you design the spreadsheet yourself, you can determine what data to track. This also means that the spreadsheet will be easy for you to understand.
- You can track all of your different utilities in one spot.
- Manually entering data can take time, especially if you have multiple properties with multiple utility accounts. While manually entering data into spreadsheets is “free,” your time isn’t. Be sure to account for labor costs in your evaluation of different methods.
- If yours are the only eyes on the spreadsheet, certain problems can go unnoticed. Other tracking methods might be better equipped to find and correct tracking errors.
- Although you might not have problems understanding your spreadsheet, others may. If the data is going to be shared among multiple people, this could become an issue.
- There is no way to easily compare your usage to benchmarks in order to fully understand how your buildings are performing.
Hardware options are physical items you can use to track usage (as opposed to reading off the bill or using a software program). Some hardware options measure just one appliance or circuit, while others connect to an entire meter.
- Generally, these options allow you to make just a one-time payment (for the hardware itself), rather than charging you a recurring fee.
- Some of these tools have data analysis features - something that you wouldn’t get just tracking the data in a spreadsheet.
- You have the option to buy hardware that tracks at a very granular level. If that is what you’re looking for this tool will be your best bet, as you cannot do this with the other options.
- Depending on the product you purchase, this option could still require some manual data entry or data analysis.
- While the one-time payment could be a pro for certain properties, this option may still be expensive, depending on your need. Costs can add up if you need to buy multiple monitors for different units in a multi family building or for many circuits. Additionally, although the hardware is generally not difficult to install, installation may take up time or contribute to growing costs.
- There is usually no way to compare your usage to benchmarks.
Manually Entering Data into Portfolio Manager
Portfolio Manager is a tool created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that allows you to track your utility usage by manually entering the data from your bills.
- Portfolio Manager is free to use.
- Data can be shared with other Portfolio Manager users easily, unlike a self-designed spreadsheet.
- Some buildings are eligible for an ENERGY STAR score, which provides limited benchmarking insight.
- Manual data entry is involved, which takes time and could lead to mistakes.
- Users sometimes consider Portfolio Manager to be confusing or clunky.
- Many multi-family buildings are not eligible for ENERGY STAR scores.
Using Automated Tools to Track & Analyze Data
Automated tools are available online and can automatically collect your utility information from your provider.
- No manual data entry!
- The setup process for these tools is usually quick for property managers/owners. Once initial setup is completed, data keeps flowing in automatically.
- No hardware needs to be installed on-site.
- Depending on the platform that you use, you will likely be able to get benchmarking information, typically in a more robust format and with more flexibility than you would with Portfolio Manager. These programs can analyze data as well as track it, something that would be difficult to do with a spreadsheet or certain hardware.
- Some of these tools share data with Portfolio Manager, so you can get the benefits of both tools without having to import the data yourself.
- An obvious downside to using automated tools is the potential cost. While some other options are free, these tools will usually charge fees on a monthly or yearly basis.
- As with all software, there is a learning curve.