Tenant Energy Efficiency: How to Reduce Energy Use In Your Building

by ‐ Tags: alternative energy, building science

The overall water and energy efficiency of your building is a function of three things:

1. Design and construction

2. Operations and maintenance
3. Tenant or occupant behavior

To truly optimize the performance of your building, it’s necessary to focus on all of these factors -- the greenest, most efficient building in the world would not perform at its peak if its systems were not run or maintained properly. Conversely, the high consumption of a real lemon could be reduced through occupant targeted energy efficiency campaigns. The great thing about focusing on behavior change is that you can increase efficiency at little to no cost.

The Impact of Occupant Behavior

There’s a lot of disparity on the exact impact of occupant behavior on a building’s efficiency. In his session "Residential Building Energy Simulation" at the RESENET conference, Dave Roberts with NREL said that occupants can affect the energy use of a home by a factor of 4. Another less quantitative way to think through tenant behavior is to consider the sheer number of devices behaviors can impact. In a research study ICF International did on the topic they identified the following categories: Thermostats, Lighting, Freezers, Refrigerators, Cooking Range, Dishwashers, TV/DVD, Clothes Washers, Computers, Microwaves, Telephones, Ceiling Fans. That's a lot of potential habits with a lot of room for greening.

Three Ways to Begin your Campaign

1. Start at the lease

Converting over to a green lease is an excellent way to begin reducing consumption in your building. The impact of these leases can be significant. For example, Mychele R. Lord, Founder of LORD Green Real Estate Strategies, is quoted as achieving up to a "20%-40% reduction in energy demand for a commercial green building" from dual-incentive green leases in an article at Green-Buildings.com

There are lots of different options for these leases, but generally they require a committment from both parties to maintain a small environmental footprint and participate in such activities as reporting energy usage or recycling. These leases must align the landlord's and tenant's goals in order to be successful.

2. Provide tangible ways to improve

Signs or monthly newsletters are a great way to communicate opportunities for savings. Not sure what to recommend? Opower, a customer engagement platform that partners directly with utility companies, provides some great examples here. For example, using power saving modes on computers or washing clothes in cold water. Neither of which (I will note) inconveniences the occupant!

Reduce Energy Use

The same signs or newsletters could be used to translate energy savings into understandable metrics. For instance, converting kWh or therms into dollar savings or reduced carbon emissions, or even a more understandable metric of trees "planted" or cars taken off the road.

3. Measure with new technologies and provoke competition

It's important to establish baseline energy usage for your property. This will allow you to see where you’re starting and will provide means to track your improvement as your campaign progresses. You can do this manually by collecting and then summing utility bills, or through a benchmarking platform like Lucid Design Group, Bright Power, MyEnergy, and yes, WegoWise. Each of these companies (I believe) will be able to establish a baseline for your building but also offer a comparison between similar buildings and automate energy tracking going forward.

A number of colleges and universities have been using these programs to start energy use competitions among students and there’s no reason these types of competitions couldn’t be mimicked elsewhere. At a minimum they involve sharing usage data to a central and public location and then competing, by room, by floor, or by building, to decrease usage. This central location could be a bulletin board, a lobby TV screen, or even a website that residents can log into. Even if the unit or office numbers were changed to protect the identity of the occupant, users could still see how they stack up compared to other users in the building. 

Share your savings

Utilmately the success of any energy efficiency campaign is going to come down to who sees the financial savings. If you currently pay the utility bills in your property, consider sharing the savings you see from your tenants habits. If your tenants pay their own utility bills, try to harness the increase in your property value from having a greener, more efficient property.