Hands at a laptop with virtual images of energy consumptionAs the summer heat sets in, managing energy consumption and soaring electric bills becomes an increasing concern for condo and community associations. With air conditioning units working overtime to keep up with the sweltering heat, association boards are challenged to reduce costs and conserve energy. Fortunately, there are a few things your condo or community association can do to ensure responsible energy consumption and lower your community’s electric bills. An energy management plan is one way to accomplish this.

Many cities nationwide have instituted energy plans and programs to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs in their communities, and these programs are becoming more widespread. The City of Miami, for example, has created BE305, an initiative to increase energy and water efficiency in large public and private buildings.

As a board member, you want to implement a plan to keep electric costs down while keeping your common areas comfortable. You can save money and operate your condo or community association more efficiently with the right plan.

Here are 3 tips to help you get started.

Tip #1. Conduct an energy audit.

An energy audit – sometimes called an energy assessment – evaluates your building’s infrastructure and helps you see where inefficiencies exist. A qualified professional, such as an energy auditor or a certified energy manager, will conduct a site visit during an energy audit.

Audits usually begin with a thorough review of your community's utility bills. The bills give auditors an idea of your community's energy use. Auditors will then conduct a walk-through, pointing out areas with leaks or poor insulation. They will check equipment such as the heat pump, furnace, air filter, air conditioner, and other building systems to ensure they function correctly. After the inspection, energy auditors will provide your board with detailed reports of the tests and results. Here is where they will address energy-wasting behaviors and recommend energy-saving strategies.

A comprehensive, solid energy audit should consider both short-and long-term financial benefits for your community and provide easy, cost-effective, energy-saving solutions. Your property management company can recommend a reliable energy auditor.

Tip #2. Benchmark the energy usage of similar communities.

Benchmarking involves tracking and reporting what similar communities spend on electricity, gas and water to identify opportunities for improvement. It consists of collecting data before and after implementing efficiency measures so your community gets a clear picture of what it is saving.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, buildings that benchmark reduce energy use by an average of 2.4% annually. A solid property management company can help you find a comparable community that has implemented energy-efficient measures so you can compare how your energy usage and costs measure up.

"FirstService Residential-managed properties have access to FirstService Energy," said Katharine Effron, vice president at FirstService Residential. "Energy assessments and benchmarking services are offered by FirstService Energy to help associations manage their energy consumption and cost output."

For more info about benchmarking, read The Definitive Guide to Florida and Georgia Condominium & HOA Operating Spend Vol. 3, a tool that can be used to compare your community association’s expenses to similar communities.   

Tip #3. Implement energy-saving measures in your condo or community association and encourage your residents to do the same in their homes.

Below are some recommendations for reducing energy consumption:

•    Programmable thermostats: Install them in common areas and encourage residents to use them in their homes. This allows for efficient temperature control, reducing energy consumption in unoccupied spaces. Remember to place your TV or lamps away from your room's air-conditioning thermostat. These appliances can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary because the thermostat senses heat.

•    Place motion sensors in common areas such as hallways, staircases, and parking lots. By doing this, lights are only activated when necessary.

•    Use energy-efficient appliances: Energy-efficient appliances such as Energy Star-rated refrigerators, washing machines, and dishwashers consume less energy.

•    Remind residents to unplug electronic devices and chargers when they aren’t in use. Most electronics use electricity even when they are switched off.

•    Give your air conditioning system a check-up. Regular maintenance is essential to keeping an air conditioner's filters, coils, and fins functioning efficiently. According to the U. S. Department of Energy, replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one can lower your air conditioner's energy consumption by 5% to 15%.

•    Check your building’s insulation. You can save energy and money by increasing insulation in different areas, including walls and floors. This will keep your building cooler, especially in the summer. The cold air pumped out of an air conditioning system can be easily lost in uninsulated buildings because cool air flows toward warmer areas. Seal doors and windows with weatherstripping. This will help maintain a consistent temperature indoors and reduce heating and cooling load.

•    Look for local, regional and national programs to offset expenses. Your local energy utility company may offer incentives, rebates or grants to install efficient equipment or appliances. Nonprofit and government programs may also be available. Many community organizations offer homeowners free do-it-yourself energy kits or home energy "tune-ups" to help residents reduce their monthly utility bills. Home energy tune-up programs use trained volunteers to educate residents on energy conservation.

•    When leaving a room, turn the fan off. Fans cool people (not spaces) by creating wind chill effects.

•    Use energy-efficient window attachments: Window coverings prevent heat gain through your windows during the day.

“Implementing an effective energy management plan during the summer is crucial for any community looking to reduce operating expenses,” said Billy Coleman, vice president at FirstService Residential. “With the right strategy, communities can save on utility costs. By promoting responsible energy use and making small changes to how energy is consumed within the community, community associations can improve their overall efficiency benefiting everyone involved.”

Want to learn more about the City of Miami’s initiative to promote energy and water efficiency in buildings? Watch Ask the Experts: Building Efficiency 305.

Don’t sweat big energy bills this summer or any time of year. From reviewing the energy-saving practices of neighboring communities to conducting an energy audit, you’ll lower energy consumption and costs before you know it. For more information about reducing energy consumption, contact FirstService Residential for guidance.

Monday June 19, 2023