Want to reduce your energy and water costs in your cooperative or condominium? Tired of ongoing energy and water issues clogging up your email inbox and board meetings? Or are you just not sure where to begin?
A few years ago, Park Terrace Gardens in Upper Manhattan decided to form committees that focused on specific issues. This sparked the creation of their Green Committee lead by four passionate women – Osi Kaminer, Kim Schwab, Bev Solow, and Leslie Zema.
What Does a Green Committee Do?
It’s a group of residents that…
- Serve as a resource and contact for the board, shareholders, property manager, and super to address residents’ energy efficiency and sustainability needs.
- Understand the building’s energy needs.
- Research and enlist energy and water management experts, like Bright Power.
- Assess savings opportunities and the best next steps in collaboration with experts, building staff, and board members.
- Collaborate with the coop management, elect to move forward with a plan of action, implement savings measures, and keep the board up-to-date throughout the installation.
- Review project success and savings with the board and shareholders once the project is complete, including a way to ensure ongoing savings year after year.
- Continually learn from other buildings’ energy initiatives.
Green Committee Goal: Keep residents comfortable while keeping energy costs down.
Park Terrace Gardens Green Committee at Work
Through completing their own utility benchmarking, Park Terrace Gardens became aware of the building’s needs to reduce inefficiencies. Needing to comply with local energy auditing laws, the board, by recommendation of the Green Committee, brought on Bright Power to complete a comprehensive energy audit that dug deeper into the property’s opportunities to find sustainable savings. The energy audit report helped elucidate and pinpoint long-term issues and allowed the board cost-effective options to implement energy and water savings measures. The Green Committee was critical to the success of this project and overall process, coordinating with the energy experts while collaborating with the board and shareholders to ensure smooth sailing. As a result, the measures below were completed at the property and the savings are monitored using EnergyScoreCards.
Upgraded boiler and balanced the steam distribution system
The Green Committee counted over 80 windows that were left open during heating season! Since the upgrade, the Green Committee used portable temperature sensors to educate residents on the changes they can make in their unit to get the most out of the retrofit, like moving furniture or heavy curtains away from radiators.
Weatherstripped exterior doors and in-unit AC systems
To tackle this effort and get the return on their investment, the Green Committee created gift bags for each resident complete with weatherstripping designed for windows with A/C units, detailed installation instructions, and handwritten personalized notes to each resident. The committee saw huge success with this campaign and are sure the personalized touch made all the difference. This measure has greatly reduced the amount of air infiltration coming into the building, minimizing the amount of energy wasted in both heating and cooling seasons.
Installed LED lighting
The board sponsored a giveaway of 5 LED bulbs for each unit in an effort to attract shareholders and reduce energy costs. The Green Committee set up the building’s conference room with different types of LED bulbs to demonstrate to the tenants that LED lights can have the same – or often times better – lighting output as other energy-intensive bulbs. Through education and live demonstration, the committee changed the opinions of shareholders. In tandem with a common area lighting retrofit, the building saw the lighting retrofit reduced 15% in electricity cost reductions in the first year!
Installed faucet aerators
The Green Committee shared with the building shareholders how and why they were making the change – using the audit report as a crutch to validate the investment opportunity (payback was under 6 months!). Supplemented with informational flyers and thank you notes, the committee was able to make a big impact.
Advice From Park Terrace Gardens on Starting Your Green Committee
1. Regularly educate and communicate with board members and residents.
Committee member, Osi Kaminer, says that their commitment to consistently educating the board is the key to their success. She also says that having a committee member serve as a board member to liaise between the two groups is crucial. This ensures the committee gets in front of the board regularly and can continue to push forward the Green Committee’s agenda outside of meetings.
Osi attributes their success with residents to the constant communication and open access to committee members. The committee created a group email for shareholders that would forward to the Green Committee and the property manager. They also publicized their phone numbers and welcomed regular contact. This personal communication reminded the other shareholders that the committee members were residents themselves, making shareholders more receptive to the Green Committee’s suggestions.
2. Don’t shy away from shareholders who complain.
Osi is clear: the committee’s goal is to ensure everyone is as comfortable as possible. While they know they may not be able to make everyone happy, they can make everyone comfortable.
Investigating a shareholder’s complaints about a cold unit sparked a visit where the committee learned that a previous tenant had removed a radiator from the unit. And, in discussing this with the shareholder, the committee learned that there were other units facing the same issues. If they had simply said “the boiler is set above the temperature required by law” and moved on, they would never have learned about the missing radiators in multiple units.
3. Understand the Board’s Goals.
Have the committee start with a list, provided by the board, of items they may want to explore and address. Let the committee investigate and share back their findings with the board. Keeping your goals aligned will be a constant reminder – you are both on the same side with the same goal.
4. Look to Others’ Success.
This Green Committee attended many workshops and connected with other buildings that completed or were undergoing similar projects. By learning from those who already have gone through the process, the Park Terrace Gardens Green Committee knew about potential roadblocks before they hit them. And, they were able to show what a project might look like on the other side, exciting the board and shareholders.
Read more detailed information about the steam system upgrades in this Building Energy Exchange case study.
See the survey the Green Committee used to help our engineers understand residents’ behavior when it comes to heating and cooling their apartment here.
See an example of a flyer the Green Committee posted thanking residents for their participation in NYSERDA’s Energy Reduction Plan here.
Too much water in Houston, not enough water in California, and bad water in Flint. Water, often so easy to take for granted, has been in the news a lot lately, and the headlines are troubling. Changing climate, aging infrastructure, and rising costs are all driving water to the forefront of many people’s minds.
For those of us with small children, a paranoia can set in. I already filled the bottles and mailed back my free lead testing kit from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and am anxiously waiting for the results from my 91-year-old apartment building. A less patient friend with similarly small children bought a lead-testing kit on Amazon and is now puzzling through the seemingly ambiguous results (“It’s like a poorly-designed pregnancy test!” she exclaimed). She’s drinking only bottled water until she can get something more conclusive.
Vital to life, and catastrophic when toxic or scarce, water is a big deal. Plus, the cost keeps going up to cover the costs of fixing and maintaining the infrastructure.
What Can You Do?
Delivering a sufficient supply of clean water to the residents of apartment buildings is one of the critical tasks for every landlord. With such an overwhelming issue at hand, it can feel hard to know what to do. In celebration of Earth Day, and the vital role that clean water plays on our blue-green planet, here are some water tips:
First, test your water. Test kits are inexpensive and the potential impacts of water contaminants are drastic. If your building has old pipes, be sure to test a few locations for lead, in case only some of the pipes are deteriorating.
Then, save water. Flint’s water problems started with a decision to switch the city to a cheaper, lower quality water source. A better way to lower costs is to stick with high quality water and reduce the amount we use.
Low-flow Faucet Aerators and Showerheads
By limiting the amount of water that comes out of your faucet or shower, low-flow faucet aerators and showerheads can save bucket loads of water and money. The best part is that they’re about as simple as it gets when it comes to installation (just unscrew the old and screw on the new).
But don’t just buy the cheapest thing you can find – there’s a big difference between properly “engineered flow” and a simple flow restrictor. And always test out which ones work best at a particularly property before installing them. Resident buy-in is crucial – aerators and showerheads are as easy to screw off as they are to screw on. Using quality devices that look and feel good will ensure that residents view the devices as an improvement and an amenity, and don’t circumvent the savings. Ongoing monitoring, strong communication and resident partnership are key.
High Efficiency Toilets
When it comes to wasting water, our toilets are some of the biggest offenders. Put it this way: when you flush a “regular” toilet, you could be using up to 7 gallons per flush (gpf)! And unfortunately you can’t just believe what is printed on the tank – our engineers have measured toilets marked as “1.6 gpf” with flushes as high as 4 gallons! Today’s toilets can bring that rate down to 1.28 gallons per flush – a great investment in water conservation and cost savings. But maintaining your equipment is critical, too – when valves and flappers wear out, precious fresh water goes straight down the sewer.
Heating System Leaks
It’s normal for steam heating systems to take in some fresh water over time, but when they take in a lot of this “makeup water” it is indicative of a larger problem – often a boiler or piping leak. Excessive makeup water can also drastically shorten the life of a boiler by as much as half. That’ll really sink your sinking fund. Luckily, measuring makeup water levels is simple, cost-effective and insightful, as long as you put a meter on the makeup water line and someone actually reads that meter.
And if a hot water heating system and requires you to add any water, that is a sign of a problem.
Saving irrigation water can take many forms, from planting only native plants that require no irrigation, to better controlling the irrigation you do use. Many properties are guilty of overwatering – most obviously when sprinklers are running during a rainstorm. This can be tackled by hooking a soil moisture sensor into your irrigation system, or, better, using a WaterSense irrigation system that is networked to weather data to adjust the watering cycles.
But whatever you do, you can’t set it and forget it – analyzing water data can give an indication of a problem, like a mis-set irrigation control, a broken pipe or damaged equipment.
Rainwater and Greywater Capture
Rainwater and Greywater Capture are methods of reusing water that has either accumulated due to rain, or has already been used once (kitchen sinks, showers, etc.). Both can significantly contribute to efficient water usage in buildings. The simplest applications of rainwater and greywater are for irrigation. Rainwater can also be used as makeup water, particularly in cooling towers. Greywater – because it requires additional piping – is more commonly used only in new construction projects. Treated greywater can even be used to flush toilets instead of fresh water.
Our Top Picks for Energy Cinderella Stories
Every year there’s one small team that slowly but surely rises in ranks, winning upset after upset, while facing off against the biggest names in basketball. The same can be said for certain energy conservation measures which are often overlooked in favor of flashy, high-tech projects. But sometimes, it’s the smallest changes that make the biggest impact. Let’s take a look at our top five picks.
These simple devices are so easy to buy and install we’re not sure why they’re not on every faucet. By restricting the flow of water that comes out of your faucet, aerator implementation is a simple and cost-effective water conservation measure that can also result in major cost savings, especially across a portfolio. (Note: Low flow doesn’t mean crappy – we sometimes refer to the aerators we recommend as “engineered flow”, because they don’t get you any less clean, they just use less water.)
Where to start? Caulk has many useful applications. You probably think about caulking around the tub and countertops as preventing leaks into the floor below, but it also prevents mold and preserves indoor air quality. Caulking around your windows, doors and A/C sleeves keeps indoor air in and outdoor air out. So if you’re feeling the chill on a cold winter night, or when you receive your heating bill, feel around for air infiltration and try a fresh bead of caulk to keep you cozy and warm.
Energy efficient lighting has got to be one of the easiest upgrades out there with the most bang for its buck. The cost of the bulbs themselves are quickly recovered in short payback periods and improved quality of life. That’s right, efficient lighting also means comfortable lighting. Gone are the days of flickery twisty CFL bulbs – get yourself some of the new LEDs and enjoy beautiful light, much longer bulb life (10x fewer bulb changes) and much less unwanted heat, leading to a balanced indoor environment and budget.
If you’ve ever accidentally backed into an uninsulated pipe, you’ll surely understand the value of pipe insulation. Pipes get hot, really hot, and that’s exactly what they’re made to do. What they’re not made to do is retain that heat. This is where pipe insulation comes in. Attaching insulation around every heat and hot water pipe is not only an important safety measure, it also significantly cuts down heat loss, meaning you’ll have lower heat and hot water bills.
Control Your Controls
Sometimes the biggest savings are right under your nose. Many building owners implement building controls of some form. But more often than not, once the controls system is in place, it’s left to operate on its own without much oversight. Checking in on your controls is the best place to start when something isn’t working, but it’s an even better practice to check in when everything seems to be working fine. You never know what you might see. After all, a proactive approach to energy management is the real Cinderella story every year.