In an era where sustainability is increasingly becoming a focal point, community associations are taking proactive measures to reduce their carbon footprint and cut down on energy expenses. One of the cornerstone practices in this endeavor is the conduct of energy audits. These assessments serve as a critical tool for identifying inefficiencies, pinpointing areas of improvement, and ultimately fostering a more sustainable environment within community associations.

What exactly is an energy audit?

Maximizing efficiency through energy auditsAn energy audit – sometimes referred to as an energy assessment – is a comprehensive assessment of a building's energy consumption and efficiency. It involves a detailed examination of various components within the structure, including but not limited to HVAC systems, insulation, lighting, and appliances. The primary objective is to uncover areas where energy is being wasted or used inefficiently, thereby enabling the implementation of targeted solutions to enhance energy efficiency and reduce utility costs.

A certified professional who has expertise and training in energy efficiency should conduct the audit. It’s also a good idea to work with an auditor who understands the unique challenges of condo and co-op buildings. Your property management company should be able to recommend or provide a reliable energy auditor.

What your condo or co-op association can expect an audit to cover

The level of detail an audit provides can vary and will often determine how expensive it is. However, to be of any real value, an audit should always include an evaluation of your operations and maintenance. “This lets you know if your building systems are working according to their design requirements,” explains explains Marilyn Zajac, FirstService Energy, Energy Advisor. “Simple adjustments to these systems can often reduce your energy use and costs significantly.”

Unless your building is in a city that mandates audits (generally only required every ten years), you will probably want to start by getting the least extensive (and least expensive) audit available to get an overall picture of your building’s efficiency shortfalls. You can then use the results to decide whether you need a more in-depth analysis. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has set standards that your auditor should follow. Here is what you can expect with each type of audit:
  • ASHRAE Level 1. This involves a preliminary evaluation of your energy use based on benchmarking scores, utility bill information, and calculations of the number of British thermal units (BTUs) your building uses per square foot. The auditor also does an onsite walk-through to identify low- and no-cost improvements your association can make, as well as more costly capital improvements. All of this information – along with an estimate of potential energy and cost savings – is summarized in a short report.
  • ASHRAE Level 2. This the most common audit conducted on large buildings. In addition to providing you with everything you’d get in a Level 1 audit, this type of audit involves a more detailed onsite review, equipment inventory and financial analysis of recommended improvements. For this reason, the report you receive is more in-depth as well.
  • ASHRAE Level 3. This kind of audit provides highly accurate estimates of energy and cost savings for expensive capital improvements. Your condo or co-op association will not require an ASHRAE Level 3 audit as they are intended for more complex industrial and commercial buildings.

Example of an energy audit

Imagine a condominium complex seeking to reduce its energy expenses and carbon footprint. The association hires a certified energy auditor to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the property. The auditor begins by examining the building's insulation levels and air sealing, identifying several areas where insulation is inadequate and air leaks are present. Next, they assess the HVAC systems, discovering that many units are outdated and operating inefficiently. Additionally, the auditor observes that the lighting throughout the complex consists of older, energy-guzzling fixtures. Based on these findings, the auditor provides a detailed report outlining recommended upgrades and retrofits to improve energy efficiency, such as installing better insulation, upgrading HVAC systems to high-efficiency models, and replacing lighting with energy-saving alternatives.

Energy audit savings programs

Many utility companies offer free energy audits or will reimburse some or all of the cost of obtaining an audit. Check with your utility company for more information.

When conducted by a well-trained professional, an energy audit can provide your association with realistic ways you can cut your building’s energy usage and costs. A good property management company will be able to help you find the right energy professional to conduct your audit.

Are energy audits worth the money?

Many associations assume that an audit isn’t worth doing if their budget is too tight to make expensive equipment upgrades. Fortunately, some of the most significant improvements to your building’s efficiency are also some of the least costly to make. According to Zajac, “You can often see immediate reductions in your energy use with low- or no-cost changes, but you need to conduct an energy audit so that you know which improvements make the most sense.” For assistance from FirstService Energy, please contact our team.

While energy audits do incur upfront costs, the long-term benefits often outweigh the initial expenditure. By identifying inefficiencies and recommending targeted improvements, energy audits can lead to significant reductions in energy consumption and utility bills, resulting in substantial cost savings over time. While there may be an initial financial outlay, the return on investment in terms of reduced energy costs and enhanced sustainability makes energy audits a worthwhile endeavor for community associations committed to long-term efficiency and stewardship.

How to start an energy audit

Embarking on an energy audit journey involves several key steps:
  1. Research and Planning: Begin by researching reputable energy audit firms or professionals with experience in assessing residential or commercial properties. Consider factors such as certification, expertise, and track record.
  2. Request quotes and proposals: Reach out to selected energy audit providers to request quotes and proposals for conducting an audit of your community association. Be sure to outline the scope of the audit and any specific areas of concern or focus.
  3. Schedule the audit: Once you've selected a provider and agreed on terms, schedule the energy audit at a time that is convenient for all parties involved. Coordinate access to the property and provide any necessary information to the auditor.
  4. Conduct the audit: On the day of the audit, the energy auditor will thoroughly inspect the property, assessing various aspects of energy usage and efficiency. Be prepared to answer questions and provide access to relevant areas of the building.
  5. Review the findings: After the audit is complete, review the findings and recommendations provided by the energy auditor. Take the time to understand the implications and potential benefits of implementing the suggested improvements.
  6. Implement Recommendations: Based on the audit report, develop a plan for implementing the recommended upgrades and retrofits to improve energy efficiency. Consider factors such as cost, payback period, and available incentives or rebates.
  7. Monitor and evaluate: Once improvements are in place, monitor energy usage and utility bills to assess the impact of the changes. Periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the upgrades and make adjustments as needed to maximize energy savings.
When you partner with a professional management company like FirstService Residential, you can gain exclusive access to our affiliate FirstService Energy and its suite of energy management resources.

To learn more about how we can support your community, contact a member of our team
Friday May 24, 2024