A lightbulb filled with grass, dirt, and plant to signify reducing 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 in their communities, and these programs are becoming more widespread.  For example, The City Energy Project, an initiative to create healthier and more prosperous American cities, has partnered with 20 cities nationwide to improve building energy efficiency.

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. Audit your community’s energy consumption.

During an energy audit, your building's infrastructure is evaluated and inefficiencies are identified. Energy audits are conducted by qualified professionals, such as energy auditors and energy managers.    
An audit begins with a thorough review of your community's utility bills, which will give auditors an idea of how much energy your community consumes. Auditors will point out areas with leaks or inadequate insulation during the walk-through. Heat pumps, furnaces, air filters, air conditioners, and other building systems will be checked to ensure they function correctly. A number of energy-wasting behaviors will be addressed, and water-saving approaches will be suggested. The results of the tests and inspection will be provided to your board by the energy auditors following the inspection.

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

Tip #2. Analyze similar communities' energy usage through benchmarking.

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. Your board can compare your energy usage and costs to comparable communities that have implemented energy-efficient measures with the help of an experienced property management company.

"The data collected through benchmarking allows condo and community associations to track their progress and make informed decisions about allocating resources," said Jeff Musselman, vice president at FirstService Residential. "By comparing your community to similar communities, boards can identify areas where they are over-consuming and address them. Benchmarking is the key to unlocking savings."

For more benchmarking info, read The Definitive Guide to Florida and Georgia Condominium & HOA Operating Spend Vol. 3. This tool compares your association’s expenses to similar communities.

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

Here are some recommendations for reducing energy consumption.

•    Energy-efficient lighting: Use LED lights instead of traditional incandescent bulbs. LEDs consume less energy and have longer lifespans.

•    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.

•    Make sure your air conditioning system is working properly. Regular maintenance is essential to maintain the air conditioner's filters, coils, and fins efficiently.  Clean filters can reduce your air conditioner's energy consumption by 5% to 15%, according to the US Department of Energy.

•    To offset expenses and encourage proactive behavior, look for local, regional, and national programs. Your local energy utility company may offer incentives, rebates or grants to install efficient equipment or appliances. Government and nonprofit 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.

•    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.

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

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

“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.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric cars are more than 3 times more energy efficient than cars powered by conventional engines. Is your community considering adding EV charging stations? Watch our webinar, Ask the Experts: Electric Vehicle Charging Stations in Your Community to learn how to get started.

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 on energy management, contact FirstService Residential for guidance.

Monday June 19, 2023