How Strategic Energy Management Addresses Multifamily Energy Efficiency Challenges

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

Written by Jenn Allen



In the world of energy efficiency, office and retail dominate the conversation – even though one in six American households live in multifamily properties. Even more surprising is that only 6% of total energy efficiency program spending is dedicated to multifamily programs. While the office and retail sectors deserve support from energy efficiency programs given their annual energy use, there is still a huge opportunity within the multifamily market.


It’s no secret that multifamily properties are hard to tackle. These quasi-residential, quasi-commercial common area spaces face unique barriers to energy efficiency, the biggest being the “split incentive.” Historically, multi-family property owners have limited motivation to invest in energy efficiency in their properties because tenants often pay the electric bill. Conversely, tenants usually avoid investing in rental properties.


If either party were to take advantage of an energy efficiency program and install energy-saving measures, who would pay for the upgrades and who would receive the incentive? These questions have caused tension between tenants and property owners for decades, even though these efforts promise both long-term cost and energy savings and improved occupant comfort.


Another challenge to program participation is answering the question, “Which energy efficiency program best suits multifamily properties?” Often, utilities’ energy-saving programs designed for tenants overlook common area opportunities, opting instead for direct-install programs that offer per-unit products to improve efficiency (like lamps, power strips, etc.). Meanwhile, utilities that market programs specifically to property owners and managers for the common areas are missing out on behavior-based changes in the units themselves that can result in long term cost and energy savings. When a property owner researches utility programs, they need an understanding of both residential and commercial measures. This can be burdensome.


So what is the solution?

One of the most successful strategies for tackling energy efficiency within multifamily properties is Strategic Energy Management (SEM). SEM programs help property owners and/or managers understand overall building performance; identify financial utility incentives; educate tenants and facility teams, and implement energy-saving behavior modification strategies. SEM also pairs operational savings opportunities with long-term customer engagement – including property owners, managers, and tenants. The utilities’ SEM team will typically meet with property owners, managers, and tenants several times to discuss energy efficiency opportunities in common areas and individual units (both low-cost and no-cost projects). A property-specific roadmap is developed that outlines timing for education, upgrades, and evaluation.


Typical components of SEM programs include:

  • Facility staff education

  • O&M Manuals and unit checklists

  • Building manager educational signage and reference guides

  • Assistance with energy benchmarking

  • Building performance tracking and reporting

  • Evaluation of operations over different seasons, with energy efficiency recommendations

  • Marketing materials and resources for residence education


Since 2009, Waypoint has been implementing its SEM program – Connect – across the U.S. In addition to smaller, single-property SEM projects, Waypoint partners with owners and portfolio managers to create an efficiency roadmap for each facility in their portfolio. The properties are benchmarked using utility energy data, assessed for recommended energy efficiency measures, and then a plan for implementing savings is developed based on stakeholder feedback.


Overall, Waypoint has found greater success in long-term efficiency for multifamily properties that participate in programs like SEM compared to traditional energy efficiency programs that address either the common areas or individual tenant units.


To learn more about Strategic Energy Management and our programs, send us a note at info@waypoint-energy.com.