As the world continues to slowly cook itself into an uninhabitable swamp (Reference: Science), we often get asked what condominiums can do to save on energy. Unlike freehold homeowners, we are told, many of the energy-consuming services that we use are shared among the entire building, making it difficult for any individual to make sweeping changes (Reference: Doug from down the hall).
For starters, this line of reasoning isn’t totally accurate. Even condominium owners can go a long way in reducing the energy footprint in their own unit. Purchasing low-flush toilets and low use faucets can reduce water, and LED lights save a lot of money over the older incandescent or halogen fixtures.
Information – For some condominiums, simply reminding people to cut back on energy consumption can go a long way. In buildings where time-of-day energy rates apply, informing owners of when they should use their washers, dryers, and dishwashers can collectively reduce the building’s consumption a great deal.
Submetering – In buildings that are not sub-metered, there is little incentive for homeowners to make these kinds of changes. Why would I spend money on new fixtures when the person next to me wastes energy and we share the bill? The best way to incentivize people to save energy inside their own unit is to submeter the water and hydro bills. Buildings that sub-meter show a drastic reduction in energy usage almost immediately (Reference: My hydro bill).
Energy Audit – Buildings that want to save energy on a larger scale can have a company come in and do an Energy Audit. The audit covers every major component of the building, from the pumps to the lighting, and determines how much energy they are consuming. It then shows how much money they each require to run, how much an energy-efficient alternative would save, and how long the payback would be if the building made the change today. In some buildings, the cost of upgrading to new components can be paid back through energy savings in under a year! With the energy audit, condominium boards are equipped with a financial incentive to make energy-saving choices.
Building Automation Systems – A Building Automation System (BAS) is another useful tool in lowering energy consumption. The BAS is a network of sensors that connect to the building’s heavy machinery, and to a computer system that then controls their use. In many buildings, machines are on all the time, or on basic timers. With a BAS, these same machines are turned on and off based on the needs of the building, which saves energy and money. As the technology continues to improve with the introduction of Artificial Intelligence, the savings can be pretty serious.
Solar – Solar panels were all the rave in the early 2010s, but have since lost some of their popularity. Part of the reason was the reduction of the Feed-In Tariff which paid bloated rates for energy produced and sold back to the grid. With the elimination of the tariffs, solar became much more expensive. Still, in the years since, solar panels have dropped in price, and battery technology has improved to the point where rooftop panels are again becoming a viable option for many condominiums.
For larger townhouse properties, solar lampposts have improved over the last few years, and are now a great alternative to hardwired lighting. Not only are they free to power, but condominiums no longer have to worry about the cost of broken or flooded power lines running underground. Similar to lampposts, condominiums can also get outdoor wall-mounted lights, and other solar lighting options to make their space more energy efficient (and beautiful!).
Dedicated Energy Systems (DES) – For condominiums that really want to cut down on their power consumption, there is now the option to generate your own electricity on site, through natural gas, solar, or a combination of the two. A DES disconnects the condominium from the utility grid, and can lower utility rates and energy consumption, since the electricity made on site may be cleaner than the electricity coming from the grid (depending on location). It is worth noting that Dedicated Energy Systems may come with their own set of risks, and that a condominium would likely have to get permission from the owners to make this kind of switch.
Through any of these strategies, a condominium can drastically lower their energy usage. A good board of directors and condominium management company will actively seek opportunities for energy savings, which will not only help the environment, but will save the condominium money as well.
Eric Plant is a director at Brilliant Property Management Inc. www.brilliantproperty.ca. Brilliant Property Management is a condominium management company based in Toronto, Ontario.
Eric can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org