Going Green in Multifamily

Posted By: Randa Griffin Magazine ,

Recycling. Sustainability. Energy efficiency. Reducing your carbon footprint. The idea of “going green” has been around for decades, in one form or another. In recent years, it has proven to be more than just a passing trend and has evolved into a recognized practice for multifamily managers and builders. More than a third — 36 percent — of multifamily builders are currently implementing “green” practices into more than 60 percent of their building projects, according to a 2017 survey by the National Association of Home Builders and the National Multifamily Housing Council.

Whether your aim is to have a positive effect on the environment through water conservation and reduced pollution, to benefit the health of residents and on-site staff, to reduce operating costs, or all of the above, there are more ways than ever to “go green” in multifamily. 

Green Certifications

New construction apartments can be designed with the environment and cost savings in mind. Green building certifications can assure your community is operating energy-efficiently and demonstrate your commitment to going green.

Green Building Initiative offers Green Globes environmental assessment and certification, which provides a green rating assessment and identifies opportunities and tools to improve energy use in new and existing buildings.

“Green Globes provides a comprehensive road map for new and existing buildings to incorporate the benefits of a variety of sustainability goals,” said Shaina Weinstein, GBI’s vice president of engagement.

GBI has certified 37 buildings within 24 multifamily communities in Florida. Green Globes New Construction survey can help building operators, engineers, architects, and owners evaluate opportunities to benefit from energy savings, reduced environmental impacts, and lower maintenance costs at the start of planning.

“Setting sustainability goals at the outset of a new construction project is critical to developing a structure that is resource-efficient, healthy for occupants, and environmentally sound,” Weinstein said.

Green Globes certifications are effective for new construction, but can be beneficial for existing buildings as well. Regardless of whether or not the building was designed with sustainability in mind, Weinstein said with the certification, communities will see a reduction in operating expenses.

“Using the Green Globes for Existing Buildings assessment process enables building teams to benchmark and focus capital improvement projects on broad sustainability, health, and efficiency goals,” she said. “Green Globes encourages teams to consider their choices and implement best practices whenever possible.”

Energy Efficiency

There are endless changes existing multifamily communities can make to improve their carbon footprint. Stevie Freeman-Montes, sustainability manager for the Sarasota city manager’s office, said improving energy efficiency is the biggest and most impactful step communities can take to go green.

She said oftentimes property owners are hesitant to spend large amounts of money on structural changes to improve energy efficiency, such as changing out appliances, because the community doesn’t directly benefit from the costs savings, rather the resident does.

The result is known as a “split incentive,” Freeman-Montes said, when the cost falls on one party — the property owner or manger — and the benefit falls to another party — the resident. “That has become something a lot of multifamily properties have struggled with when doing big investments in energy efficiency.”

The 2017 survey by the National Association of Home Builders and the National Multifamily Housing Council showed 57 percent of multifamily builders and remodelers believe their customers are willing to pay more for green features. The survey also showed 54 percent of multifamily builders find green homes easier to market, suggesting the initial cost for making energy efficient changes will be offset by higher rents.  

Implementing small green changes throughout the community, like installing smart thermostats and LED lightbulbs, is a good place to start because they can be completed gradually and with relative ease. Larger changes, such as upgrading the property’s irrigation system to conserve water, come at a much higher cost and may take longer to initiate since they have to be coordinated through various levels of management.

Freeman-Montes said utility companies will provide property managers with an energy audit that analyzes the community’s energy use and identifies areas of heavy consumption.

“Any of the property owners could call and get a free energy audit, and that can give you a list of recommendations of what you could do,” she said.

Property managers can use smart technology products to positively impact the environment, while improving their operational efficiency, said Sean Miller, president of PointCentral, which offers thermostats, lighting, leak detection, and other products that help property managers monitor energy use and detect problems early.

“We’re a partner to the property manager or asset owner and we want to help them deploy this technology and help them manage it as a way to be more efficient and profitable,” Miller said. 

PointCentral integrates its products with property management software, to allow property managers to monitor and control energy use. For example, the property manager can set the temperature in an unoccupied unit, or set a temperature limit in occupied units to control the amount of energy wasted. The products can detect problems in individual units or across the property as they happen, to lessen expensive HVAC bills and repairs. Many residents appreciate the ease of having these smart products in their home.

Miller said once a unit becomes occupied, the resident has control of the products, but property managers can still protect the asset by monitoring things remotely.

“Any property manager is a steward of someone else’s asset, so the property manager can show to that asset owner, ‘Hey I’m doing a good job of not only maximizing the return you get from this asset but also minimizing catastrophic costs and expenses,’” Miller said.

HydroPoint is a smart water management company that uses technology to monitor water usage and irrigation throughout a community. The water management system is able to detect leaks, prevent overwatering, and help maintain a healthy landscape.

HydroPoint offers WeatherTRAK Smart Irrigation, which uses local weather data to determine how much water to use throughout the property, based on the expected rainfall and evaporation rates each day.

“We use an automated scheduling engine to determine just the right amount of water to irrigate that site based on its location and the weather,” said Meg Mason, senior director of growth marketing at HydroPoint.

Other factors such as plant types, soil type, and the slope of the ground are also taken into account to determine the appropriate amount of water to keep the plants healthy. This helps prevent over- or under-watering of the landscape, cuts down on costs for labor and plant replacement, and helps prevent mold and other harmful side effects of overwatering.

Smart irrigation controllers are managed from a mobile device or any laptop, and allow the property manager to make any changes to the irrigation or shut off the water flow completely if a sprinkler burst or emergency occurs. Alerts and notifications are sent to the device if any suspicious water activity is occurring so property managers can solve the problem quickly. 

HydroPoint also offers WaterCompass leak detection and flow monitoring to quickly recognize any suspicious water activity on site through a non-invasive, clamp-on flow monitor.

“We've been able to catch a lot of different plumbing issues that they didn't even know existed because it was underground, or those sorts of things,” Mason said.  “So it's a lot of just visibility of how much water is being used.”

The technology and services offered by HydroPoint not only conserve water, but also reduce labor, transportation, and maintenance costs, Mason said. Residents and multifamily communities can save money while also reducing their overall carbon footprint.   

In 2015, FPA Multifamily LLC saved 54 million gallons of water in one year after installing WeartherTRAK Smart Irrigation at 44 of its properties, according to HydroPoint’s website. One site used significantly less water, saving $22,000 on water bills one year after installation.

Recycling

Structural design, lack of incentive, and high turnover rates can present challenges with recycling in multifamily housing. But property management companies can reach out to the waste division of their local municipalities and ask for assistance, said Todd Kucharski, general manager for the city of Sarasota Public Works Department. Often times, the waste department will provide handouts, bins, and education tools to help managers coordinate an effective program in their community.

“Multifamily has been our biggest challenge because it’s such a transient type of community,” Kucharski said.

Because residents move frequently, he said, it’s difficult to educate them on the importance of recycling and how to do it properly. Often residents will have good intentions but aren’t aware of what items actually can and cannot be recycled.

 “Multifamily facilities generally have a higher contamination rate for recycling,” Kucharski said. Including materials such as plastic bags and greasy pizza boxes in with recyclables presents problems at sorting facilities.

Management staff plays a big role in the effectiveness of a community’s recycling program because while some are proactive, many times management is rather lax about educating residents, Kucharski said.

Education is the most important factor in an effective recycling program, so Kucharski said posting a list with pictures of what items can and cannot be recycled on the bins can help residents.  

Freeman-Montes said encouraging residents to take initiative is another great way to get the community involved.

“A lot of residents are really passionate about this issue,” she said. 

Hosting a “swap shop” event where residents can exchange materials such as clothing or picture frames, setting a community recycling goal, or throwing an Earth Day community event can inspire residents to recycle and educate them on new ways to be environmentally conscious.

“It also builds community because it gets people talking to each other,” Kucharski said. “You start building relationships in your community, which then starts making a more enjoyable living experience when you start having these types of things you’re engaging in.”

Weinstein said property managers can engage residents to participate in resource conservation and their own sustainability by “providing efficiency controls, implementing a successful recycling program, and communicating frequently with occupants to keep sustainability efforts top of mind.”

Amenities

Amenities can be a huge draw for prospective residents who are often willing to pay more to live in a community that fits their lifestyle and represents their values.

Green amenities, such as a community garden, are the perfect way to demonstrate your eco consciousness to current and prospective residents. An herb or vegetable garden prompts resident involvement and interaction, while also contributing to sustainability efforts by providing food residents can bring home and use.   

“I think from a property manager standpoint having a place where food is grown and seen can be a really big asset to a community,” Freeman-Montes said. “That could be something that could be invested in on both sides.”

As the use of electric and hybrid cars rises, so does the demand for car charging stations. For residents who own one of these fuel-efficient cars, whether or not a community has a car charging station can be a deal breaker. Installing these stations creates an eco-conscious culture in the community and provides some residents with a unique but necessary service.

Another way many communities are helping residents cut down on transportation costs and their environmental impact is through bike programs. Communities can partner with local companies like Lime or Bird or purchase community bicycles of their own for residents to use. 

From energy efficiency to recycling programs to amenities, apartment communities across the state are finding that it can be easy being green.