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More on my master metered condo

November 9th, 2011 · 2 Comments

The 2012 operating budget for our 16- story master-metered condo with 230 units is $1,448,226. The budget anticipates an estimated savings of $27,400 in utility costs for the coming and future years as a result of various energy saving measures being made in the building’s HVAC and electrical systems. 


The savings enable the board to pass a budget with no increase in the condo fee.



Master Metered Buildings and Energy Use


I have written about the problems surrounding efforts to save energy when residents are master metered. They never see a utility bill and that results in irresponsible use of gas, electric and water. All utilities are included in the condo fee. Many residents of buildings like ours believe they’re getting a bargain, but they actually are paying more. While some people are conscientious about their energy consumption they pay for the energy gluttons. Studies of master metered buildings find, on average, 30% of residents use 50% of gas, electric and water.


Changing the behavior of the 30% remains a challenge. Improving central systems is easier and saves big bucks. Both efforts should be undertaken.


Paying for Energy Saving Improvements


Our Condo board approved the HVAC and electrical improvements after:

  1. seeing the results of an energy audit mostly funded by a State of Maryland grant and
  2. learning about energy “incentive” matching funds from PEPCO, our local electric utility and
  3. receiving a $35,000 grant from Montgomery County Maryland’s Energy Efficiency Incentives, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants.


The Montgomery County Maryland Energy Saving Grants


On October 10, 2011 Montgomery County announced it had awarded $1.7 million in ARRA funds to help reduce grantees annual utility costs by a total of $800,000 a year. The grants, made through the County’s Department of Environmental Protection leverage about $4.4 million in projects “including installing energy efficient lighting, heating, ventilating and air conditioning. The grants will cover 50% of project costs with a maximum per project grant amount of $75,000. 


The County received 119 applications requesting more than $5 million. The press release announcing the grants said, “Grant recipients were selected competitively based on the energy savings of their project, their ability to implement the project in a reasonable timeframe and their commitment to sustainability.” Included in the 43 grants were 18 master metered multi-family properties.


With the grant money, our building will install HVAC controls; replace HVAC motors; replace T12 lamps with T8s in it’s two underground parking garages; replace incandescent exit signs (2 on each of the floors) with LED units; and install occupancy sensors in trash and laundry rooms (I often find the laundry room lights are left on all night…the trash areas are set for 24 hour lighting…always).


Other multi-family residences grants are for:


ü  Improving and/or replacing lighting

ü  Replacing water heating equipment with high efficiency alternatives

ü  Conducting air sealing on building exteriors

ü  installing programmable thermostats

ü  Converting high pressure sodium fixtures to LEDs and installing lighting controls such as timers

ü  Retrofitting 250 watt mercury vapor parking lights with 35 watt LEDs

ü  Replacing single pane windows with double glazed windows

ü  Installing controls to reduce HVAC recycling time

ü  Installing insulation

ü  Improving energy management controls


Our management company says our building’s grant related work should be underway by the start of 2012…two months away! 


Getting to this point has taken (on and off) four years of effort and some good luck. When I first looked into the issue of over use of utilities in a master metered building I quickly learned there were two major elements regarding the reduction of utility use: 1) central systems and 2) resident usage in individually owned units. In order to understand how we could be more efficient we needed an audit…so the board had to be convinced to undertake that project. Obvious central system inefficiencies surfaced from the audit, but could our already stressed budget handle the needed work?  Eventually, the board budgeted $35,000, expecting almost the same amount in PEPCO “incentives” (matching funds) and perhaps most of  that basically earned back by the anticipated reduced annual cost of utilities. Here’s where the luck came in…When the County announced its matching grants, our Board was already educated about the issues and ready to apply, thanks to the audit. The fact that we had an energy audit also helped our County application. Soon we’ll be seeing annual savings…the issues related to educating residents remain an on going task.


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Tags: economics · Energy · energy efficiency · master metering

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