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Retrofits Work: First-of-its-Kind Report Shows Significant Energy and Water Savings in Multifamily Buildings

When it comes to operating a multifamily residential building, some of the largest costs come from energy and water consumption. Retrofit programs seek to reduce these operating costs by improving energy and water efficiency. Improving these buildings also helps preserve affordable housing and results in safer, more comfortable homes for tenants. Over time, the costs of the improvements pay for themselves.

But, are we on track? Are we seeing the savings we expected? The answer, in short, is yes. Retrofits work.

A new report issued by Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future looks at 236 multifamily proper ties nationally that underwent energy and water retrofit projects from 2009 to 2012. The findings suggest significant energy savings and cost reductions for participating properties. In the first year after implementation, efficiency upgrades saved an average of 18 percent in energy and 26 percent in water. In fact, water savings entirely offset the cost of the investment after only one year. Total energy and water savings amounted to $4.3 million in annual savings.

The report was the first and largest of its kind to look at both owner-paid and tenant-paid energy and water utility bills before and after retrofits were completed. The study focused on data from two energy efficiency programs: the Green Retrofit Program, implemented by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and our own Energy Savers program, which we run in the Chicago area in partnership with Community Investment Corporation.

The report is just the first step toward improving and scaling up energy and water efficiency programs. Not all projects in the report showed savings, although one important finding is that inefficient properties achieved greater savings. This suggests that we have an opportunity to effectively target the most inefficient buildings in order to achieve the deepest savings, keeping in mind that operation and maintenance are critical to performance. Further research is needed and we look forward to digging deeper to help answer the questions raised in the report.

It’s also not the first time we’ve said that retrofits work. In late 2012, Navigant, a global consulting firm headquartered in Chicago, completed an independent review of the multifamily Energy Savers program to verify the energy savings in buildings that have been through the program. The study found that Energy Savers delivers real and substantial energy savings.

The report was written by Bright Power, issued by Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF), and made possible by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Download the complete report here.


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