It comes as no surprise that aging properties are in desperate need of improvements given that nearly 60% of multifamily buildings were built before 1980 and more than half of available rentals are at least 50 years old. Investing in retrofitting has the potential to lead to safer housing, increased affordability through reduction in utility and operations and maintenance costs, and overall improvements in quality of life for disadvantaged populations.
The International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology (ICAST), through support received from the Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings Integration program and its Solutions to Improve the Energy Efficiency of Small and Medium Buildings funding, is working to expand deep retrofitting within the small commercial apartment property market. This is a particularly important effort since the multifamily portion of the commercial real estate sector faces particular barriers to energy efficiency because of ownership structures and persistent knowledge gaps, including the “split incentive” problem, which refers to the financial disconnect of investments in energy improvements between owners and tenants, small projects with high transaction costs and lack of volume, limited control over tenant behavior, and financing challenges.
ICAST has set out to address these barriers through the development of a single delivery platform that includes all of the resources owners of small commercial apartment properties need to successfully retrofit their portfolios. Owners have access to the following:
- Green consultants that provide energy audits and portfolio analysis, manage green certifications, and Green Capital Needs Assessments
- Financial consultants that advise on options for financing
- A nonprofit energy efficiency retrofit implementation firm
- General contractors that manage construction and installation of energy conservation measures
- Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) that offer energy performance contracts
Perhaps most importantly, owners are provided with owner representatives that advise on all aspects of property rehabilitation and coordination with all participating parties, including engineers, architects, and consultants. ICAST’s projects have already had significant impacts.
The resources ICAST provides are not limited to multifamily owners – they also have tenant-geared educational materials that emphasize the importance of behavioral changes in cutting utility costs and ultimately in reducing ecosystem stresses. Tip sheets on how to save energy and water are easily accessible by owners for distribution to tenants. Individuals are also able to access simple and concise guidance to reduce energy use related to electronics and appliances, air flow, lighting, heating and cooling, cooking and water consumption. Additionally, ICAST has developed a Multifamily Green Rehabilitation Resource Guide and technical training resources intended for service providers.
ICAST has successfully retrofitted more than 5,000 multifamily housing units, making housing more affordable, sustainable, and profitable in associated neighborhoods, and continues to contribute toward the Department of Energy’s goal of improving energy efficiency within small to medium commercial buildings.