Energy Is Sexy

Mary Nitschke column on energy
We are delighted to welcome multifamily housing’s top energy expert, Mary Nitschke to our editorial team. Mary’s weekly column promises to be a treasure trove of energy strategy. Mary has moved many a sustainability/profitability mountain in working with such giants as Prometheus Real Estate Group and RealPage. Welcome Mary. --Yield Pro editorial team

When I was at Prometheus Real Estate Group, I used to have a bumper sticker outside my office door that said, “Energy is Sexy.” It was a slightly “blue” statement for a corporate office, but I was tucked away in the back with the IT team who seemed to tolerate my shenanigans well, so I thought it unlikely to offend. Well, one day our VP of Human Resources appeared outside my door, she read my bumper sticker out loud and then looked me in the eyes and said, “Gas isn’t.” She was correct… and funny.

In this weekly column, I want to talk about energy, but I think we have to have a holistic conversation. We need to talk about wastage, electrification, energy use intensity, the Affordable Care Act, waste to energy conversion, benchmarking, building performance standards, tools to measure energy and carbon, renewables and split incentives. Did I mention gas? We totally need to squeak in some discussion on gas. I promise to keep it classy.

So, let’s start with the free stuff. The core of efficiency and sustainability when approaching energy management is, well you guessed it, management. How many times have you personally walked onto a property at 9AM and looked up at the parking and landscaping lighting to see those bulbs burning? The timers not operating, or the sensors left on their stock settings (which is on 24/7 btw). When was the last time you looked at the run schedule for your pool pump? As it is almost Thanksgiving, are your residents swimming? Are you heating it?

The first sexy catwalk strut you can do is to support your maintenance team. Rarely do we check systems for logical efficiency on the run times and think about them in terms of optimization. When we look at systems, lighting, HVAC, ventilation, and pumps, we look to make sure they are running and working properly. Our maintenance teams are threadbare and understaffed. They are trying to keep up with the work orders and deal with the wrecks that are our trash enclosures. They are working so hard to maintain our property that sometimes they don’t even think to look up.

This is not an additional task for your maintenance teams. This is a sexy catwalk for you, their management team, and leaders. What if you integrated looking up into your asset walk? What if you created a check list and became that second set of eyes that everyone needs? (I once made a friend for life by stopping a lady from walking out of the restroom with her dress tucked into her panty hose in the back. When she looked in the mirror directly, she thought she was fine, but as an observer waiting to wash my hands, I could see the problem when she could not.) Much like I will need a second set of eyes in reviewing this article, I think it is important that we give our teams that. This should not be a point on which to judge them, but a measure of support in what they do for us every day. We support them and we gain better NOI since the energy costs for the systems I am referring to are owner-paid.

Management support does not increase costs, it reduces them. There is a fancy pants term for what I am referring to and it is called commissioning. It basically means setting up for success and proper functioning. It doesn’t need to be difficult or take an engineer for the low hanging fruit. Look up: are the lights on in your outdoor areas? Look at the pool pump and look at your watch, is the pump running during hours that the pool is not operating? Same with mechanical ventilation systems. You just need to look and provide guidance. As leaders, isn’t that our role? I know you might not think of energy as sexy, I bet you know that good management is.