What will whole building data reveal?

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Mary calls for use of whole building data

“Don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get for the work you didn’t do.” –Unknown

On January 25, 2024, HUD, the DOE and EPA joined forces in a superhero mashup to sign a joint letter to utility companies to request that all utility providers give multifamily properties access to whole building data on consumption of water and energy.

Whole building data is a combination of the readings of all the meters related to a utility for a building or property. For electricity, this means the consumption from all of the common area meters (which owners and operators typically get today) PLUS the consumption from all of the resident meters. The formula for whole building data typically looks something like this: Owner Paid + Resident Paid = Whole Building data.

In markets where there is some sort of regulatory requirement to benchmark the property in EnergyStar Portfolio Manager, those local jurisdictions already require that the utility providers (mostly for energy, but sometimes for water as well) provide this data so that operators can fulfill the regulatory requirement.  The point is, the utility providers can set up processes to provide the information, so this is not impossible. So why do we care?

Think of whole building data like a speedo for your building. It can be unflattering for a plethora of reasons as it will reveal all our construction and operational choices as they relate to the units. Yes, you may argue that residents are responsible for their consumption, and we cannot control them. That is true. But what tools have we given them?

We don’t typically improve the efficiency of the units because we don’t always see or pay those bills. We point to a “split incentive” as the justification for leaving units out of efficiency projects. LED lights in the common area? Absolutely! In the units? Maybe. What is the efficiency of those baseboard heaters in the units compared to what we install in our amenity spaces? How many properties out there were constructed with efficient windows for the units? How much insulation do we put in the walls of our buildings and in the ceilings above our top floor units? Enough to only comply with code minimums, or do we go further? How efficient are the appliances we’ve installed?

In consumption within a home only 30% is attributed to plug load, the rest is related to the performance of what we did or didn’t install. When whole building data becomes available, all our choices will be revealed.

I believe that with enough pressure and incentives, our industry is going to get whole building data. What we do with that data and how it changes our choices is what I am curious to see. Regardless of what we find out, I hope as an industry we are not surprised.