I am a sleuth, spending much of my time uncovering water and energy pigs at my  properties. As such, the best advice I can give to apartment managers is this: a simple year-over-year review of utility expense is not enough. Compare properties against one another to truly understand performance.

Mine is a tale of three properties. The first is a gas. Literally. While small in stature, a quaint 103-unit townhome community sits just outside Cleveland, Ohio. Most notable is its huge punch of gas consumption on my bottom line each month.

Just a simple visit to the property told me all I needed to know. The place was full of gas lamps; they were everywhere and on constantly. And there is no way to turn them off. Ever. The Village at Western Reserve is a small lesson in local history and I have since learned, firsthand, that perpetuity has its price.

In 1849 the first gas was brought to Cleveland expressly for lighting and it quickly grew into a great public utility. The Cleveland Gas Light and Coke Company and the Peoples Gas Light Company supplied and flourished within the city for decades. Eventually, and with great controversy, East Ohio Gas Company laid its pipes to the city in competition with the artificial gas companies; the natural gas brought from the West Virginia fields could be furnished cheaper than gas could be manufactured.

What ensued was great public angst, years of swirling consternation, and a legislative appetite to price fix said commodity.

What a difference a century makes. Preserving history is one thing, energy efficiency and asset performance is quite another. Still, the gas lights stay. Not because of my love of history but instead, because it’s cheaper to keep them. Honestly, I’ve yet to find an equitable solution to replace the illumination legacy without spending far more than it costs to keep the gas light burning.

For a cost-containment exercise in water, I suggest the aptly-named Atlanta, Georgia-property, The Falls. This jewel in the AEC portfolio made the radar when its water consumption tipped 3 million gallons a month. The remedy came in adding dual-flush toilet flappers and low-flow aerators to the faucets and showers. Water consumption at the 504-unit property has now dropped significantly, cutting the utility cost nearly in half.

The metro D.C. area is location to my final and biggest utility challenge: the 250-unit property, Dwell Vienna Metro in Fairfax, Virginia. By any standard, and certainly in comparison to its nearest neighbors, Dwell Vienna’s electricity use is off the consumption charts.

As it turns out, its underground parking garage where the lights are on 24/7 for security and simple functionality, continue to drive its common area electricity consumption, sky-high.

This might be the property that keeps me up at night as I have yet to come to a cost-effective solution to cure the problem. To retrofit the garage with any other type of lighting would be costly. My goal is to reduce the property’s electricity consumption with ROI inside 12 months. I’ll likely have to wait for rebates on this one because until then, the deal doesn’t pencil.


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