Plugging into Multifamily - The Official Blog of AUM

Multi-Housing News - Making Your Mark

Posted by Alison Hoss on Thu, Nov 13, 2014 @ 03:47 PM

Multi-Housing News (MHN) recently reached out to AUM's Dimitri Kapsis for insight regarding benchmarking in our industry. 

Below you will find the article where Kaspis speaks on behalf of AUM and sheds a light onto AUM's experience with benchmarking in multifamily.

 

Making Your Mark

By Joshua Ayers, Senior Editor - Published November, 10 2014

Most operational tasks at multifamily communities strive to maximize efficiency in order to increase the bottom line. The web-based revolution in the past 10 to 15 years has helped these businesses to streamline their operations and as that technology evolves, companies are taking a closer look at, and improving, the ways they are spending money on property utilities through benchmarking.

So what is benchmarking? Putting it simply, benchmarking is the process of taking an entity’s specific set of metrics and measuring or comparing those metrics to the metrics of another entity or the average of metrics of other similar entities. In multifamily—and commercial and industrial buildings as well—an example would be taking the total use of electricity at one building and comparing that usage against other similar buildings, or the average usage of multiple buildings that are similar in stature.

While this might sound relatively simple, there are several factors that make utility benchmarking at multifamily communities and buildings more difficult than their commercial and industrial counterparts, including sub-metering, resident privacy and the willingness of utility companies to cooperate with requests for accurate data. Having the right tools, finding the right benchmarking vendor and being aware of local, state and federal benchmarking efforts can all help companies to build a benchmarking strategy that will help reduce utility costs and increase NOI.

A few vendors and tools

In order to effectively benchmark utilities, a company needs nothing more than a method of collecting, analyzing and storing the data, as well as a way to determine how other similar multifamily properties are consuming in order to track results. An initial gut response might include opening up Microsoft Excel or signing into Google Drive, but, unfortunately, the labor costs for tedious manual data entry for benchmarking would likely outweigh any savings that could be had, and there would be no guarantee that the data could be appropriately analyzed.

“This can be done in spreadsheets, but it is time consuming and tedious, and the analysis required to do it accurately is not as simple as adding up utility bills,” says benchmarking guru Jonathan Braman, vice president of the New York-based benchmarking company BrightPower. “For example, in climates with a lot of heating or cooling needs, building energy consumption varies a lot based on how hot the summer [is] or cold the winter is. If I installed a new efficient boiler before last winter’s polar vortex, I still probably used more gas than the previous winter. I may have used less than I would have with the boiler—but utility bills alone won’t show that.”

BrightPower is just one of many benchmarking companies that have emerged in the multifamily industry. One tool that the company offers its clients is its EnergyScoreCards platform, which automatically fetches data from most large utilities, and then “provides weather-normalized benchmarks at the building, property and portfolio levels,” he notes.

Braman says that the use of EnergyScoreCards has helped long-term clients decrease utility spending since they started using the project, but he also notes that the benchmarking alone isn’t necessarily a cause for energy saving.

That combined with working with BrightPower analysts can help companies sort through the data. If consumption problems are evident, BrightPower engineers and procurement experts help clients work through the problem.

“Benchmarking only helps owners make better decisions and take action to save energy,” he says. “We think of benchmarking as a critical component of energy management, but it must be combined with smart operations and maintenance, behavioral changes, and in some cases, capital improvements, to save energy.”

Another major player in the benchmarking industry is American Utility Management (AUM) Inc., which has been providing energy management solutions to the multifamily industry since 1994.

AUM Chief Energy Officer Dimitris Kapsis says that the most important tool for benchmarking is good data.

“The most essential tools for benchmarking is the availability of the actual comparative data, its integrity and overall size of the comparative group,” he says.

AUM’s primary benchmarking tool, SCORE, utilizes data captured from a state-of-the-art data capture process that checks the data’s integrity, and then provides benchmarking that takes into account geographic region, property type and other property characteristics and their overall utility usage to rate a property’s energy efficiency again similar peer groups.

Kapsis stresses the importance of the data integrity checks, since manual data entry can be flawed, as can data that comes directly from the utility companies.

“It could be a situation where we have some data entry issues such as fat fingering, or we even have data issues coming from the utility, because unlike the popular consensus, utilities make mistakes and sometimes [they] make big mistakes,” he says.

Once the data is validated and entered into the system, AUM’s system monitors the data for anything that is out of trend, including utility usage.”

“It’s pretty straight forward. We put some variances in place up or down, and if they break through those barriers that we manually set into the system then the system notifies us,” he says. “We look into it as to if it’s a legit variance. If it is, we let it go through the system and the client receives a notification. From there, either themselves or with our help, we can work on fixing the issue.”

Kapsis referenced an AUM Energy Management client with a portfolio of more than 100 properties that was able to identify conservation opportunities through benchmarking efforts that led to $400,000 in annual savings with a ROI in just 13 months.

NWP, which offers benchmarking through its analytics portfolio, offers a product called ScoreCard, which allows clients to rank a property within a portfolio to see how it is doing against its peers.

ScoreCard also takes into account factors such as weather normalization, and benchmarks several utilities both individually and combined.

“You can look at gas, electric and then a combined gas and electric,” says Chris Dorando, product manager for NWP’s Utility Smart product line. “So for instance, if you’re a property that has electric heating and you want to know how that property is performing against other properties in the area that have gas heating, we normalize that so that you can actually make a comparison.”

NWP also works with clients that use the EPA Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which anonymously tracks whole-building energy and water consumption data that can be used for benchmarking.

All three energy management and consulting companies, BrightPower, AUM and NWP, are service and product provider (SSP) partners through the Energy Star Portfolio Manager program. According to Energy Star, SSP partners “have demonstrated their expertise and achievements by meeting strict Energy Star program requirements for benchmarking customer buildings using Portfolio Manager and gaining Energy Star certification for buildings.”

Challenges and the future

Utility benchmarking has been around since the 1990s, but was primarily restricted to more commercial buildings, where whole-building consumption data is easier to acquire and track.

Even though an assortment of industry suppliers have assisted EPA in creating and improving the Portfolio Manager, whole-building data remains one of the biggest challenges for multifamily due to property complexity and the various types of metering structures set up at those properties.

“The main difference between the rest of the industry and multifamily, especially when we’re talking about commercial or retail, is that each individual unit-—an individual unit could be a retail shop or an entire office building—tends to have central metering for electric, gas and water. So, when we capture the data, we know what the entire unit is using on a per-month, quarterly and annual basis.”

This type of cumulative data makes a platform like Portfolio Manager easy to use and compare to other similar properties by type and region.

With multifamily, however, properties can range from garden-style, to high-rise buildings and beyond, with each of those different types of buildings. Utilities across the spectrum can be measured across the entire property, such as water, which tends to be measured by whole-building, combined with utilities such as gas and electric, that are measured in either entire building or individual apartments or somewhere in between.

“To be able to compare apples to apples for a particular property, it’s not just location and type of property, it’s also what type of metering they have in place. And, not just for one type of utility, it could have a diversity of metering types depending on what utility you’re looking at … that was the difficulty that the EPA had up until recently and they still do.”

Currently, whole building data can only be acquired from utilities that have willingly agreed to provide the information in good faith or that have been mandated by
cities to provide the information, with the first option being subject to a variety of
data discrepancies.

“Benchmarking laws in several cities have also helped owners and vendors to improve the process and greatly expand the number of properties benchmarking,” BrightPower’s Braman says.

Kapsis, who notes that owners are gravitating toward individual metering for gas and electric as residents demand more control over factors like individual unit climate settings and knowing their own utility usage, is in agreement that the availability of whole-building data will help with benchmarking.

“As a result of those mandates, we will be able to capture whole-building data,” he says.

Dorando believes that the mandate trend is not going to fade away anytime soon.

“As those urban areas like Seattle and New York and Washington D.C. [and] Chicago start to roll out, I think you’ll start to see a lot more of that happen across the country,” he says. “Other communities will start to follow that. It’s something that’s going to be happening, and it’s something that we help our clients with. It’s pretty cutting edge at this time. I think it’s going to be a valuable tool for the property owners because they’ll be able to really improve their properties.”

As this whole-building data becomes more accessible to vendors and their clients, more research and evidence on the effectiveness of benchmarking will become available to owners and operators.

“People used to say, rightly at the time, that there were no good databases of multifamily energy and water use data, so no one knew what was good or bad,” Braman says. “Now we know.”


Tags: Energy management, Multifamily, Utilities, Submetering, ENERGY STAR, Benchmarking, Data analysis, Data capture

California Market Alert: Assembly Bill 2451 Regarding Submetering is Now Law

Posted by Alison Hoss on Tue, Oct 07, 2014 @ 02:20 PM

 

CA Market Alert: CA Bill 2451 Is Now Law

New law streamlines approval of submeters for use in the state.

California_Map

After numerous attempts over the last year to modify submetering rules in the state of California, AUM, along with many industry players and the office of Assembly Member Tom Daly of the CA 69th District, have successfully drafted California Assembly Bill 2451.  The bill was approved by Governor Brown, Chaptered by Secretary of State Debra Bowen, and is now law.  We are very excited about this successful effort in streamlining the approval process for water submeters as well as lowering the existing liability placed on those that supply, install and use submeters. The chaptered bill:

  • Allows submeters to be tested in one county and used in another
  • Allows approved submeters to be reserved for a period of time
  • Assures testing fees are paid to the county where tested
  • Clarifies that submeters are “placed in service” when they are installed
  • Determines the proper disposal and use of submeters that fail county testing

We are very excited with the cooperrative work between all parties, including the Division of Measurement Standards, and look forward to future positive legislative efforts.

 

Tags: Utility expense Management, Multifamily, Submetering, California, Water

Utilities are Installing Smart Meters; But Who Owns the Data?

Posted by Alison Hoss on Wed, Sep 24, 2014 @ 11:16 AM

 

Over the past few months, we’ve all been inundated with reports on the new Apple iPhone 6 release and all of the new features it has to offer.  It got me to think about all the data that travels through the air, across phone lines and over the internet; and about all the new devices that are being used to gather and send all the data.   The Internet of Everything (IoE) phenomenon, which is the next big wave of how people and things connect to the internet, is growing exponentially.  IoE applications (often Machine-2-Machine applications) include: smart meters, video surveillance, smart cars, package tracking chips, chipped pets and livestock, and digital health monitors.  Today, there are over 2.9 Billion M2M connections and they are projected to grow to 7.3B by 2018. 

But what about the business aspect of all these new devices and resulting data: 

1)    Who Owns the Data? 

2)    Who has Rights to transform the data into valued information?

In the utility world, these are hot topics.  Recently in Chicago, ComEd installed 425,000 smart meters as part of its $2.6B grid-modernization project; that number of smart meters is planned to grow to over 4 million meters.  The list of companies wanting access to the data is almost as long as the number of meters themselves, but no data is flowing.  No one is able to see the benefits of energy efficiency as a result of the new energy information gathered via the smart meters.  Why?  Because regulators are still determining who owns the data (the utility or the customer) and how data is to be released in order to comply with privacy laws.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has established  the “Green Button” as the standard for smart meter data access by customers.  Green Button is a good start.  However, the local utility is the only one who presents the energy data to the customer and only in the format or manner that the utility chooses.  In order to enable the markets to develop products and services around smart meter data, rules must be established to enable easier access to the data for enterprising business as well as property managers like you.

At AUM, we are fortunate to gather all of the utility data from your invoices as a part of our invoice processing service.  On the AUM Advanced Analytics Platform, clients get instant access to their information via a myriad of on-line reports, a first-glance Performance Dashboard with data drill-down capabilities, and other self-serve Ad Hoc Reporting Tools.  

But the next generation of data coming from smart meters has yet to be made easily available to customers and energy solution providers.  AUM’s question to you is:  How should AUM advocate on your behalf to ensure the data is most accessible to you?  What is the best solution to gather your residents’ utility data?  Do you want to access your residents’ usage data in order to help them become more efficient (and enable your properties to become more energy efficient)?

 

Tags: Energy procurement, Multifamily, Utilities, Submetering, utility expense recovery, Energy Efficiency, Data analysis, Data collection, Data capture, energy expenses, analytics

Market Alert Update: Current CA Legislative Session Comes to Close with No Vote on SB411

Posted by Alison Hoss on Tue, Sep 02, 2014 @ 09:51 AM

 

Market Alert Update: Current CA Legislative Session Comes to Close with No Vote on SB411

California_Map

We alerted you last week of CA SB411, the water conservation bill introduced by Senator Lois Wolk of the 3rd District.  AUM, along with other Multifamily industry advocates, worked with Senator Wolk to ensure that Multifamily property owner interests were protected as they related  to billing residents for water.

SB411 was passed late in the legislative session and was not read in the Rules Committee, so the bill will not be voted on this year.  Any future bill must be reintroduced and go through the entire legislative process.  AUM will remain diligent in protecting Multifamily owners’ rights as they relate to resident utility billing. 

 

Tags: Utility expense Management, Multifamily, Submetering, California, Water, SB 411

Texas PUC Takes Over From TCEQ

Posted by Alison Hoss on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 @ 11:11 AM

Texas PUC Takes Over From TCEQ

describe the image

As you may be aware, presently the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has jurisdiction over water/sewer utility billing at multifamily communities. On September 1st, that jurisdiction will be transitioned to the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC). While this may appear to be a drastic shift, it is in fact not.

The PUC has adopted all the same rules and regulations of the TCEQ with one exception. In the past, lease documents must include either the entire set of rules, or a summary of the rules. PUC has eliminated the ability to provide a summary, therefore the entire rule section must be included. The Texas Apartment Association (TAA) has updated their leasing program to include these rules. They also have provided a 4 page print of the rules for those that do not have access to their program which can be found here:

PUC Rules

Future registrations for billing water & sewer should be directed to the PUC and not TCEQ. If you have already submitted forms, the TCEQ will finish the process or pass the application to the appropriate contact at PUC.

Further information may be found at the TCEQ website:

TCEQ

As the PUC takes over the process of regulating water and sewer much like they currently do for electric, we anticipate minor modifications in the program and will keep you informed of these changes.

Tags: Utility expense Management, Multifamily, Submetering, Water, Texas

California Market Alert: SB 411 Amendments Pass Assembly Floor - On to Committee

Posted by Alison Hoss on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 @ 03:38 PM

California Market Alert: SB 411 Amendments Pass Assembly Floor – On to Committee. 

Key amendments protect Multifamily property owners' ability to bill for utilities. 

CA Map

As you may recall, last fall Senate Bill 750 failed to pass out of Assembly Committee.  At that time, AUM was spearheading efforts to protect California Multifamily property owner interests as they related to the Bill. SB750 was to require all structures (with a few exceptions) built after January 1st, 2014 to be individually metered by the water providers, or have submeters installed to measure water use. Under SB750, any charges to residents for water would be determined by the use of a submeter or included in their rent, and any Ratio Utility Billing System (RUBS) would be prohibited.

Since then, AUM, along with several other industry players, has been working on a modification to the bill’s language and formulating its incorporation into a new bill. This new bill, SB411, was successfully amended on Friday Aug. 22nd to include the agreed upon submetering provisions similar to SB750, and is now going to committee. Working with great cooperation with Senator Wolk’s office as well as many other interested parties, the latest version of the bill will satisfy the wants and needs of California.

With similar language from last year’s SB750, the submetering portion of the bill will establish rules surrounding the use and installation of submeters.  The rules established include but are not limited to the following:

  • Nothing will impact existing billing using allocation programs (RUBS)

  • Submeters (or direct metering by the utility provider) will be required for new construction after Jan. 1, 2017

  • Admin/Billing fee up to $4.75 or 25% of the utility charge with future CPI increases

  • Addition that nothing prohibits any other lawfully allowed charges to be on a utility bill

  • Late fees of $7.00 if not paid within 25 days, increased to $10 if not paid by the next billing cycle

  • Failure to pay balance shall be a curable material breach of the lease allowing termination of the lease following existing tenant landlord laws

  • Unpaid amounts may be deducted from security deposit at end of tenancy

  • Written lease must include disclosure of charges & billing methods as well as upon request submeter information such as location and testing registration

  • Estimated submeter reads (if unavailable) shall be 75% of prior average

  • Excluded from these rules are Low-Income housing, student dormitories, long-term health care, and time-share properties.  Further exemptions may be allowed by the Department of Housing and Community Development in anticipation of infeasibility in high-rise structures.

  • The utility provider cannot charge additional “connection” charges for submeters.

All billing providers will need to update their billing practices, as well as landlords and their lease documents.  As such, the rules will not become operative until Jan. 1, 2017 to allow adequate time for compliance.

This has been a long road, and we feel confident that this bill will be embraced by everyone now that the details are open for public comment.  We look forward to its speedy approval and signature into law by Governor Brown in the coming weeks.  The amended bill, SB 411 can be found here: 

CA SB 411

Tags: Utility expense Management, Submetering, California, Water, SB 411, SB 750

California SB 750 Fails to Pass Committee

Posted by Jeff Peterson on Thu, Sep 05, 2013 @ 03:30 PM

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Bill Will NOT be Revisited During 2013 Legislative Session

 

California Senate Bill 750 will not be proceeding during the 2013 Legislative Session.  AUM, through our lobbying group the UCC, has confirmed that the bill’s author, Senator Lois Wolk, will not be pursuing passage in 2013.  The bill did not pass the Senate Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on August 13th due in part to the UCC’s lobbying efforts pointing out several key issues that needed to be resolved.  Prior to the start of the 2014 session, all parties involved will be working together to craft a bill that will equitably satisfy the overall goal of the bill to conserve water.

While the bill is not moving forward at this time, the progress made over the past year makes it clear that much can be accomplished when all parties, on both sides, work in conjunction.  The UCC, along with several other groups including but not limited to the CAA and UMCA are looking forward to making great progress in the coming months.  Look for updates in 2014 when the California Legislature reconvenes.

Tags: Utility expense Management, Submetering, California, Water, SB 750

Market Alert- California SB 750 Fails to Pass Committee - Senator Wolk's Office Working to Revise

Posted by James Kenneally on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 @ 02:21 PM

describe the imageCalifornia SB 750, requiring submetering on newly constructed Multifamily properties, did not gain enough votes on Tuesday to pass out of the California Assembly Committee on Water, Parks & Wildlife.  

Stakeholders involved on both sides of the aisle are now working on possible modificationsto gain enough support, or tabling to the next legislative calendar.  AUM will continue working diligently with California Lobbyists, the California Apartment Association, CA Senator Wolk's Office, and other utility billing providers to ensure that multifamily property owner's interests are protected.  

Be sure to subscribe to this blog to get the latest events on CA SB750 as they unfold.

Tags: Utility expense Management, Submetering, California, Water, SB 750

California Senate Bill 750 Passes Senate Floor - On to the CA House

Posted by James Kenneally on Fri, May 31, 2013 @ 10:47 AM

As expected, California Senate Bill 750 (SB750) passed the California Senate late on Wednesday evening.  The official vote was 27-11.  Prior to floor vote, our effort to further amend the bill was successful.  The latest version of the bill includes the ability to charge residents an administration fee for the recovery of the expense of the billing program.  While it does not go as far as the existing San Diego Municipal Code, it does allow for a maximum $4.00 fee, with future increases tied to Consumer Price Index. 

The amendments agreed upon are very positive and indicate that both sides are willing to have open debate to create a bill that works for all stakeholders.  That being said, more work is necessary.  During the presentation on the Senate Floor, it was acknowledged by Senator Wolk (bill author) that more issues remain to be resolved and that she is committed to working with us on these issues.  Some of these include the following:

  • It fails to address well-known problems affecting submeter supply;

  • It establishes unreasonable new rules for operating and managing rental properties when submeters are installed;

  • It requires a number of provisions which make the submetering mandate unworkable; and

  • It arbitrarily caps fees for late payments on water bills.

 

We will continue working diligently to assist Senator Wolk with further amendments to the bill that protect our mutual interest and result in responsible legislation to drive utility conservation in California.  With its Senate passage, the bill continues to the Assembly side of the legislature.  As progress is made, we will provide further updates.

Tags: Submetering, California, SB 750, water billing, utility expense recovery

California Senate Bill 750 Update

Posted by James Kenneally on Fri, May 10, 2013 @ 09:35 AM

describe the imageBill read and passed in Committee with significant changes – current RUBS billing properties excluded, other amendments being considered.


As communicated in April, AUM was spearheading efforts to protect California Multifamily property owner interests as they relate to CA Senate Bill 750 (See California Market Alert). SB750 would require all structures (with a few exceptions) built after January 1st, 2014 to be individually metered by the water providers, or have submeters installed to measure water use. Under SB750, any charges to residents for water would be determined by the use of a submeter or included in their rent. Any Ratio Utility Billing System (RUBS) would be prohibited.


Specific Issues with CASB 750

We spoke to the staff attorney of the Republican Caucus for the CA Judiciary Committee, and laid out specifics on the issues with the Bill:

  • Under the draft of CA SB750, fees related to resident utility billing programs would be prohibited from being passed on, preventing recovery of costs to manage the program.

  • Onerous submeter testing and certification requirements would not be changed. Aside from the cost of submeter installation ($150-$250 per unit), the current certification process, as administered by the County Department of Measurement Standards (better known as Weights and Measures – DWM), rejects almost 20% of the tested submeters. Sending a new meter to pass the test results in an additional cost of $100 per submeter.

  • Unreasonable and unnecessary regulations place criminal liability on anyone who submits a submeter which fails its certification test, even though it has not been installed in an apartment.

So let’s take an example: A property owner has 1,000 apartment units in CA, all previously built. To install submeters in all 1,000 units (per CASB750) would cost the property owner at least $250,000. But 20% of the submeters would need to be retested, (as the “benches” used to test the meters are different throughout the state thus not all test to the same level coupled with CA using NIST standards and meter manufacturers building meters to meet AWWA standards) adding another $20,000 to the cost. Total cost to retrofit the units: $270,000.


Although a bill written to streamline the submeter certification process passed both houses in the CA state legislature last year (CASB 744), it was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown. That veto, combined with the passage of CA SB 750 will create enormous cost and timing pressures on submeter installation.

 

AUM Championing Amendments to the Bill

First Noteworthy Amendment - As expected, SB 750 passed the California Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon. The official vote was 5-1, with one “no” vote.

Prior to the committee hearing, our effort to amend the bill on one topic was successful – it will not prohibit RUBS billing at properties already utilizing such a program and will not fall under the onerous proposed restrictions of CA SB 750.

Second Noteworthy Amendment - During the hearing, it was acknowledged by Senator Wolk (bill author) that prohibiting the recovery of administration fees must be addressed. She cited San Diego Municipal Code 6 Article 7, Chapter 6, which allows for reasonable administration and late fees, as a possible model for future amendments.

We will continue working diligently to assist Senator Wolk with amendments to the bill that protect our mutual interest and result in responsible legislation to drive utility conservation in California. The next stop for this bill (amended or not) will be the full California Senate floor before May 31st.

We are working diligently to ensure we can get the bill amended (favorably) prior to heading back to the Senate floor.

Tags: Utility expense Management, Submetering, California, Water, water billing, Senate Bill 750