Efficiency Maine Reaches Milestone: Making 1,000 Multifamily Units More Energy Efficient

(AUGUSTA) Efficiency Maine’s Multifamily Efficiency Program reached a milestone in December: since its launch 18 months ago, the program has helped property managers weatherize more than 1,000 apartment units throughout the state. One thousand more units are already in the pipeline to be weatherized in the year ahead.

Efficiency Maine’s Multifamily Efficiency Program offers building owners incentives to install energy efficiency measures in multifamily buildings that have between 5 and 20 apartment units. Incentives are awarded for such measures as air sealing, insulation, high-efficiency appliances and heating systems.

Based on computer modeling, Efficiency Maine is projecting that program participants will save an average of 26 percent a year on their energy bills. Property owners who meet the program criteria receive up to $1,400 per unit, depending on the installed measures and installation costs.

The program has achieved higher thermal savings per unit than similar programs in other states, according to a recent report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Multifamily programs often struggle with reaching buildings that have fewer than 20 units, so the 1,000-unit milestone in a relatively short period is notable.

“It’s still a tough economy out there, and in some areas of the state, property owners are reluctant to raise rents, so they’re looking for any opportunity they can to reduce their operating costs and save money,” said Max Yates, Acting President of the Maine Apartment Owners and Managers Association, Inc. “Service center communities like Portland, Augusta/Waterville, Lewiston-Auburn, and Bangor have a lot of older, energy inefficient multifamily buildings. Many of the owners do not know where to start to address their energy costs, and without incentives from the program they have a hard time justifying the investment in the energy upgrades.”

Under the program, multifamily building owners receive an energy benchmarking report at no cost. The report compares a building’s energy use with other similarly sized multifamily buildings in Maine, and includes a fuel and electricity cost comparison. The report also provides a list of suggested improvements, including estimated payback, energy cost savings, and installation costs. Perhaps most importantly, the report provides an estimate of how much the property owner might save if installing a set of prescribed measures.

According to Efficiency Maine Program Manager Rick Meinking, installing attic insulation, new systems for heat and hot water, lighting for individual apartments and common areas, and programmable thermostats will commonly reduce energy use by 20%.

After installing these measures, the building owner would receive incentives and benefit from long-term energy savings and reductions in energy bills for years to come. On average, Efficiency Maine covers just under half of the cost of installed measures.

“In past years, commercial multifamily properties with more than four units weren’t eligible for incentives for measures which would save on fossil fuel heating costs, as we did not have a funding source to help these businesses save on their heating bills,” said Meinking. “With this program, we recognize that multifamily buildings are a significant energy consumer, and that these property owners need incentives and technical advice to help them take the first step in the right direction toward saving energy. Many of these property owners were unaware of how much energy they could save by making modest investments until they worked with contractors who partner with Efficiency Maine to provide guidance and technical support.”

Meinking adds that the program is expected to continue at least until June, and may extend beyond that if interest continues to be strong.

“When multifamily apartment units that number in the thousands are improved in terms of being more cost-effective and energy efficient, that impacts the marketplace and also raises the standard for consumers,” said Shelly Clark, Business and Operations Manager for the Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA). “Maine is a small state, and the quality of our housing impacts how we attract businesses and new homeowners to the state that expect to live in energy- efficient dwellings.”

For more information on the program, visit http://www.efficiencymaine.com/at-work/multifamily-program/.