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Can Condos, Apartments Use Less Energy? Seattle Thinks So

PHOTO: Seattle is full of apartments and condos. Now renters can learn which ones are the most energy-efficient. Photo credit: Benjamin Morton.
PHOTO: Seattle is full of apartments and condos. Now renters can learn which ones are the most energy-efficient. Photo credit: Benjamin Morton.
September 27, 2012

SEATTLE - Owners of big apartment buildings and condo complexes in Seattle will be tracking and reporting their energy use to the city starting Monday, Oct. 1. It's part of the city's effort to encourage energy efficiency, and already is in effect for commercial buildings.

The Energy Benchmarking program allows comparisons between buildings - which ultimately should give an edge to the most energy-efficient ones. Rebecca Baker, the program manager, says people looking for a place to rent or buy will soon be able to see the building's energy score, just by asking.

"The information is all captured in a consistent format, and it's available to the general public as they consider their next place to rent, to purchase or, actually, to help finance."

She says the information is collected by building, not by individual apartment unit. The results won't be available online, but building owners must give them to anyone who asks. The reporting requirement is for multifamily residential buildings larger than 50,000 square feet. Mid-sized buildings (between 20,000 and 50,000 sq. ft.) will need to report next year. For smaller buildings (under 20,000 sq. ft.), the program is voluntary.

One thing they've learned from other cities with similar programs is that just because a building is older doesn't mean it's less energy-efficient, adds Baker.

"Indeed, that's a myth - that older buildings do not perform well. They actually are able to show specifically that that's not the case. And that's an important thing for people to understand, is that all buildings need to be monitored and maintained over time."

Bellwether Housing owns and manages 28 apartment complexes in the Seattle area, and agreed to test the benchmarking program for the past year. Lynda Carey, the company's construction and asset manager, says it has taught them a lot about where to make energy-saving changes. She thinks landlords should view it not as a hassle but as an opportunity to improve their property and save energy and money.

"It depends on the building owner's point of view as a citizen of the earth, not just of your plot of land. The more information we can share amongst the neighborhood and citywide, the better off we all are. It's the right thing to do."

The city says the benchmarking program also gives an economic boost to companies that provide services such as weatherization and lighting upgrades. Building owners are learning to comply with the new ordinance through free training, a drop-in help center and a technical assistance helpline.

Information about the program is online at seattle.gov/energybenchmarking.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA