The benefits of monitoring your building's performance

EDF Climate Corps fellow | July 8, 2009

By Lindsay McCombs, MBA candidate, University of North Carolina, 2009 Climate Corps fellow at Grubb Properties, member of Net Impact

With falling asset values and limited access to capital, many in the real estate industry are spending their time on the next best thing to doing deals: going green. Not only do energy and water efficient buildings have relatively low operating costs, Asset Managers report that these buildings also have high occupancy rates, quick space absorption and proud tenants.

As a Climate Corps Intern, I am working with Grubb Properties to identify and evaluate energy efficiency improvements for their portfolio of commercial and multi-family real estate in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C. In addition to working with existing buildings, I have been working with the development team to create efficiency guidelines for new construction.  I have helped internal committees establish company sustainability practices and evaluate the feasibility of using renewable energy to light buildings.

Last week, I attended the Urban Land Institute's Investing and Developing Green conference to get a better sense of where the real estate industry is heading and the best ways to get involved with the green movement.

While there is still great uncertainty as to how "green" will play out in the real estate industry, one similarity among the conference, the Climate Corps Fellowship training and my experience at Grubb Properties is the trend towards monitoring building performance, reporting that information publicly and including energy efficiency as part of on-going, preventative maintenance.


Whether it is through a simple spreadsheet or complex energy management software, more and more building managers are beginning to monitor their building's annual resource consumption. The EPA's free online Energy Star Portfolio Manager is popular with institutional investors because it enables managers to enter data about existing buildings – office, retail and even multifamily – and benchmark their performance against similar and competing buildings. This program adjusts for climate, energy costs, building size and even occupancy rates so that managers can track their building's progress over time.

Although energy and water can account for between 20% and 30% of a building's operating cost, many building managers lack a system to quantify how resource consumption has changed over time, even after making relatively simple investments in lighting and bathroom fixture upgrades. But, as retrofits get more complicated and expensive, owners (and buyers, too) will want to know just how their investment in HVAC or lighting controls is paying off in terms of lower operating costs and higher building values. If building managers start monitoring electric, gas and water consumption today, they will be able to quantify the savings and added value tomorrow.


According to a source at the ULI conference, only about one-third of existing buildings could ever achieve LEED certification – but that does not mean an existing building cannot run efficiently. The Energy Star Portfolio Manager and its benchmarking process  allows building managers to identify and resolve systematic problems, start tracking investments in energy efficiency and support a marketing platform to attract new tenants and excite existing tenants and employees who may be interested in "green" space.

In Europe, all buildings are now rated in terms of resource efficiency and now display, or soon will, those ratings, much like a health inspector's certificate, for tenants and visitors to see. This may soon become standard practice in the Unites States, as well. Building owners who start benchmarking and reporting energy consumption now will have a much easier time – and likely more favorable scores – by the time they have to actually start reporting that information to the public.

Ongoing Maintenance

When buildings are designed to meet standards for energy efficiency and other environmental attributes, trusting owners and managers assume buildings will perform as designed – and continue to do so in perpetuity. However, this is generally not the case. Engineers, developers and property managers at the ULI conference claimed that in most cases, "commissioning" – the process which is required for LEED certification when a third party evaluates and verifies whole building performance – more than pays for itself by discovering costly inefficiencies due to poor installation or simple wear and tear. This type of thorough, systematic, unbiased assessment will add years of life to any building – LEED certified or not.

While most existing buildings will never qualify for LEED certification because of inherent design characteristics, that doesn't mean they can't run more efficiently. By tracking a building's energy and water use performance, building managers can monitor the effectiveness of programs, compare one building to its competitors, quantify and communicate progress with tenants and keep occupancy levels high, so that any building is run as an efficient, green machine!

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