Thursday, October 2, 2008

Retrofitting apartments

I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a workshop organized by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and the Greater Toronto Apartment Association (GTAA) on the topic of retrofitting apartment buildings. While OPSEU doesn't operate apartment buildings, we do have many members who work in building maintenance and trades for different employers.

So what did I learn?

The session was kicked off by Brad Butt from thhe GTAA who came at it from the perspective of landlords who hoped to improve their bottom line. He argued that energy efficient buildings have a higher resale value than energy hogs. He talked a bit about the challenge of retrofitting while residents are still living in the building. Utilities now comprise about 1/3 of an apartment buildings cost - a big change from the days of cheap oil, natural gas & water. He had positive comments about Toronto Mayor David Miller's plan to support the retrofit 1,000 buildings in Toronto.

Tim Stoate from the TAF was up next. His main point was that the business case for retrofitting was very strong because these capital INVESTMENTS (not costs) were paid back in fairly short order. So not only is the money recouped but the property value increases and further income is generated after the payback period. And of course, energy usage & greenhouse gases are reduced. He suggested that these investments can be made without raising rents.

The panel of speakers from both private and public highrise apartment housing suppliers were next. First up was Adam Krehme from the O'Shanter Development Company. Krehme has been involved with energy efficiency since 1980. He talked about changing technologies and the challenge of choosing the right ones. Another benefit from retrofitting and putting in measurement and monitoring systems was the credits that will be available in the future should a "cap and trade" carbon system be implemented in Ontario and Canada. Krehme stongly highlighted the necessity of:
1) Monitoring current use with reports that show hourly and even minute by minute usage of different types of energy and water. Monitoring - and setting a baseline - is the only way to be able to verify energy (and dollar) savings.
2) Upgrade building automation systems. Once the baseline is set, changes can then begin to be implemented.
3) Continued monitoring and review can determine if the systems are performing as promised by vendors. One of the weaknesses of organizations which implement improvements is that they do not regularly review the results.

Next up was Andrew Pride from the Minto Green Team. Minto was the first (and perhaps only) company to have an apartment building designed and built to The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. His first advice to building managers who wanted to improve their "energy planning" was to "understand your building" and to go into the basement and other places one might not visit. In his slide presentation, he showed "before and after" examples of new hot water boilers. Many of the inefficiencies of the old system were evident from the photos. Pride also talked about the relationship between retrofitting old buildings and designing new buildings and how the expertise is shared within his company. He identified the importance of communicating with and involving the operators in looking for more efficiencies and to allay their fears that new technology might imperil their jobs. His main message was "measure, measure, measure". He also advised of the importance of holding vendors feet to the fire so that the payoffs are the same as the promises made. He talked about "greenwashing" and that there are some vendors who make promises that they don't deliver on. He recommends building guarantees into the contracts.

Last up in this panel was Philip Jeung from the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC). OPSEU represents a number of workers at the TCHC in Local 529. Jeung noted that TCHC manages thousands of rental units which use about $100,000,000 a year in energy. Jeung outlined the steps for developing a business case including a feasibility study, risk assessment and environmental mandate. He reiterated the importance of setting an example because the TCHC is in the public sector. In addition to a variety of energy saving steps taken including compact fluourescent lighting, low flush toilets and high efficiency boilers, Jeung touched on some pilots TCHC is involved in for the production of clean energy.

All in all, it was a very useful workshop. Whether one is retrofitting an entire apartment building, house or office building, the same principles apply - Monitor, review regularly, develop information systems to measure & tweak and communicate.

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