How to Get the Energy Star Plaque in Multifamily Buildings

How to Get the Energy Star Plaque in Multifamily Buildings

Apartment buildings have a new way to show off how energy efficient they are: an Energy Star score from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If the score is high enough, a building can even get an Energy Star plaque to go next to its front door.

That provides a nice alternative for apartment building owners and managers who have efficient buildings but don’t want to pay for more expensive green building certification, like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, which can cost upwards of $50,000, including the cost of hiring experts to visit the property.

The Energy Star score measures the energy performance of an apartment property relative to other apartment properties. Here’s how it works: the score is a percentile rating that runs from zero to 100. A score of 50 represents the typical level of energy use—the property is as energy efficient at 50 percent of similar buildings. The higher the score, the more efficient a property is—a score of 99 means a property is as efficient or more efficient than 99 percent of its peers.

How to get a score

To be rated by the EPA, an apartment property will need to document 12 month of its energy use for all energy types—the scoring system uses this information to figure the energy intensity use for the property. Building managers can enter the information into Portfolio Manager, an information tool on the EPA website, which already benchmarks 40 percent of U.S. commercial building space.

Managers will also need to enter physical information about the property, including its size and location. The scoring system uses this information to figure the predicted source energy use intensity. If the predicted energy use and the actual energy use match, the property should get a score of 50.

A property that uses less than the predicted energy use will get a higher score. To get an Energy Star rating, a property needs a score of at least 75. If the property is worthy of an Energy Star rating, the building is eligible to receive an Energy Star seal. Managers can use the seal on their marketing materials to brag about their energy efficient properties. To make it official, managers and building owners will need to get the information they entered into Portfolio Manager certified. The cost is relatively low.

Managers will need to hire a professional engineer or registered architect to verify their building’s energy information. Typically, it costs approximately ½ to 1 cent per square foot, according to EPA. That would probably work out to less than $500 for a 50,000 sq. ft. apartment building. Certification is given on an annual basis, so the building has to continue to keep its energy use low, and it will have to keep ahead of its peers as more buildings become energy efficient. A relatively small difference in energy use can make a significant difference in a property’s score. Most properties use slightly more or slightly less than the average amount of energy, with a few outliers that use dramatically more or less energy. To get a score of 75 or higher, a property’s energy use intensity should be less than 82 percent of its predicted source energy use intensity. To be saddled with a low score of 25, a property’s energy use intensity only needs to be 145 percent of its predicted energy use intensity.

Data from a few properties

The scoring data is based on Fannie Mae’s Multifamily Energy and Water Market Research Survey, released in early September. Fannie Mae collected data from more than 1,000 properties, but the EPA cut that set down to the 322 properties that had the most complete data to create its scoring system. EPA also set aside data from non-standard properties, for example properties with fewer than 20 units, properties with fewer than 2.75 units per 1,000 sq. ft. and properties with more than 2 million sq. ft. (there was only one of these huge properties in the data set).

The scoring system takes into account the type of building: each property is compared to other properties with a similar number of units and a similar number of bedrooms per unit. That’s important because the number of bathrooms per bedroom can have a big effect on the amount of energy used per unit. The ratio of common area space to rentable space also makes a big difference. The scoring system takes into account the local weather and climate, based on heating and cooling degree days for the zip code where the property is located.

The score for multifamily applies to residential properties with 20 units or more. If an apartment community includes several buildings, then the score will apply to the whole campus, averaging together the energy use of all the buildings.