Fuel Prices Taking Their Toll? Formulate a Cooperative Response

It seems as if many of us have been here before. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, fuel prices escalated faster than any professional forecasters in the field thought were imaginable, with heating oil soaring faster than gas, electricity, or steam. Owners and managers of buildings snapped into action by demanding a reduction in prices, while others made prescriptive improvements in their buildings that were highly influenced by product salespeople. New windows, new boiler, switch fuels. Not many saw a reduction in bills from these misdirected improvements designed to save energy. Prices stabilized, and the problems seemed to go away.

Considering inflated dollars, all fuels (despite the recent price jumps), are cheaper today than they were in 1980; the recent price spikes, particularly oil and electricity, have raised the hackles, yet not the awareness, of most cooperatives on measured, long-range approaches to fuel usage, cost, and analysis. This is not a "snap your fingers and solve the problem" strategy, but rather, a multi-step approach to managing your energy budget.

Your building fuel and electricity usage are typically monitored by cost, not by consumption. In the case of oil, those that have shopped around for years have always gotten low prices, and energy budgets reflect this. More important, however, is to examine your heating/hot water fuel usage and your electricity usage by consumption per square foot. In the case of heating and cooling fuel usage, the severity of weather should be factored into the equation. In all cases, a building needs to track historical usage and what that usage means to your overall building budget.

Know How Much You Use

The assumption in this article reflects the most common form of heating and hot water generation in New York City, where a central boiler, either steam or hot water, provides both heat and hot water. Those with a separate hot water system can look at this fuel analysis method and still break out hot water versus heating usage. Most managing agents can tell you about annual dollars or overall consumption in your building; some that are very aware look at overall usage per apartment or per room. Most do not track how much fuel is used to make hot water in the summer or heat and hot water in the winter. There are some simple methods for doing this that will be described below, but first one needs to understand fuel usage between deliveries.

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