Tracking Building Energy Usage Energy by the Foot

Recent studies of energy usage in multifamily buildings have revealed that the least efficient buildings use up to seven times the energy of the most efficient—even when those buildings are otherwise similar.

It should surprise few readers to hear that a large number of buildings waste significant amounts of energy. In these days of high-profile environmental initiatives by Hollywood stars, mainstream hybrid cars and “green” lifestyle television programming, environmental awareness is at an all-time high.

While the widespread acknowledgment that there is a problem marks an important shift in the environmental debate, our tendency to assume that everything from the past was wrong may also lead us to favor new technology before we examine how our old approaches were wrong.

Filling the Gaps

In his September 2006 column 7 to 1 Solution, energy consultant and GreenHomeNYC board member Andy Padian detailed a number of energy usage studies in multifamily buildings he conducted for the New York City-based energy consultancy Steven Winter Associates (SWA). Several studies over a 10-year period revealed staggering differences in the energy usage among similar buildings.

Utilizing technology and making upgrades to existing infrastructure may offer significant efficiency gains. SWA’s most striking observation, though, is not simply how badly the worst buildings performed relative to the best. It is how little building management understands about how their buildings are performing—even when that performance is better than average.

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