Rethink Energy: Condominium Values, Dues and the Buffet Effect

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy team (AIRE). This county program helps you make smart energy decisions that save you money and leaves a lighter footprint on the environment. Got a question? Email us at [email protected]!

A treasurer of an Arlington condo asked us what utility actions can be taken in a condo building. Contrary to popular belief, there is zero correlation between the age of a building and its energy performance. What matters most is how the building is managed.

Let’s dig into this a bit.

Condos are some of the most sustainable places to live. These units usually require less energy to heat and cool than single-family homes because they share walls, floors, and ceilings. Multifamily properties also tend to be located on Metro corridors, making it easier for residents to walk and take public transportation. That’s all good news.

The downside of condo living is that most condos charge a flat association fee. This means that there is no incentive to use less water, or energy if also included. This is called the ‘buffet effect.’ That isn’t necessarily great news.

Why should you care how much water or energy your neighbor uses? Higher utility bills mean higher association dues. Condo prices and association fees generally have an inverse relationship, so higher association fees often depress the unit sale price of a condo.

How can you protect your investment and keep costs down? Here are three ways to start:

Track utilities You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Use a free tool like ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio manager. Apartment and condo buildings can now compare their usage to a national database using ENERGY STAR’s 1-100 scale. Utility usage should be a regular item at condo Board meetings.

Offer rebates for residents to retrofit water fixtures — Water bills are often the highest cost utility for condos and represent a huge opportunity. Hyde Park is an example of an Arlington condo that successfully offered rebates to residents to replace toilets with high efficiency models. They ran the program for three years. Other properties have given out or installed water-saving faucet aerators free of charge for residents that voluntarily agreed to install them.

Replace lighting with efficient LED lighting — LED lights use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last 25 times longer. Ballston Park is a good example of an Arlington Condo building that is proactively managing their building to keep costs down. In 2011 they performed a retrofit of 330 common area lights from incandescent to LED bulbs. They reduced the wattage of their bulbs by 85%. Some properties that have one master electric meter for all units have also handed out free LED lights to each unit to raise awareness of this issue. Dominion Power is currently offering lighting rebates to properties to retrofit their common area or garage lighting.

Would you like a member of the Rethink Energy Team to attend you Board Meeting to discuss energy? We would love to support your property to take action and save money. Email us at [email protected].

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