Housing California Workshop Presentation, Green Rehabs: How to Get What You Pay For

Green rehabs, otherwise known as building upgrades focused on improving energy efficiencies, offer many benefits. Lower operating costs and tenant bills, improved reputation, better air quality, and increased comfort are just some of the advantages.

On Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 alongside LINC Housing/SEED Partners, Primus Building Solutions, and EAH Housing, Partner Energy presented the “Green Rehabs: How to Get What You Pay For” workshop at the 36th Annual Housing California Conference.

The panel consisted of Samara Larson, Director of Sustainability at LINC Housing/SEED Partners; Tania Boysen, Director of Construction Management Services at Primus Building Solutions; Lisa Goddard, Sustainability Program Manager at EAH Housing; Tony Liou, President of Partner Energy and Kelsey Shaw, Sustainability Consultant at Partner Energy.

Kelsey Shaw, Tony Liou, and a client of Partner Energy, posing for a picture in between workshop sessions.
Kelsey Shaw, Tony Liou, and a client of Partner Energy, posing for a picture in between workshop sessions.

Housing California is one of the premiere events in the state for affordable housing developers, with over 1,100 participants including developers, lenders, architects, contractors, consultants and other vendors. With more than 75 workshops and pre-conference institutes, topics of discussion covered affordable housing financing, resident services, design and construction, developments in state and local regulations, and of course, energy efficiency and sustainability in the affordable housing industry. Energy efficiency requirements are relatively new for many developers. Partner Energy plays an important role in educating and offering project support through the process.

There are an increasing number of energy disclosure and efficiency regulations, which means that property owners will likely have to perform energy audits or implement energy upgrades or retrofits in order to comply. Energy efficiency requirements are relatively new for many developers. Staying informed about the latest regulations, technologies and processes is critical to ensure compliance.

Although regulations create the initial push for property owners to comply, challenges do arise when it comes to maintaining momentum and executing a green rehab successfully.

The panel presented a skit on the story of a CTCAC rehab, as seen through the perspective of a developer, general contractor, energy engineer, and tenant. One of the challenges of successful implementation is effective communication and timely coordination between parties throughout the entirety of a project. The presentation emphasized the need for early and consistent coordination among all party members. While having an integrated team is fundamental, there are other elements to consider that contribute to the success of a project. These include:

Deferred Maintenance
Lack of funding, minimal in-house expertise, and lack of manpower, are just some of the reasons that maintenance can be deferred in a multifamily property. While some degree of deferred maintenance is almost inevitable with rehabs, there are best practices for coping with this common issue. First, it’s important to recognize and understand the scale of the problem. Performing a facility assessment, interviewing property management and contractors, reviewing maintenance records and conducting destructive testing are ways to access the scale and severity of the issue at hand. Once the scope of the problem is understood, it is then easier to quantify and communicate the impact the deferred maintenance has caused; in terms of budget, but also in terms of potential liability and safety risks. The next phase of coping is to prioritize projects and develop a strategy to secure adequate funding for the most critical issues. The highest priorities are usually liability, health and safety and protecting the building envelope and structural stability, once these items are addressed, it allows the team to focus on the less critical and yet important components of the rehab, including energy efficiency and sustainability, optimizing the post-rehab building operations and resident comfort and achieving the desired aesthetic improvements that serve as the visual indicator of a successful rehab project.

Rebates and Incentives
As presented in the skit, being compliant was the main goal for the rehab, but obtaining a rebate was something that was neglected. The bonus of getting a $100,000 rebate was overlooked due to time constraints and unpreparedness. Although rebates are not available in every area where a rehab takes place, there are usually some great opportunities available. There are many programs and initiatives designed for property owners to help offset the cost of implementing green rehabs. For example, in California, one well known program is Energy Upgrade California’s Multifamily Program, which not only provides technical assistance to property owners looking who are looking to make improvements to their properties, but also offers cash back incentives as rewards for properties that successfully reduce their energy consumption. These rebates can be small off-sets or significant budget line items, but quire often these rebates can cover the entire cost of energy consultant’s work. It’s important to coordinate with an energy consultant or general contractor when opting to utilize rebates or incentives so that eligibility and deadlines are met successfully.

Involvement and Engagement
Engagement is imperative in the rehab process. Training and education on manuals and new systems of operation is a crucial step in making sustainability pay off. The importance of communicating early and often with both residents and building operators cannot be over-emphasized. Being receptive to feedback is also important in the listening aspect of communication. Educating tenants on how to maintain their unit – e.g. something as basic as teaching them how to operate a new thermostat – is actually a fundamental key to ensuring that the energy saving measures that were added to the property are actually maintained in a comprehensive manner. Just as communication is key among the construction team from the beginning of the project, communication with residents and building operators upon project completion is key to ensure that the green and sustainable project features are understood by all the significant stakeholders at the property.

Although rehabs come with challenges, the benefits far outweigh any issues that may appear while the project is under construction. Hurdles can be overcome if an integrated and coordinated team works collectively to understand all the elements involved in a green rehab. In the end, the satisfaction of getting what you pay for is every party’s ultimate goal.

Kelsey Shaw – Sustainability Consultant


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