More savings for more residents: progress in multifamily housing energy efficiency

15 Jun 2017

In 2013, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released a study of the nation’s largest multifamily home markets and the customer-funded utility energy efficiency programs that serve them. Using a combination of housing, utility, and policy data, ACEEE analyzed the potential to create or expand these programs in metropolitan markets. Researchers concluded that while the necessary conditions existed for new or expanded programs in most metro areas, the multifamily housing market as a whole was relatively underserved compared with single-family and commercial buildings. The following report compares 2014 and 2015 data with 2011 information used for the previous ACEEE study to determine how multifamily markets and energy efficiency programs have changed.

This research reveals that the number of multifamily households has grown in almost all metro areas, but many apartments and condominiums in use today were constructed before 1980 and still represent the bulk of multifamily housing. Buildings constructed before 1980 tend to be less energy efficient because they predate the adoption of energy code standards, and these buildings are often the most in need of energy efficiency upgrades. Roughly half of the MSAs included in this report contain mostly apartments and condominiums built before 1980. Metro areas along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts have the highest share of these older buildings. While these markets have grown very little in the years since ACEEE’s 2013 report, several smaller markets in the interior of the county have seen substantial growth. This is especially true for the Southeast, where many new apartments and condominiums have been constructed since 2000.

Energy efficiency programs designed specifically to serve multifamily owners and residents have grown since our 2013 review. Both utility regulators and local government policies have been important factors in this expansion. State regulators set the terms and incentives for efficiency programs to operate. Several local governments now require multifamily buildings to benchmark their energy use against similar properties. This can often motivate owners to upgrade their buildings and seek out efficiency program products and services.

The results show that affordable housing units occupy a considerable portion of the multifamily buildings in all metro areas. Therefore there is an increased need to serve this market sector with tailored energy efficiency programs. Owners of these buildings often face unique challenges that owners of market-rate multifamily housing do not. Additionally, low-income renters are likely to encounter higher energy costs because they often live in less energy-efficient units. Programs serving this market sector are growing, albeit gradually. We found only 15 MSAs with multifamily programs specifically targeting these properties. National actors such as ACEEE and Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) continue to increase research and other forms of assistance to support these programs.

ACEEE’s 2013 review revealed that the multifamily market had been largely underserved by energy efficiency programs because program administrators were unable to adequately meet the needs of building owners and managers. In this updated review, ACEEE finds that many utilities, regulators, and community stakeholders have effectively collaborated to address these unmet needs through new or expanded programs. The energy efficiency of multifamily buildings has greatly improved in a short time. ACEEE’s research and ongoing work with efficiency programs suggest these buildings will continue to increase their energy savings. This will allow multifamily households to reap the benefits of improved building efficiency, including reduced energy use, lower energy costs, greater comfort, and healthier indoor environments.

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Peer Reviewed: 
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the JPB Foundation