Utility management is becoming a crucial factor in keeping a property profitable.
As the costs of energy and natural resources continue to rise, efficient energy and utility management is becoming a crucial factor in keeping a property profitable. There are a number of products, software and services that enable student housing owners to save time and money while also promoting conservation efforts and green initiatives.
Rising Cost of Energy
AThe cost of energy has increased significantly over the past few years, and at the same time, awareness of environmental conservation has also come to the forefront. Many owners and operators are now looking for ways to address both issues.
“Over the past five years or so, costs in multifamily and student housing have increased, which has driven owners and operators, as well as renters, to ask for ways to keep costs down,” says Tim Rogers, managing director with SmartSource at NWP in Austin, Texas. “New technology and innovations are offering a number of ways to do so.”
As green initiatives and LEED-certifications become more mainstream, companies are looking for ways to be both environmentally-friendly and also keep costs in check.
“Operational and energy costs continue to rise, and as they do, student housing facilities operators are seeking new ways to reduce expenses,” says George Winker, vice president of sales and marketing, North America, for VingCard Elsafe/TimeLox. “For this reason, the industry is turning to energy management solutions as a way to dramatically improve their bottom line. Additionally, the focus on going green has facilities striving to reduce their carbon footprint. Energy management programs can help student housing facilities earn LEED certifications and gain recognition for their eco-friendly initiatives.”
There are a whole host of ways that companies are more efficiently managing utilities and energy, including water efficiency systems, submetering, air-conditioning management, and utility billing and tracking services.
Niagara Conservation Corporation, based in Fort Worth, Texas, offers products to conserve water and energy, thereby reducing bills for both owners and renters. One of the company's newest products is a highly-efficient toilet system.
"By renovating dorm rooms/baths with Niagara's 0.8 GPF Stealth Toilet System, universities and colleges are reducing their water bills by 50 percent or more," says Paul Kwiat, director of the wholesale business unit with Niagara in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey.
Niagara's Stealth System is a patented design that employs a vacuum-assist feature, along with a siphon jet flow of 0.8 gallons of water, to completely clean a toilet bowl.
"The money savings are substantial," says Kwiat. "And those dollars that would normally be servicing high water and utility bills can now be converted into providing additional benefits for students."
Products like the Stealth System enable owners to actively promote conservation as well as boost the bottom line.
"In addition to the water savings, if you use the old rule of thumb that for every new dollar of net income generated by a property, you can add $10 to the value of the property, an investment of $100,000 in water savings can generate a $1 million increase in the value of a property," says Kwiat.
Submetering is a system that allows student housing owners and operators to bill tenants for individual energy usage. It gives owners/operators the ability to track in detail the amount of energy used at a property.
"Submetering accurately measures energy consumption for specific areas and can identify peak electrical demand and allow the proper reductions to minimize excessive peak usage changes," says John Kowalski, professional engineer with Power Design in St. Petersburg, Florida.
It also helps with benchmarking, measuring and verifying compliance for the guidelines established by many green initiative projects. This can also enhance eligibility for tax incentives.
"Our system monitors and also records the electrical usage for each meter module," says Kowalski. "Not only is consumption captured, but also peak electrical usage is retrieved for any point in time. The awareness of peak energy usage allows other electrical components within a structure to be monitored and selectively shed to reduce peak energy charges. Software also allows field calibration, remote monitoring, and automatic electric load to reduce peak energy usage, peak usage alert modification, and many more options since the system is PC-driven and can be Internet-based."
Services such as those offered by Power Design help student housing owners to reduce operating costs by documenting energy usage. It also gives some owners the option of buying in bulk and then reselling to tenants at a profit. "In addition, it allows the occupants to be aware of how they individually affect the usage of energy," says Kowalski. "Their awareness reduces the individual's housing costs and allows unit owners to retain tenants, also improving property values."
NWP and Conservice also offer submetering services. NWP provides installation, repair, upgrade and maintenance on new construction or retrofits for existing communities. "NWP also provides an open platform and wireless technology, providing customers with flexibility and enabling remote meter reads, thereby eliminating the need to enter apartments," says Rogers.
Conservice also works to provide a full suite of utility management solutions for the student housing industry. "We can customize our billing programs to meet the specific needs of each student living community, including the installation of submeters for water, gas or electricity," says Cary Brzezinski, vice president of strategic partnerships and student living with Logan, Utah-based Conservice.
The cost of constantly running HVAC systems can really add up for renters and student housing owners. Keeping these systems in check can offer significant savings for all parties. TimeLox is a company that offers electronic locks and advanced energy management systems in order to address this issue.
Orion is TimeLox’s energy and utility management solution, which can be used as a stand-alone system, with the Orion Integrated Room Control Dashboard, or integrated with other campus technologies through DC-One RF-Online, TimeLox’s wireless communication platform.
“Using products that manage utilities and help student housing owners conserve energy is beneficial to both the facility’s bottom line and the environment as a whole,” says Winker. “Most energy costs are spent keeping dorms air-conditioned while students are not present in the building. Energy management systems, like Orion, allow properties to increase the efficiency of their A/C system and therefore dramatically reduce monthly energy bills. This reduction in energy usage then plays into a property’s overall green initiative for reducing their carbon footprint.”
Orion works by managing the in-room air conditioning with the use of a digital thermostat along with a ceiling or wall-mounted sensor. The motion sensor communicates with the thermostat via wireless radio frequency technology to adjust the room’s temperature to an energy-saving setting while unoccupied and then to reset the room to the former temperature when reoccupied.
“By maintaining an energy-saving temperature versus completely shutting off systems, the room’s temperature never falls or rises into dangerous zones and guest comfort is never compromised,” says Winker.
Regulating the A/C system without sacrificing the needs of renters is a win-win in both money and energy savings.
“Profits will increase for student housing facilities using Orion,” says Winker. “By decreasing the energy consumption of wasteful utilities, therefore reducing the property’s overall energy bill, Orion becomes a significant cost savings initiative for student housing owners. In addition to improving profits through cost reduction, Orion can also help commercial buildings in qualifying for their LEED certification status. Once LEED certified, student housing locations may be eligible for sustainable building tax credits.”
The proper tracking and management of billing allows student housing owners to see where money is being spent and outlines the areas where they can save. NWP offers a Utility Smart program to help owners control, manage and efficiently plan utility spending.
“We offer services to optimize efficiency and increase resident satisfaction,” says Rogers. “Our programs include invoice processing and auditing, work order alerts, theft recovery, waste auditing and management, ENERGY STAR integration, and business intelligence and program benchmarking to increase operational efficiency. NWP can also provide energy procurement services, audits, community assessments and conservation/mitigation services through its energy advisory services.”
Conservice also offers utility management solutions with its SyNERGY services. The company can process, audit and pay all utility bills for student living communities.
“When our SyNERGY utility experts receive process, audit and pay utility expenses, property owners experience cost savings while also benefitting from improved utility expense reporting,” says Brzezinski. “With SyNERGY, every invoice is audited for accuracy, ensuring property owners only pay utility expenses owed. Also, as a byproduct of utility invoice processing, valuable cost and usage data is captured and presented online,” says Brzezinski. “This data can be easily viewed and retrieved through our easy-to-use website.”
Student Utility Billing
A subgroup of utility billing and tracking is student utility billing. Both Conservice and NWP offer this service, which also encourages conservation and savings through tracking and management.
“Student living owners using our billing program experience an increase in conservation efforts among students, which directly reduces utility expenses at a community,” says Brzezinski. “Additionally, the recovery of utility expenses through a billing program stabilizes rents and increases profitability.”
Conservice has a student utility billing program in which each student housing community has a specific billing manager who uses software to accurately calculate individual utility charges, which are reviewed for quality before bills are mailed and printed.
“Many of our student living communities choose to implement a conservation cap billing protocol where students are only billed for utilities when their usage exceeds a predetermined threshold,” says Brzezinski. “In our experience, this billing method maximizes the conservation efforts of student residents.”
NWP also offers its clients an array of scalable resident billing options. NWP’s Resident OneBill service combines utility charges with rent charges onto one statement. “This improves cash flow while also increasing profitability for the apartment community owner,” says Rogers.
NWP also offers the Resident ePay program, which allows residents to pay rent, utilities and other charges online or in person. “This program makes it flexible and convenient for the resident to pay bills,” says Rogers. “Technology and programs like these increase profitability and streamline operations. It helps both residents and owners to reduce cost and consumption."
The market for energy management solutions will only continue to grow as owners look to combat rising costs and also find new methods to conserve energy.
“New state-of-the-art buildings are being designed with a focus on energy efficiency from day one, and a steady stream of campus housing renovations are incorporating environmentally-friendly solutions in order to offset operational costs,” says Winker.
“More and more student living communities are experiencing the rising cost of energy and can no longer afford to deal with it on their own,” says Brzezinski. “Utility and expense management programs provide an incredibly effective solution and we expect to see an increasing number of student living companies implementing utility management programs over the next few years.”
As more products and services come to market, they will be increasingly specific to the needs of student housing owners. The student housing industry differs from conventional multifamily and a growing number of companies are working to meet the industry’s unique needs.
“The field is growing, but there is still a lot of room for improvement and focus,” says Rogers. “Business intelligence and the meeting of energy benchmarks are where much of the focus will be in the near term, as well as retrofits, as owners and managers are more aware of energy conservation."
— Lara Fuller