Updated: Jul 1, 2021
It’s really true. Energy efficiency is a win-win-win-win for property managers, tenants, communities, and utilities.
Just ask Dallas Wood of Wescap Real Estate Services Inc., which manages 21 Multi-Family/Senior properties throughout Arizona (including Flagstaff) consisting of 1,410 residential units. Over the last few years, with help from Aurelio Gomez Cruz from Arizona Public Service, Wood has upgraded the lighting in all of the properties located in APS’s service area that he manages.
Lighting is one of the first and best places to invest energy efficiency dollars because it pays for itself so fast – typically within 2-4 years when upgrading from incandescent or metal halide (those yellowy lights used for outdoor applications and old gymnasiums) to LED. That’s the equivalent of making a 25-50% return on an investment, indefinitely. Put another way, it’s like putting $1,000 into an account and getting $250-500 a year, every year, for the next ten years (the approximate lifetime of an LED bulb).
Wescap’s lighting upgrades affect the complexes’ parking lots and common areas (where the electric bills are covered by management) and the individual rental units (where the electric bills are paid by the tenants). When asked why he would bother with an investment that doesn’t directly affect his own costs, he says “Anything we can save for the residents is good for us too.”
That might seem counterintuitive to some, but happy tenants – like those who see their utility bills go down instead of up - stay put longer. Retaining tenants prevents landlords and property managers from losing revenue on empty units and on the cost of turnover (maintenance, unit updates like painting and carpet replacement, advertising, staff time for showings and application review, etc.).
There are other reasons beyond utility savings to make lighting upgrades too. Metal halide lights are toxic and can be fussy – they shut themselves off when they get too hot, and need to cool down before they can be turned back on again. They can melt and create hazards. They’re also increasingly expensive as their availability declines, so replacing an existing metal halide fixture with the same type of fixture may not even be possible.
Both metal halide and incandescent lights burn out more frequently than the average LED, which means more staff time and risk, especially for fixtures located in ceilings and on light poles. For buildings that incur time-of-use charges from their electric utility (that is, higher charges during peak usage times), minimizing base loads like lighting can significantly reduce monthly utility bills.
Wood doesn’t know exactly how much these upgrades have saved because the benefit is spread out among all his tenants – that’s the complication of rental properties, as we’ve touched on elsewhere. But we know that LEDs last longer and use a fraction of the energy used by old-school lightbulbs – sometimes as little as a quarter to a tenth of the older bulb.
According to Gomez Cruz from the APS Solutions for Business program, Wood’s approach is unusual. Instead of completing upgrades in just one or two buildings within his portfolio like most property managers, he’s done them all, within Flagstaff and throughout APS territory. And because LED technology is still evolving, the solution wasn’t easy – Wood had to work hard to find outdoor LED fixtures that meet local Dark Sky requirements, but he was committed to it and eventually succeeded.
Since many of Wood’s properties serve low-income households, the impact of the savings is especially important: Low-income households are much more likely to be energy-cost burdened than their higher-income counterparts, so any dollar saved is likely to go directly to critical needs like food, health care, or rent.
As part of the City of Flagstaff’s carbon neutrality plan and its efforts to address housing affordability, Flagstaff (and so many other cities) need more property managers like Dallas Wood and Wescap. This is part of the reason for the Flagstaff/RentLab partnership: to promote exactly these kinds of rental investments by making this type of information more transparent for everyone.
Know another landlord or property manager who is making efficiency and sustainability investments in their properties? Email us at email@example.com, and we’ll feature them here and at www.rentlab.org.
The APS Solutions for Business program is not income-constrained, and can be used to address a number of lighting, equipment, and other upgrades.
Want to learn more about incentive programs in existing multi-family buildings? Visit here.