Are You Ready for Benchmarking Season 2020?


Hope so. City and state mandate deadlines are approaching, some sooner than others.

Last year’s introduction of AB 802 mandated benchmarking for the entire state of California on residential buildings over 50,000 sq. ft. Until this year, the Golden State only required municipalities (cities and counties) to track and record energy performance on residential buildings. This bill now adds greater number of buildings to the data in the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.

Granted, this adds to operations costs on property spreadsheets already battling rent control and the nation’s highest number of regulations in the country. On the reverse side, adding more data in the ENERGY STAR provides actionable knowledge for operators in a state embroiled in soaring energy costs, rolling blackouts and mandated reduction/tiered pricing on utilities (water and electricity).

What does this mean for the residential industry? Benchmarking is the process of measuring a property’s energy and water usage, and comparing this consumption with other similar properties within a specific region.

The standard, as defined by EPA, is derived from a target established by a control group of properties. Portfolio Manager ranks available whole building energy and water usage data, noting property type and size, weather fluctuations, occupancy, available amenities, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing configurations.

Benchmarking is performed as mandated, but is often also required for certain financing options and as a measure of an overall corporate sustainability. Benchmarking creates live metrics on how a property scores against a predetermined standard of efficiency.

Benchmarking is simple, but the process is not always straightforward. One would think that collecting the building characteristics would be fairly easy, yet questions about a property’s gross square footage or even the number of available parking spots can be challenging to accurately answer.

Whole building energy data is not readily available for residential properties due to residents having direct accounts with serving electric and/or natural gas utilities. Such consumption data is protected by privacy laws. Access to resident data is harder absent a mandate placing pressure on utilities to offer whole building data.

Without a mandate, resident authorization forms open access to monthly data, but are cumbersome. The number of residents, occupancy turnover and utility data transfer challenges are just a few of the issues apartment operators face.

Once building characteristics, whole building energy and water usage data are gathered, there remain other required specifications such as building size requirements, data input formats, data auditing and filing date deadlines, which differ by location.

Benchmarking season begins in April in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis. Boston, Cambridge, New York City, San Francisco, San Jose and for the first time in Des Moines beginning in May. June launches benchmarking requirements in California, Atlanta, Chicago and Denver. The list continues through the end of the year.

In addition to benchmarking mandates, several municipalities have moved to stage two of their sustainability plans with mandated energy audits and retro-commissioning activities.

New York City, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, to name a few, have enacted energy audit requirements following ASHRAE Level I or II standard requirements. This is in addition to retro-commissioning services including air balancing services, boiler efficiency checks, and building management system operational checks.

Los Angeles recently postponed their energy audit and retro-commissioning requirements for one year starting in 2021.

We expect benchmarking authorities to decrease their threshold square footage requirements, increase the number of benchmarked properties, and for authorities to start using the resulting scores for resident disclosure driving of conservation targets.


Dimitris Kapsis is VP Energy Management for RealPage Utility Management. This article originally appeared in the Journal of Utility Management.  For additional information see the webcast: Utility Management: 2020 Energy Benchmarking Mandates: Pass or Penalty?

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