An Energy Savings Success Story

Energy assessment and incentives help an EBRHA member save energy and improve tenant comfort. - Written by Candis Mary-Dauphin - Posted May 18, 2016

An Energy Savings Success Story

When EBRHA member Irina Gelfenbeyn purchased a 6 unit apartment building in San Leandro, she had a long list of upgrades she planned to tackle. She specializes in property development, and making immediate improvements to a building’s performance is a key component of her business model. So when she heard about a Bay Area program that offers free consulting and $750 per unit to help improve the energy efficiency performance of multifamily buildings, she decided to look into it.

Lots of Work

Ahead When Irina first purchased the 64 year old San Leandro property, she knew that the property came with decades of deferred maintenance and there was a significant amount of work that needed to be done to get the property up to her standards. Her real estate business operating model incorporates an immediate improvement philosophy—a 360 approach integrating the latest energy efficiency technology available whenever possible. Energy efficiency is always at the top of her mind when making property improvements. Working with an energy consultant allowed Irina to evaluate the building more holistically than she would have done without the support of the expert. The consultant also helped Irina identify less obvious energy efficiency opportunities that made a big difference in her bottom line, building comfort and tenant utility bill costs.

Prior to starting any work on her property, Irina got in touch with the energy efficiency incentive program staff. During this conversation, she had the opportunity to clarify her understanding of the program, and decide whether or not she was interested in moving on to the next step.

The Consultation

Once deciding that this program was the right fit for her business needs, she was assigned an energy consultant named John that worked with her to identify opportunities for improving the energy efficiency of the property. The expert consultation began with an in-depth phone conversation about the existing conditions of the property.

John then scheduled a time to meet her at the property to perform an onsite verification of existing conditions, and get the specifications and measurements needed to customize improvement recommendations.

Upon first arrival at the site, the property had the look of neglect: overgrown vegetation, water damage and peeling paint. “At this first glance, I was concerned that efficiency should not be the first priority, that durability and infrastructure improvements were a higher priority,” remembers John. Fortunately, all of the structural improvements he cautiously suggested during the onsite visit and later on in their report were enthusiastically added to Irina’s to do list at the property, and she has been methodically chipping away at this work since.

There was no shortage of energy efficiency enhancement opportunities—both low-hanging fruit, as well as less obvious observations. The windows were single-pane, wood framed windows in poor to fair condition. The wall and floor heaters were old and inefficient. The lighting in the apartment units consisted of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and there were several locations where incandescent lamps were found. The individual water heaters in most units were old and had low efficiency ratings. “We’d planned on addressing many of the recommendations anyway,” says Gelfenbeyn, “but the consultant helped shape the project. He helped us focus on better, more efficient products available on the market.”

Owner Education

The consultant’s primary goal was to help Irina save energy, but property owner education was also an important objective. Irina learned a great deal through the consulting process. By accompanying the consultant on the site visit and discussing existing property conditions, her business goals, and final recommendations, Irina learned more about what to look for when assessing a building’s energy and water efficiency. She also learned about some of the latest technologies and approaches for improving performance of existing residential buildings. She has already applied the knowledge she obtained from this process to subsequent purchasing and project decisions.

“I look at projects differently than before,” says Gelfenbeyn, “I know what to look for when evaluating a property.”

Green Upgrades

In the end, Irina replaced the windows, which reduces the infiltration of unwanted air and noise, and improves insulation. She upgraded in-unit and common area lighting to LED, which increases lighting quality, while decreasing the amount of energy used to generate the lighting. The tankless water heaters she installed generally use less energy since they have no standby heat losses compared to those with a storage tank. She also installed low flow showerheads and more efficient aerators, which save water and the natural gas needed to heat domestic water. These upgrades are estimated to save 19.7% of her building’s energy use.

The project cost came to a total of $23,800. Through available incentive programs, Irina qualified for rebates totaling $4,500, received free expert consulting valued at $1,200, and got free low-flow showerheads and faucets.

Tenants also noticed a difference in unit comfort, and on their utility bills. Existing tenants that occupied the building prior to Gelfenbeyn’s acquisition have told her that the new windows have made the units much more comfortable and quiet. In addition to windows, the new heaters and more efficient lighting have meant lower utility bills, which tenants noticed right away. One tenant saw their electricity bill go down by half. Needless to say, they are thrilled with these changes.

Enjoying the Perks

In addition to the outcomes of saving energy and money, these upgrades had several other perks. On top of the energy saving advantages, replacing windows reduces condensation and improves the window’s function—which increases safety, and leads to greater occupant comfort.

The lighting upgrades had some additional positive outcomes as well. Since exterior LED lighting fixtures have an estimated lifetime of 50,000 to 100,000 hours, this technology reduces the maintenance burden of frequently changing the bulbs. LED fixtures also allow for an efficient distribution of light, which improves site safety. Even less expected, Irina also observed prospective tenants taking notice. On her online ad, Irina mentioned the efficiency work that had been completed during her upgrade.

More than one interested tenant found the apartment by conducting a search using key term “energy efficient.” The upgraded units also attracted candidates that were more qualified and those that valued energy efficiency. Irina had realized prior to working with the program that these value-added improvements are important (especially when conveyed well) to her prospective and current tenants, and understands that these investments make good business sense.

Irina has observed over the past several years that millennials do not see home buying as an objective, so they look for some of the same features in rental apartments that prospective homebuyers seek when purchasing a primary residence. She strongly believes that in several years, renters will come to expect efficient fixtures and appliances as standard.

Energy efficiency is good business. Fortunately, there are numerous incentive program options available to property owners that assist with identifying the right technologies and accessing the funds needed to improve the way Bay Area buildings use energy and water. No matter how big or small the property, there is a Bay Area efficiency incentive program out there to help residential property owners integrate energy efficiency into capital improvement goals. Irina hopes that her success story inspires others to benefit from these types of upgrades and encourages her fellow property owners to look into the available programs. rh

Candis Mary-Dauphin works at StopWaste—one of nine agencies that make up the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN). She can be reached at

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