Optimizing energy and better utility management can provide a healthier environment and keep unnecessary costs down—top concerns for senior living leaders.
But it can be a tough job to coordinate different elements and sort through all the guidance. Argentum and ENERGY STAR® put our knowledge together to make it easier for senior living leaders, producing the Efficiency Through ENERGY STAR toolkit, available free for download at the argentum.org/energystar. It’s designed for senior living communities and providers in particular, but it can be useful for multifamily active adult and 55+ communities as well.
Here are a few tips from the toolkit to get started on the path to savings.
Step 1: Know the rules. Many cities and states across the United States are implementing mandatory energy benchmarking and reporting ordinances to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet local sustainability goals. Benchmarking and energy audits or upgrades may be required. The toolkit has links to the latest policies to help you determine if and how you are required to comply.
Step 2: Benchmark. You can’t start saving until you know what you’re using. And whether you’re required to benchmark or not, it can put you on the road to saving tens of thousands in energy bills—and improve quality of life.
ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® is a no-cost tool developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that turns energy and space use data into an easy-to-understand score on a scale of 1 to 100. Over 75, and you can be eligible for ENERGY STAR certification. Under 75, and you have lots of opportunities for savings. Download the toolkit for full instructions and start benchmarking at portfoliomanager.energystar.gov.
Step 3: Look for some of the top places to safely save: Train staff to turn off lights behind them when leaving unoccupied spaces. One of the biggest energy wasters in a senior living community can be lights burning unnecessarily in unoccupied areas such as vacant units. For instance, it’s common for lights to be left on 24/7 in vacant residences—even though this doesn’t contribute to resident safety.
Set up a system for regular preventative maintenance checks for building equipment and systems to extend their efficiency and help them last longer (and can help improve safety).
A nightly thermostat dial-down of even 2 degrees can make an energy-saving difference in common areas.
Enable computer power management functions, so they’ll power-down at night rather than become energy vampires.
Natural light is good for residents and employees, and it can be good for energy savings as well, reducing spending by 10 percent to 40 percent. The right setups for blinds and shades controls sunlight’s effects on temperature, as well as glare.
HVAC filters—in the system and in residences—need cleaning and replacement to work well and keep air healthy.
Step 4: Go on a Treasure Hunt. Participants team up, get a map directing them where to look to save energy, and compete to find the most energy-saving opportunities. (With a few modifications, it can be done masked and distanced.)
Step 5: Get the word out. Cleaner air, greater comfort, increased affordability, and social responsibility are appealing qualities to potential residents and employees. Energy efficient communities scoring 75+ in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager are eligible for certification, which demonstrates to residents, their families and staff that your community is in the top 25th percentile of efficiency compared to peers. You can also include your sustainability successes in marketing materials or create an ongoing engagement project such as a resident committee.
Communicating to everyone in the community about how small things they do every day can save can help bring a community together under a common goal. You can also communicate this to the larger neighborhood or media as a way to bring positive attention to your community.
ENERGY STAR is currently developing new customized tools for senior living. If you’d like to pilot test these, reach out to Clark Reed, EPA, at Reed.Clark@epa.gov or Marla Thalheimer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I’m staying within budget for energy. Is that enough?
A: It might be. But a budget is not an indicator of efficiency. The community may be a poor performer with significant savings opportunities or be a good performer eligible for third-party recognition—or fall somewhere in between. Getting an ENERGY STAR score is one way to find out where your community really stands.