Western View Apartments - Chillicothe, OH
Submetering Reduces Monthly Rents, Electrical Consumption - Ohio Community Proves Billing for Utilities Works!
Chillicothe, OH - At first glance, having utility costs included in the monthly rent may seem like a dream to potential residents. With credit card bills, phone bills and cable bills due every month, it would be a relief not to worry about also writing checks for water, gas and electric. However, not writing a check each month does not mean residents are not paying-and sometimes they may be paying too much.
Multi-housing communities, whether high-rise or garden style, generally have one master meter that measures the amount of electricity used by the community and its residents each month. Prior to submetering technology, property managers were either not charging residents for the electric use or including the cost in the rent, sometimes based on square footage, explains Scott Ritchlin, Vice President of Technical Support and Manufacturing for E-Mon, whose headquarters are in Langhorne, PA. However, this was not necessarily the fair solution to recovering utility costs, he adds.
"It is not really equitable because some people are home all day and may use more electricity than someone who works all day and may use more electricity than someone who works all day," Ritchlin contends.
In addition, if the electricity costs are included in the rent, then either the rent is subject to change based on the fluctuating price of electricity or the property manager suffers a loss when that price does soar-as was the case with electricity in California two years ago.
It only took approximately 30 minutes per unit to retrofit the submeters at the multi-housing development.
With submetering, property managers can avoid the fairness issue, keep rents down and recover the cost of electricity. As Ritchlin explains, meters are placed in all the units of a community and information on electricity usage is transferred wirelessly to a head-on computer in the property manager's office. The manager then retrieves the data and bills residents for the amount of electricity they used. In turn, residents submit payment to the property manager, he says. "The overall utility bill is still in the property manager's name so the residents are essentially reimbursing the property manager for their portion of the electric bill," Ritchlin explains. This works much the same way for water and gas submetering he says. Submetering firms can also provide billing services, but the residents still submit payment to the property manager. In that case, depending on state law, the property manager may be able to pass along any fees incurred for contracting out the services to the residents as well, he adds.
According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), property managers and residents can reap many benefits from submetering. As Ritchlin stated earlier, the authority agrees submetering is fair. "It allows the conservation conscious residents to reduce their electrical costs," states NYSERDA. "Residents who choose not to conserve will be billed for their usage without impacting their neighbors' electric charges." Other benefits include a possible reduction in rent and maintenance fees, significant reduction in building sector electricity usage (sometimes 15 to 30 percent) and a reduction in building operating costs.
And at least one multi-housing development in Chillicothe, Ohio is experiencing these benefits firsthand. Western View Apartments, which is owned and managed by Platinum Property Management based in Dublin, Ohio is an 84-unit community with a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments in three buildings. The community has been submetering electricity use since April 2001 and over the last year the property management company has noticed a 17% reduction in energy consumption.
According to Ron Ackley, electrical contractor with C & J Electric, the previous owner of Western View Apartments contacted his firm for an estimate for installing individual electric meters in each of the 84 apartments. While doing the foot-work with American Electric Power, the local energy supplier, Ackley realized that, because of the way the complex was wired when it was built, he would have to rewire all the units and install meters on the outside of the building-a costly project. As he explains, when Western View was wired, a feeder was placed to feed electricity to the first floor, the second floor and the third floor of each of the three buildings-what the industry calls a daisy-chain.
Ackley estimates the cost for installing individual meters would have been 800 percent higher than the cost of retrofitting the existing apartments for submetering. As an alternative to the expensive endeavor, Ackley contacted E-Mon. He was previously familiar with E-Mon's products and thought its wireless technology would be the perfect solution to the complex's problem. he met with a representative from the submetering company and set up wireless meters in each apartment which would send usage data to a main computer on the property's site, Ackley explains. They then presented the proposal to the owners of Western View, who gave the go-ahead for the project, he adds.
The installation called for a total of 84 apartments to each receive an E-Mon Class 4100, an RF-based single-phase kWh submeter that is easily interfaced with E-Mon's Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) software and/or alternative third-party billing service. Wireless metering systems are useful in multi-housing developments where the meters must be installed in the apartment itself.
The unit's internal 900 MHz transmitter eliminated the need for home run wiring between the meter and the central monitoring point. A low-cost repeater was also used where the distance between the transmitter and the receiver exceeded specifications.
Ackley says he allocated one hour per apartment unit to install the submetering technology and that the actual installation only took approximately 30 minutes. However, he ads, there is a lot of prep work before the actual installation because the residents need to be informed and arrangement needs to be made beforehand with the property manager to have someone present at each apartment.
Platinum Property Management estimates that the installation of the system cost approximately $50,000-an amount that was recovered in the first 10 months using that portion of the total rent that otherwise would have gone to the total electric bill.
And residents seem to have adjusted to paying for their own electricity. "In the beginning there was some resistance from residents because some had lived here for years without paying an electric bill," contends Debbie Bell, Platinum Property Management's district manager for Western View Apartments. "But now, no one is really upset anymore."
Despite the success with electric submetering, she adds that the property management company does not have any immediate plans to submeter for gas or water at the complex.
Western View Apartments' story is not the only proof that submetering works. According to information provided by E-Mon, energy conservation is maximized when there is accountability, a 2% reduction in energy use is achieved by telling people that their energy use is going to be monitored and another 20% reduction is seen when users are provided with the details of their energy consumption.
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