Going green is definitely a topic that community associations are discussing these days. But as with most improvements, there is a cost involved. Weighing the benefits against the learning curve of new technology and the financial burden of taking the leap can be a daunting task. So to explain some of the options that associations have when it comes to going green, Mitch Frumkin, president and founder of Kipcon Engineering headquartered in North Brunswick, New Jersey, with offices in Pennsylvania and New York, answered some questions about what it takes to make the switch.
What does it mean to be a green community? “It means to me a couple things,” Frumkin said. “I think when most people think of being green, they think of reducing the amount of energy they use. That’s the main one. A green community is a community that reduces its use of energy as much as it can. They use the most efficient equipment so they get what they need but at the same time reduce the amount of energy usage. So that’s one way.”
But Frumkin also described another definition of being green: “The other way to think about a green community is to think about money as well as the environment. Green is money. It’s a little different take on it. But my perspective is how do you operate an efficient community so that you provide the services that are necessary, while at the same time doing it in the most efficient or green manner?”
Frumkin points out that one serves the other in the long run, because by saving energy you of course save money. But short term, there are some green detractors, according to Frumkin. “There’s two ways to look at it. Some people view it as not being a money saver. Because from their energy savings they save money, but energy efficient equipment may cost more,” he said.
Frumkin explained that a reserve study is key to making sure that system replacements are cost-effective, since a reserve study considers the cost of replacing the equipment, the cost of energy usage and the cost of operations. “In the community association world, it’s perfectly set up so that it really doesn’t cost more for the equipment,” he said.
But how can an upgrade to new technology not hit an association in the pocketbook? “We do a number of what are called green reserve studies. What it does is it adds together not only the replacement cost but also the energy cost and maintenance cost. Let’s say the association pays $15k a year in replacement costs, instead of $10k a year, but their energy costs go down $20k. They are paying more for the equipment, but are immediately saving money because of the reduction in energy costs,” Frumkin explained.
Frumkin said, “In many places, there are huge incentives put out by the state to offset the additional cost of the equipment, so a community will use high-efficiency equipment to help save the environment.” He shared a website that associations can go to, to see a list of available incentives across the country. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency®, or DSIRE, is a great resource for seeking out available aid for green upgrades. All a community has to do it plug in their zip code on www.dsireusa.org, and the available incentives for that area will appear.
How should a community use the reserve study effectively? “To create a green community, whenever they replace equipment they should go for high-efficiency equipment, evaluate on their budget not only an increase in reserve replacement, but also a decrease in the energy cost, plus any incentives to offset the additional cost of the equipment,” Frumkin suggested. “We have found that the break-even period is so short, or sometimes there’s not even a break-even period, because of the incentives that are available,” he continued.
Moving on to specifics, what role do solar panels play? “Solar panels clearly reduce the amount of energy use, because you are taking it from the sun and not oil or gas,” he said. But Frumkin is quick to point out something not always on the minds of communities deciding to go solar. “You have to do a cost analysis. You have to be careful about solar panels. A lot of times solar panels are put on the roof of the building, but it could create problems with roof replacements. They would have to be removed to get to the roof. So most green communities are not doing solar panels,” Frumkin said.
Frumkin, in his role at Kipcon, has not seen communities using drastic measures to go green, that may cause eye sores or find residents operating outside of their bylaws. For example, he stated that he hasn’t seen clotheslines, eco-landscaping or the addition of awnings and shutters in the associations he has worked with.
But he does suggest two quick fixes that are inexpensive and could save a ton of energy. “Clearly, you don’t want to waste energy. There are some very inexpensive things you can do within communities that can save a significant amount of energy,” he said.
“One example is outside wall outlets. Those outlets are holes in the wall. Take off the cap from the outlet and put insulating pads in there to keep the air from coming in or going out. It’s probably the least expensive thing you can do. You can save a significant amount of energy because of that,” he explained.
“Another example is incandescent lights. There are so many different lights out there nowadays that don’t give off heat and are much more energy efficient than incandescent lights. Lighting is a huge factor when it comes to greening your community,” he continued.
What lighting technologies can be utilized? “I would suggest, especially for high-rises that have a lot of mechanical equipment, associations should look in detail in terms of what is the cost to upgrade to high-efficiency and what are the incentives available,” Frumkin said.
As we know, swimming pools can be costly to heat and cool. Unfortunately, as Frumkin explained, it is currently too expensive to upgrade an existing pool to be more efficient. “It’s primarily in new construction. It’s very expensive to retrofit it. But they may run the pipes a certain distance below the ground to keep the water a certain temperature. Most of these things are done when you are replacing say, for example, a pool heater. It’s very rare that I see them pay a lot of money to change to geothermal. My experience with community associations and other buildings is that it’s based on replacing existing equipment. It’s based on making modifications to the building envelope,” he said.
“I’ve seen situations where a new building has been designed to be high-efficiency, and the problems encountered are from the complexity of operating the systems within the building. In some cases, the management company that comes in to run the building is not experienced enough and do not know how to operate the equipment to make it efficient. So it defeats the purpose of it being an efficient building,” Frumkin continued.
Are there any green techniques when it comes to water? “The thing that costs a lot with water is pumping. There are pumps that pump water, and they use a huge amount of energy. In terms of reducing the amount of water, you are talking about high-efficiency shower heads. For existing buildings, you are very rarely going to see any modifications in terms of water. The place you see that is in new construction,” Frumkin said.
How can windows and doors play a role in saving energy? “Windows and doors are huge opportunities to save a lot of money,” Frumkin noted. “Clearly, when you replace windows on a building, you have to spend time making sure that you are using windows that don’t let heat and cold through them,” he said. He also gave this example: “We did a window replacement project on a community a number of years ago where they spent millions of dollars on new windows. But then as soon as you figured out the energy savings because of those new windows, they paid for themselves within four or five years.”
Frumkin left us with this advice for communities looking to go green. “The key to getting it done is they really need to look at reserve studies in a different way, where it’s not just the cost of replacement. You have to take into account the cost of energy and the cost of maintenance, when you make your decisions on your reserve study, in terms of what you’re going to replace things with.”