Retrofitting for an Energy-Efficient Building: No-Cost Programs That Do It

While older buildings might be full of period charm, they’re also often full of aging and inefficient equipment. Nearly 60 percent of multifamily buildings were built before 1980, making them prime targets for retrofitting.

Older buildings might have started with state-of-the-art equipment when they were built. However, that original ductwork, lighting, and heating system costs owners and residents money to run now. Upgrading them to make an energy-efficient building reduces costs for everyone while improving the environment as well.

If you’ve been considering a building renovation, retrofitting for energy efficiency at the same time might make sense. Let’s take a look at what’s involved in retrofitting and how you can get help with paying for it if you own a multifamily building in Massachusetts.

What Does Retrofitting Mean?

A retrofit involves changing a building’s systems or structure after it’s already built and occupied. It differs from renovation and refurbishment in that it doesn’t focus on aesthetics or amenities. Most of the time, retrofitting involves making changes to improve energy efficiency or reduce energy use.

If you’re planning to refurbish a building anyway, consider adding to those plans to retrofit as much as you can at the same time. Among the things you can retrofit would be:

  • Building envelope to improve insulation
  • Large equipment systems such as heating, cooling, water
  • Lighting by changing to LED bulbs
  • Appliances with those that are EnergyStar-rated

Any of these options can make your housing more affordable for tenants by cutting their utility costs. You benefit as well by reducing your own operating and maintenance expenses.

So which multifamily buildings make for good retrofit candidates? A retrofit project makes sense if any of these criteria are met:

  • The building is more than ten years old
  • High utility costs
  • High maintenance and repair costs for HVAC equipment
  • A major piece of equipment slated for replacement in the next three years
  • Appliances, lighting, water fixtures, heating or cooling systems older than ten years

Benefits of Retrofitting

Energy-efficiency upgrades can result in 15-30 percent lower utility costs for multifamily properties. The building becomes less costly to operate and more affordable for your low-income tenants.

Depending on the type of work done, retrofitting can also improve indoor air quality and reduce the building’s carbon emissions. Owners also benefit through an increase in the building’s value and improvements that impact the lifespan of the building.

Steps Toward an Energy-Efficient Building

Once you’ve decided to explore a retrofit for your multifamily building, there are several steps to take to make it a reality. The first is an assessment to understand your current energy usage and needs. The energy use assessment results can influence your decision to renovate for energy efficiency.

The energy use assessment shows if you are eligible for incentives on upgrades like new lighting, insulation, and appliances. You can also use the Energy Star Portfolio Manager to compare your building to others in the country to point out areas for improvement.

Once you’ve figured out where you can best improve through a retrofit, you need to decide how you’re going to pay for it. If the building was going to be refinanced soon anyway, you might roll the costs into that loan. You might also qualify for incentives for low-income housing that could pay for 100% of eligible energy efficiency upgrades.

With money and a project list in hand, you can set about hiring a contractor to do the work, then begin calculating the savings over the following year.

Low-Income Multifamily Energy Retrofit Program

If you have low-income housing in your building, you might qualify to have some or all of your retrofit project paid for you.

In one case study, a multifamily project of more than 600 units replaced its interior and exterior lighting fixtures. All the funding for the nearly $1 million project came from an incentive from Eversource through Mass Save’s Low Income Multifamily Energy Retrofit Program.

About the Program

The LIMF Energy Retrofit program installs effective energy efficiency measures in qualifying low-income properties. The Low-Income Energy Affordability Network(LEAN) is a network of local Community Action Agencies tasked with implementing energy efficiency in affordable housing. Agencies in LEAN will walk with you through the entire process from application to measure installation and quality control free of cost.

Agencies in LEAN take care of the initial building assessment. They then manage the contractor selection process from an approved pool of vendors to install the efficiency work and conduct inspections throughout the installation phase. All the work approved is incentivized 100 percent, including upgrades to the building envelope, heating system,  common areas, and inside residential units.

Incentives from Mass Saves, the rate-payer funded energy efficiency program in Massachusetts cover project costs. LEAN agencies can work with you to provide additional resources for your income eligible residents, in particular through programs such as Fuel Assistance and utility discount rate programs.

Who Qualifies

Projects eligible for the no-cost energy efficiency programs have to house residents in a  multifamily building with five or more units. At least 50% of the households in the building must qualify as low-income, meaning income at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income.

The property must also be served by one or more of the participating utilities in Mass Save. 

How to Apply

To apply for the program, you will need to provide information about your energy and building use. This includes property information, utility bills, upcoming renovation plans, and income eligibility documents.

Your eligibility paperwork will determine whether enough residents qualify as income eligible to serve the whole property through the program. This could be a deed restriction, income survey, Section 8 documentation, or other housing subsidy as examples. Program staff can help you determine if your building qualifies, please feel free to reach out via our contact form on the website. 

Ready to Start Your Retrofit?

A building retrofit for a multifamily building can be a daunting task. Choosing upgrades requires evaluation of your current energy usage and needs before you can begin thinking about how to pay for it. Fortunately, Massachusetts building owners can turn to local agencies to help them through the process.

To learn more about retrofitting for an energy-efficient building, contact us to ask questions or set up an assessment. Do you believe you’ll qualify for incentives? If so, fill out the application to get the process started.

LEAN Multi-Family