Adding these gadgets to your rental units can save energy (and money) every year, protect your property, and keep your indoor air from making tenants sick.
IF YOU'RE A LANDLORD, chances are good that you've discovered that your tenants simply don't care about saving energy and water--when you're paying their utility bills.This sad fact was confirmed by a Harvard Joint Center for Housing study back in 2009. (see chart).
But thanks to a perfect storm of new and old technologies, the lousy environmental stewardship of your tenants now can be managed. And unlike the primitive gadgets of the past--such as thermostats that can’t be adjusted--your tenants will still have control over their surroundings, but their ability to ignore conservation and indoor air quality will have strict limits.
Tenant Disconnect. As this research shows, tenants in “utilities included” apartments tend to waste a lot of energy., They use more than twice as much energy per square foot as people who own their homes. Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University
IN THE NEW AGE OF GREEN LANDLORDING, tentants have less ability to misuse the benefit of "utilities included" to damage the Earth--and themselves.
So let’s keep this simple. Here are five must-have technologies that you can install today, that will change the landlording game.
1. Wireless Thermostats
For about $200, you can put one of these new Honeywell thermostats in every unit of your building. Unlike the locked down thermostats of yesteryear, these digital units run on 24 VAC (requiring no replacement batteries) and most importantly, they can be scheduled and monitored from anywhere via smartphone--although the level of remote monitoring is more limited than the initial setting in person.
You will need to have a wireless service available at the location, but one wireless connections can run multiple units. Add a range extender to your service if you have trouble connecting to all of the thermostats with a single network connection.
Remote Control.You can control multiple wireless thermostats from anywhere using Honeywell’s free website portal.
The $40 a month for a new wireless service should still make sense, if you consider that the thermostat could save 20% or so on annual heating/cooling costs for each unit. If your annual spending on heating is $600 a year, you could pay off the thermostat in the first year of savings.
WE INSTALLED A COUPLE OF THESE UNITS in a multifamily property, and it took a bit of experimentation to figure out the initial programming.The trick is to go under the advanced preferences menu, and put the unit in a “partially locked” mode. Set the maximum allowable temperature, and the override period. Then program in an energy-saving schedule. This way, when the tenant raises the temperature to 72 degrees and hits “hold,” (an all too common occurrence, in my experience) the thermostat will return to its normal programming after a preset number of hours.
Note also that the Honeywell wifi unit is not the only product of this type. Others, including Nest offer similar remote operability, but be sure to read the fine print. Some models offer different degrees of operator control.
2. Heat-Sensing Range Hoods
Indoor pollution is no joke. You could be setting up kids for asthma and other problems. Along with that health risk, you’re saturating your property with smoke, grease and permanent smells. Sold on range hoods yet?
Even if you have range hoods installed, tenants often don't use them. The hoods are usually too noisy, optional and not as effective as they could be. A range hood should turn on automatically every time the cooktop or oven is used. That's where new, heat-sensing technology comes in.These "smart" units are a little more expensive, but they make sure tenants are doing the right thing.
The ideal automatic range hood doesn't seem to exist (yet).
Here's what we would like to see: A quiet (2.0 sones or less) low-volume (under 200 cubic feet per minute) heat-sensing range hood priced at less than $300, with integral LED task lighting (not halogen) for use in rentals. The hood should be an under-counter type, and extend all the way over the front burners, placed quite low over the top of the cooktop. The closest thing I could find to this unit was the Broan Allure III, but it does not include automatic on features (read below for a solution.) If you know of a unit with auto-sensing technology in this airflow range, please email me.--Matt Power
Heat Sensing Fan. This KitchenAid 30-inch canopy hood has built in heat sensors that turn on the fan, and an automatic shutoff 10 minutes after the heat is removed. At 600 cfm it will likely require makeup air, however, so it's more targeted toward luxury properties with big kitchen budgets. Here's a Broan online tool to help contractors determine the correct make-up air solution for a project.
A few tips on buying and setting up your vent fans:
Centrifugal. Choose centrifugal fan filters if possible. These simplify cleaning, reduce filter replacements, and tend to operate more quietly than other types of fans.
Keep it Quiet. Perhaps the biggest complaint about range hoods is the noise they make. Look for a unit that operates at no more than 4 sones, keeping in mind that lower air volume usually means less noise. The Broan unit I mentioned above operates at .9 sones.
Automate at All Costs. If you can't afford heat-sensing models, have your electrician install a custom low-voltage (24-volt) switch that turns on the stove every time the range is turned on. This solution isn't perfect, because the hood won't have an auto-off delayed timer, but it will address the major issue--making sure the hood is used. As a footnote, I'm wondering why particle-sensing technology, such as the photo-electric (non radioactive) systems used in smoke alarms have not been introduced to range hood technology. Dust sensors are common in other technologies. Why not range hoods. For example, here's an inventor who created a wi-fi dust sensor to test the air quality in Bejing.
3. Wireless Occupancy Sensors
You may already use occupancy sensors in common areas--hallways and community rooms, for example. But the technology of sensors has exploded in the last couple of years, and you can now get smartphone-enabled wireless sensors that will tell you every time a window is opened or create graphs of each outlet's energy use.
Clean Finish An EcoGuard energy management outlet can control lighting and standard loads using commands from an EcoSmart thermostat or occupancy sensor, a Property Management System, a schedule, or a manual command. From Telkonet.
Of course, you may not need or want that much information.But what about autonomous sensors that detect when a room is unoccupied, and not only shut off the lights, but power down all of the other unnecessary gear in the room: televisions, dvd players, fans and so on? Those phantom energy sources typically account for up to 10 percent of a resident's overall enrgy use.
Several companies now offer these useful gadgets. Some such as Telkonet's system (shown), are tied to the room's thermostat, which has heat and motion detectors. Data is fed to a cloud-based processor, where you control how each device in the room responds to the occupancy.
4. "Smart" Bath Fans
Excess humidity in bathrooms is one of the biggest threats to your property value. Did you know that the average lifespan of a tile shower is only 7 years? That's because trapped moisture invites mold, rots wood and causes paint to peel. Moisture needs to be removed immediately after showering or bathing.
But tenants treat bath fans like they do range hoods--they tend to ignore them, except to remove odor, especially if the noise (sone level) is unpleasant. When they do turn them on they may leave them running for hours.
Perfect Combo. This ultra-quiet 110 cfm bath fan from Panasonic has both a humidity sensor and a motion detector, so it turns on automatically when tenants shower, and turns off the light when it's no longer needed.
The traditional landlord solution has been to; hardwire the light switch and the noisy fan together, but according to my electrician, this practice is now forbidden by some building codes now (although i could not find the code reference--please email me if you know it and I will add). It's also heavy-handed, and can result in tenants putting portable light fixtures in the bathroom--an electrocution risk. Fortunately some new fan models now include moisture sensors that kick the unit on whenever the humidity gets too high.Combine the bath fan switch with an occupancy sensor and you get optimal performance.These "smart" fans are a little more expensive, but they also run more efficiently, so they should last longer than the old jet engines of previous generations.
5. "Smart" Windows
The glass in windows is getting smarter, adjusting to changes in light and temperature. These new glazings are available commercially now. But there's another whole piece of the window industry that's about to emerge: Automation.
A few companies have dabbled in mechanical window opening/closing systems for a few years. Velux, for example offers rain sensing gear for its skylights. High end custom homes sometimes feature remote controls for out-of-reach windows. But these are just the precursors of what's coming.
Window sensors that detect whether a window has been closed or opened are now available in wireless form. These inexpensive (under $30) items can notify you by phone or email of a window's status. It's not much of a leap to tie that information to a mechanical system that can raise or lower windows in accordance with room occupancy and weather conditions, saving energy and alerting you to tenants who abuse their ventilation options. The windows can also help disabled and elderly people operate heavy windows. For example, a group of engineering students at New York State created a prototype of a solar powered, automated window opener/closer for retrofit in double-hung windows.
Noise Sensing Windows. These windows close automatically whenever a loud train passes by.