Are there other roadblocks to energy efficiency?

We have addressed in previous postings the roadblocks that inhibit greater investment in energy efficiency technologies and practices in the Multifamily industry. In addition to these common and well-known barriers (e.g., split incentives, whole building information, initial investment costs and ROI, privacy etc.), there is a class of barriers that has received less attention. These barriers are hidden or unrecognized; they do not stem from the same failures that have been the subject of our postings and the target of many policy and program interventions. Hidden barriers reflect several different underlying problems:

  1. Regulatory uncertainty,
  2. Archaic or legacy regulations, and
  3. Inaccurate ratings and in some cases no standards.

Let’s explore hidden barriers in some detail.

We suggest there are opportunities for policy actions that could improve multifamily building efficiency. The best way to present these policy and regulation changes is with examples:

  1. Building Codes have not caught up with advances in technology – this is best demonstrated with the regulatory uncertainty surrounding rooftop solar panels.
  2. Multifamily is a step child to the Commercial Industry – there still remains standards uncertainty by the EPA in developing an energy score for multifamily buildings.
  3. Implications in code language in regards to lighting – many codes don’t allow for occupancy sensors in public areas as an energy efficient alternative to 24 hour illumination.

And the list and examples go on.


Archaic or legacy regulations are ones that have not responded to changes in the technology of the products or building techniques that they regulate. These regulations become hidden road blocks when they no longer serve the original purpose for which they were written and instead inhibit innovation and energy efficiency.

Now, we are all in favor of local rules that keep residents safe like many of the regulations do, but these regulations don’t just do that. Instead, they simply prevent you from doing anything different (which ranges from brilliant to stupid).

Why does it work this way? We live in a litigious society where residents will sue the community’s building inspector if they a) rent an apartment with non-standard construction and then b) suffer injury due to that construction technique.

Local and state ordinances, such as those in California and Washington State, address some of these issues. When a community is bought and sold they require certain retrofits to be installed and energy filings with the EPA.

To take advantage of these required investments and get a ROI yourself, you need to have a plan in advance so the buyer isn’t the only one increasing NOI.


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