Step 1: Prepare Your Approach

Creating your action plan

Table of Contents

In order to benchmark the energy and water performance of your organization's properties for the first time, your organization will need to do some preparation, including cataloging its portfolio of properties, determining how best to collect and input utility data, and making decisions about whether to meet minimum standards or seek deeper insight into the portfolio. Housing providers have found it beneficial to document this information centrally, update it regularly, and refer back to it frequently. By keeping information organized, the initial and successive years of utility benchmarking will be as easy as following a recipe.

HUD's Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template is a spreadsheet-based tool designed to help your organization gather necessary information and document decisions. HUD does not require that your organization use this template, but keep in mind that any utility benchmarking plan should give your organization a single document to refer back to in the future, ensure consistency and continuity, and help build capacity in your organization for the future.

Additional guidance on developing a utility benchmarking plan can be found in Designing a Benchmarking Plan from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), though this resource is geared towards the commercial buildings sector. Whether your organization chooses to use these existing resources or develop a utility benchmarking plan from scratch, the following items should be considered and addressed.

Catalog the Portfolio

Every housing provider has a unique portfolio. Cataloging the number and type of properties in a portfolio and their associated utility meters is one of the most important steps in the utility benchmarking process.

A portfolio consists of one or more properties (which may also be known as developments or projects in some organizations). A single property may consist of one building or multiple buildings that were developed and are managed together as a single asset.

A property is served by multiple utility meters, with different types of meters for electricity, natural gas, water, and other utility types. Utility meters may track consumption in a single housing unit, part or all of a single building, or an entire multi-building property. The energy and water bills associated with utility meters may be paid by the property owner or the tenant.

It is important to note that while the vast majority of utilities used in multifamily properties are tracked with meters and paid for on a consumption basis, unmetered utilities and alternative-fee utilities do exist. Regardless, organizations should still document their utility data in these cases in order to gain a clear picture of their property's performance. Please refer to the FAQs for further guidance on this topic if it applies to your organization.

Sample Housing Portfolio

This diagram illustrates a multifamily housing portfolio with a few common property configurations.

All HUD-related multifamily utility benchmarking initiatives direct housing providers to conduct utility benchmarking at the property level rather than the building level. This is consistent with the real estate practice of asset management, which typically requires financial accounting at the property level. Similarly, most reporting to HUD is done at the property level, and HUD provides most of its assistance at the property level. Utility benchmarking at the property level is also required for ENERGY STAR® Certification.

Your organization may wish to also be able to benchmark individual buildings within a property, though. This approach provides more detailed information about energy and water performance, which allows greater precision when targeting subsequent energy- and water-efficiency improvements. Further, some local laws require utility benchmarking at the building level.

If your organization chooses to conduct utility benchmarking at both the property and building levels, ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager® allows for the set-up of "Child Building" entries, which can be used for individual buildings and then associated with a "Parent Property," allowing for calculations of energy and water performance at both levels. For guidance on this approach, review the EPA's guide "How to Benchmark a Campus in Portfolio Manager."

Note for Public Housing Authorities (PHAs)

The term "Asset Management Property (AMP)" was created by HUD to identify individual public housing properties when PHAs were establishing new asset management practices in the early 2000s. However, some PHAs assigned AMP IDs to small groups of properties, rather than to individual properties, at that time. While most reporting by PHAs to HUD is done at the AMP level, utility benchmarking must still be performed at the property level for scientific accuracy and cross-program consistency. When entering property data into Portfolio Manager, PHAs will tag their individual properties with the associated AMP ID so that relevant utility data and performance metrics can be easily rolled up to the AMP level and cross-referenced in the PHA's and HUD's existing databases. Instructions for including HUD and USDA Property ID tags within Portfolio Manager are provided later in this toolkit.

Sample Housing Authority Portfolio

Housing providers can use HUD's Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template to catalog their portfolios. For each property, the spreadsheet outlines the property name, ID number, street addresses, zip code, gross floor area, number of buildings, number of housing units, and number of bedrooms. It also includes what type of HUD program each property is part of, how many of the housing units are supported by HUD programs, and additional characteristics that will be used to determine which of HUD's proposed utility benchmarking requirements may be applicable to the property.

At this early stage, it will also be important to identify other utility benchmarking requirements or incentives each property may be subject to, such as local utility benchmarking laws, in order to develop a unified approach to benchmarking your organization's portfolio.

A completed utility benchmarking plan should include a comprehensive list of all utility meters that service each property, including all owner-paid and tenant-paid meters. It will be helpful to track the utility account number, meter number, and/or the address associated with the utility account for easy reference.

Research Your Utility Providers

In addition to cataloging its portfolio, your organization will need to learn about the utility providers that provide service to the portfolio, including:

  1. Whether they are able to provide aggregated, whole-property utility data across all meters at an individual property;
  2. Their procedures for property owners requesting tenant-paid utility data; and
  3. Whether they have capability of automatically transferring utility consumption and cost data to ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.

EPA maintains a map of utility providers that offer aggregated, whole-property utility data (#1 above) and automatic data transfer (# 3 above.) HUD is compiling information incrementally in its Multifamily Utility Data Collection Database, with a focus on procedures for requesting tenant-paid utility data (#2 above.) More detailed information is provided under Step 2: Collect Utility Data.

Establish a Utility Benchmarking Lead

Your organization will need to identify a lead person or team who will be responsible for utility benchmarking. This person or team will need to manage the utility benchmarking process, have or develop a basic familiarity with the utility data that needs to be gathered, get it into Portfolio Manager, and share the results. Depending on the size and nature of your organization, there may be additional internal or external personnel who will assist with utility benchmarking efforts, including accounting and facilities personnel, utility provider account representatives, and/or third-party utility management service providers.

Ensuring the support of top organizational management in the utility benchmarking effort is also beneficial, to provide the necessary staff or funding and foster greater participation from all involved. While utility benchmarking is part of best asset management practices, it can be accomplished by a housing provider, internally or externally, in a variety of ways:

  • In-House Staff – Utility benchmarking can be integrated into standard operating procedures and completed by in-house staff. Those who manage properties will be most ready to compile the property and utility data needed for utility benchmarking and will be most ready to utilize the insight gained from utility benchmarking. However, as utility benchmarking may be a new practice, these staff will likely need some training. By using this toolkit, including the links to free training on Portfolio Manager, staff should be ready for success. Housing providers of any size can use in-house staff to conduct utility benchmarking, but it is often an attractive option for smaller housing providers with simple portfolios and for larger housing providers with high capacity. Medium-sized housing providers should assess whether they have an appropriate match of portfolio complexity and staff capacity.
  • Additional Help – If there are not sufficient resources to complete utility benchmarking in-house, additional help can be obtained by hiring interns or consultants. Housing providers may choose to bring on temporary support to clear the hurdles of first-time utility benchmarking or contract for on-going services.
  • Utility Management Service Providers – Another option is to work with a company that specializes in utility management services of one type or another. These companies range in the combination of services that they offer to housing providers – from paying utility bills to collecting utility data to offering enhanced software to advising on performance improvements. Companies that focus on utility benchmarking as their core business tend to be most familiar with the federal and local utility benchmarking requirements that housing providers need to meet.

Choose an Approach to Collecting Tenant-Paid Utility Data

In order to benchmark whole-property energy and water performance, it is best to track all utility data for a property, including all owner-paid utility data and any tenant-paid utility data associated with the property. Unlike most local laws and requirements for ENERGY STAR Certification, HUD's utility benchmarking initiatives allow for the use of a sample of tenant-paid utility data to generate an estimate of whole-property utility data.

Different properties will have different configurations of owner-paid and tenant-paid utility meters, and different methods for obtaining and tracking the utility data may be appropriate. Step 2: Collect Utility Data provides more detail about the four following methods for gathering whole-property utility data

  • Method A: Properties with Only Owner-Paid Utility Bills
    The property owner pays for 100% of the property's utility bills and uses these bills as the source for whole-property utility data.
  • Method B: Aggregated, Whole-Property Utility Data
    Regardless of the split of owner-paid and tenant-paid utility bills, the property owner requests aggregated, whole-property utility data from the utility provider(s).
  • Method C: Collection of 100% of Tenant-Paid Utility Data
    The property owner collects 100% of the individual tenant-paid utility data from the utility provider(s) or tenants.
  • Method D: Collection of a Sample of Tenant-Paid Utility Data*
    The property owner collects a sample of individual tenant-paid utility data from the utility provider(s) or tenants, which is then used to produce an estimate of whole-property utility data.

    *Note: Method D is not an accepted approach by most local laws or for use when applying for ENERGY STAR Certification.

Consider each of these approaches to determine the one that is best for each utility type in each of your organization's properties. Once an approach is determined, your organization can develop a plan for how each property's utility data will be tracked and entered into Portfolio Manager.

Aggregating multiple meters by type and payer, either internally or as offered by the utility provider, is an acceptable data entry method for multifamily properties. For example, if there are 60 tenant-paid electric meters and one owner-paid electric meter at a property, they can be entered as two "meters" in Portfolio Manager: one for the owner-paid electric meter and one for the aggregate of all tenant-paid electric meters. HUD strongly recommends maintaining a separation of the utility data by payer (owner-paid vs. tenant-paid) so that the utility data can be easily referenced by the housing provider when establishing utility allowances to cover tenant-paid utility costs, when requesting utility subsidies to cover owner-paid utility costs, and when planning future retrofits. The Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template can help your organization document the planned approach for all properties.

Determine a Plan for Entering Data in Portfolio Manager

There are three options for submitting your organization's property and utility data into Portfolio Manager, which are described further in Step 4: Enter the Data.

  • Manual Entry: Manually entering property and utility data into Portfolio Manager may be the easiest approach for housing providers with simple portfolios.
  • Spreadsheet Upload: Uploading tabular property and utility data into Portfolio Manager is an attractive option for housing providers with complex portfolios. Note that the Portfolio Manager spreadsheet upload templates must be used for a successful import. Those who choose to use HUD's Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template can use the built-in feature to automatically populate Portfolio Manager spreadsheet upload templates using data from the plan.
  • Web Services: Utility management service providers or utility providers themselves are often able to automatically transfer property and utility data into Portfolio Manager on behalf of housing providers.

Review Step 4: Enter the Data to identify the approach or combination of approaches that are best for your organization.


Step 2: Collect Utility Data

Bringing the pieces together

All housing providers receive and process utility bills, but most focus solely on the amount due without also taking note of the amount consumed, keeping track of long-term trends, or comparing these to efficiency norms. Through the practice of utility benchmarking, housing providers can establish a comprehensive understanding of the energy and water use of their properties and, ultimately, take control of the performance of their properties.

Getting started can be as simple as regularly recording both the utility consumption and cost information found on a property owner’s monthly utility bills. But collecting all of the utility data in properties with a mix of owner-paid and tenant-paid accounts can present greater challenges.

Useful Utility Data Collection Terms

Whole-Property Data – Utility data representing the total consumption and cost of all energy and water used at the multifamily property. This includes all owner-paid utility data and any tenant-paid utility data associated with the property, including tenant-paid utility data for spaces sublet to third-party entities.

Aggregated Data – Utility data from multiple meters that have been summed up into figures representing the consumption and cost of each utility type (electricity, natural gas, water, etc.) for each type of payer (property owner, tenants) at a property on a monthly basis.

Sampled Data – Utility data collected from a sample of tenant-paid accounts in a property and used to create an estimate of whole-property utility data.

Collecting Whole-Property Utility Data

While utility data collection is straightforward in multifamily properties with only owner-paid utility accounts, most properties involve some combination of owner-paid and tenant-paid utility accounts. The information associated with tenant-paid utility accounts is critical to creating a complete picture of how an entire property is performing in terms of energy and water consumption and costs. For this reason, most housing providers need to collect some additional utility data beyond what they can find on their own utility bills in order to undertake utility benchmarking.

There are four methods to collect whole-property utility data for utility benchmarking:

  • Method A: Properties with Only Owner-Paid Utility Bills
    The property owner pays for 100% of the property’s utility bills and uses these bills as the source for whole-property utility data.
  • Method B: Aggregated, Whole-Property Utility Data
    Regardless of the split of owner-paid and tenant-paid utility bills, the property owner requests aggregated, whole property utility data from the utility provider(s). Some utility providers will supply property owners with aggregated utility data upon request, which can reflect the total consumption across accounts associated with a property. This service is increasingly available due to a combination of state/local laws (such as California Law AB-802) and stakeholder advocacy.

    Whenever possible, Method B should be used for properties with a mix of owner and tenant-paid accounts, because it is the most convenient approach with the least likelihood for error.

  • Method C: Collection of 100% of Tenant-Paid Utility Data
    The property owner collects 100% of the individual tenant-paid utility data from the utility provider(s) or tenants. Using tenant-paid utility data release forms (see some examples), property owners can retrieve the necessary utility data from their utility providers. Sometimes, it is also possible for property owners/managers to collect the utility data directly from tenants themselves, though this is usually less convenient. Once collected, the total tenant-paid utility data can be used alongside utility data from the owner-paid bills to reflect whole-property utility data.
  • Method D: Collection of a Sample of Tenant-Paid Utility Data*
    The property owner collects a sample of individual tenant-paid utility data from the utility provider(s) or tenants, using the same techniques described in Method C above. Once collected, the sampled tenant-paid utility data can be used to produce an estimate of all tenant-paid utility data for the property, then used alongside the owner-paid utility data to reflect an estimate of whole-property utility data.

    The best practice in utility benchmarking is to collect 100% of the actual utility data associated with a property, since this produces the most accurate results and provides the greatest insights. However, HUD recognizes the challenges that often arise when collecting tenant-paid utility data and therefore, for certain programs, accepts utility benchmarking based on a combination of complete owner-paid utility data and sampled tenant-paid utility data.

    *Note: Method D is not an accepted approach by most local laws or for use when applying for ENERGY STAR Certification.

Note

HUD data indicate that 36% of the properties in the Office of Multifamily Housing’s assisted housing stock, and 46% of the properties in the Office of Public Housing’s public housing stock, are serviced by owner-paid utility accounts only and so do not need to collect any tenant-paid utility data.

Related Resource

HUD’s Multifamily Utility Data Collection Database, which HUD is expanding on an on-going basis, is intended as a single repository that housing providers can use to look up the applicable procedures for requesting utility data (tenant-paid or aggregated, whole-property utility data) from each of their utility providers.

EPA maintains a map and list of those utility providers across the country that offer property owners aggregated, whole-property utility data and automatic data transfer.

Key Requirement

When sampled tenant-paid utility data is used to estimate whole-property data, the “Estimation” box must be checked when submitting the data in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.

Aggregated, Whole-Property Data (Method B)

A growing number of utility providers – including all utility providers in California – offer aggregated whole-property utility data, as well as automatic data transfer. You can check if your utility providers offer these services by referencing EPA’s aforementioned map and list. Since Method B is the most convenient and accurate option for utility data collection in properties with a mix of owner and tenant-paid accounts, it should be used whenever possible.

Some utility providers may still be hesitant to provide aggregated tenant-paid utility data to property owners due to privacy concerns, as well as technological and procedural barriers. However, utility data sharing rules and regulations vary by state and continue to develop rapidly. If your utility provider does not offer these services today, you should request of them that they do so and check in regularly for progress.

It is important to provide clear direction to utility providers about how a property’s utility data should be aggregated.

Tips for Method B

  • HUD recommends maintaining data for owner-paid and tenant-paid utility accounts separately when possible, even when tenant-paid utility accounts are aggregated, due to the unique accounting needs of affordable housing properties. With data separated by payer, housing providers can more easily reference the utility data when establishing utility allowances to cover tenant-paid utility costs, when requesting utility subsidies to cover owner-paid utility costs, and when planning future retrofits.
  • In order to keep owner-paid utility data separate from tenant-paid utility data, a property owner can request aggregated data only for tenant-paid accounts, and track their owner-paid accounts separately. If a utility provider cannot aggregate tenant-paid accounts separately from owner-paid accounts, the property owner may choose to reference their owner-paid utility bills and subtract their owner-paid amounts from the total in order to determine the breakdown.
  • Some housing providers, as mentioned earlier, will elect to conduct their utility benchmarking on the building level rather than at the property level. When requesting aggregated data for a property comprised of multiple buildings, be sure to specify whether your request is for aggregated utility data for each building, or simply for the property as a whole.

Obtaining Individual Tenant-Paid Utility Data (Methods C and D)

For housing providers using Method C or D, it is necessary to obtain individual tenant-paid utility data. While it is possible to collect bills directly from tenants, it is usually easier to collect this data from utility providers.

The first step is to gather signed tenant-paid utility data release forms. The HUD Multifamily Utility Data Collection Database provides information on many utility providers’ preferred tenant-paid utility data release form (see some examples below) and preferred method of receiving a data request. It is necessary to contact the tenants in each housing unit for which utility data is being collected (either all units or a selected sample), explain the purpose and importance of this information collection, and ask them to sign the release form.

Tips for Methods C and D

  • Property managers may institutionalize this process by including utility data release forms as part of the lease for new tenants and gathering updated release forms each year during the tenant income verification process.
  • Rather than requesting meter numbers from tenants, a property manager may wish to record all meter numbers directly from the meter banks within the property.
  • The Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template  includes space to catalog all utility meter numbers and account numbers for each housing unit. Use the built-in feature to automatically populate the Tenant-Paid Utility Data Sampling Calculator when it’s time to calculate your sample size and document monthly utility data.

Once release forms have been collected, the utility data request can be sent to the utility provider. It should include information about the property owner, including the name of the property owner, the relationship to the property in question, the street address for the property, and the name of the property manager or other point of contact. The request should note the fact that signed tenant-paid utility data release forms have been obtained and delivered to the utility provider. Finally, it should include details about the requested information:

  • The list of account numbers for which utility data is requested;
  • A request for monthly utility consumption and cost data;
  • A request for 36 months’ of historical data, to start, or as much as is available and permitted by the utility data release form;
  • A request for future utility data to be provided on an on-going basis, as permitted by the utility data release form;
  • A request for delivery of utility data through web services to your organization’s Portfolio Manager account, when available. Otherwise, a request for delivery of utility data in electronic format (.XLS or .CSV preferred, .PDF acceptable); and
  • A request for utility data reports to clearly cite:
    • The account number and meter number(s);
    • The meter read start and end dates;
    • The total monthly consumption with unit of measure; and
    • The total monthly cost, with notes regarding delivery and supplier rates and fees.

Once received from the utility provider, it is important to check to ensure that the utility data is complete and formatted correctly.

Example Release Forms

The following are examples of release forms that have been used to facilitate the collection of tenant-paid utility data in certain areas. Note that the specific language of any release form your organization may develop should be reviewed and approved by the relevant utility provider before your organization begins the process of collecting tenant information and signatures.

Energy Impact Illinois Multifamily Building Owner Utility Bill Release - If tenant units are separately metered, each tenant (or the building owner for vacant units) must complete the multi-family building tenant release form.

SCE Customer Information Standardized Request Form - Customers of this western utility provider can use this form to give authorization to a designated entity to receive service account information or act on their behalf to perform a variety of specific acts and functions, including “EPA benchmarking” and “requesting and receiving billing records, billing history, and all meter usage data used for bill calculations for [their] service account(s).”

Centerpoint / EnergyScoreCards Minnesota Tenant Utility Information Authorization Form - Authorizes the property owner and partner organizations to collect historical and current utility consumption and spending information for tenant-paid utility accounts.

HUD Secretary Open Letter to Utility Providers and Sample Release of Tenant Utility Information Form – An open letter asking utility providers to support and participate in efforts to facilitate access to utility usage data for owners of multifamily residential buildings in HUD’s portfolio, with a form designed as a standardized format to document a tenant’s consent for the utility provider to release information to the housing provider and HUD.

Sampling Protocols for Tenant-Paid Utility Data (Method D)

The first step in sampling tenant-paid utility data is to identify how many units are necessary to sample in order to appropriately estimate utility consumption and cost for all of the units in the property. For use in its programs, HUD references two sampling protocols, summarized in the table below.

Housing providers should refer to the program requirements applicable to their specific properties to determine whether the use of a sampling protocol is permitted and which one. When more than one set of program requirements related to sampling protocols apply to an individual property, the most stringent program requirements should be met. Housing providers are also encouraged to use larger samples or complete data when possible to improve the insights they can gain from utility benchmarking.

The “Minimum Sample Size Required” table below provides the number of units that must be sampled according to the Tier 1 and Tier 2 sampling protocols, as compared to Tier 3, which requires complete tenant-paid utility data. While this table is useful as a quick reference, housing providers should carefully read through the full details of each sampling protocol to understand how variations in building type and unit type mix within each property can affect the minimum sample size requirements. Note that Tier 2 is almost always more stringent than Tier 1, but due to nuanced differences, stringency is reversed in rare cases.

The Tenant-Paid Utility Data Sampling Calculator applies the Tier 1 and Tier 2 sampling protocols to a property to help housing providers create a sample set. Users can either enter information directly about their properties, buildings, housing units, and utility meters, or they can import the information automatically from their Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template.

Once complete, the calculator will use this information to determine the number of housing units of each type that should be included in the sample for each property, and users can make their selection of housing units. Within the tool, users can track the monthly utility data for each housing unit in the sample and calculate the estimated, aggregate tenant-paid utility consumption and cost for the property. The tool will also calculate the appropriate utility allowance schedule for each property, using the same data.

Related Resources

Most housing providers supported by HUD’s affordable housing programs already collect some individual tenant-paid utility data for the purposes of calculating utility allowances. Indeed, housing providers that are supported by the Office of Multifamily Housing’s assisted housing programs are required by HUD Notice H-2015-04 to collect a sample of tenant-paid utility data at least once every three years when updating their utility allowance calculations. This same data can be used for utility benchmarking. Moreover, HUD’s Tenant-Paid Utility Data Sampling Calculator can calculate your utility allowance schedules for you, based on the data inputted for utility benchmarking!

Key Requirement

It is important to avoid selecting any housing units for a sample that were vacant for more than two months in the 12 month period being benchmarked. See Step 4: Enter the Data for additional information.

Summary of Sampling Protocols

  Tier 1 Data Sampling Tier 2 Data Sampling Tier 3 Complete Data
Originally Developed for Better Buildings Challenge Annual Data Displays Assisted Housing Utility Allowance Calculations N/A
Best Used for
  • Gaining basic insight into building performance
  • Creating an annual data display as a Better Buildings Challenge Partner
  • Gaining additional confidence about utility consumption and costs in order to make basic financial estimates
  • Complying with HUD’s utility allowance schedule development requirements within Assisted Housing
  • Gaining the highest confidence about utility consumption and costs in order to make specific financial decisions
  • Applying for Energy Star Certification
  • Complying with most local utility benchmarking laws
Full Details Provided at Appendix C of the Better Buildings Challenge Data Manual Part VI of HUD Notice H-2015-04 N/A
Total Unit Count in Property Quick Reference
Minimum Sample Size Required
(Please use links above for full details.)
General Instructions For Total Housing Unit Count in the Property (A), select at least the corresponding number of housing units below for the sample. Divide the total sample size proportionally across housing unit types in the property (0-BR, 1-BR, 2-BR, etc.), and round up to the nearest whole number. For Total Affordable Housing Unit Count of Each Housing Unit Type (0-BR, 1-BR, 2-BR, etc.) in the Property (A), select at least the corresponding number of affordable housing units below for the sample. For Total Housing Unit Count in the Property (A), select all housing units for the sample.
Example –
Property Details
For a property with 55 housing units, of which 25 are affordable 1-bedroom units, 10 are market-rate 1-bedroom units, 5 are affordable 2-bedroom units, and 15 are market-rate 2 bedroom units.
Example –
Resultant Sample
The sample set should include a total of 7 housing units, comprised of 4 x 1-bedroom units and 3 x 2-bedroom units. The sample set should include a total of 25 housing units, comprised of 20 affordable 1-bedroom units and 5 affordable 2-bedroom units. The sample set should include all 55 housing units.
Reference Housing Unit Count (A) Tier 1 Minimum Sample Size Tier 2 Minimum Sample Size Tier 3 Minimum Sample Size
1-4 1 All All
5-9 2 All All
10-19 3 All All
20 4 All All
21-29 4 20 All
30-49 5 20 All
50-61 6 20 All
62-71 6 21 All
72-74 6 22 All
75-83 7 22 All
84-99 7 23 All
100-120 8 24 All
121-149 8 25 All
150-191 9 26 All
192-200 9 27 All
201-259 10 27 All
260-388 10 28 All
>388 10 29 All

Step 3: Use Benchmarking Software

Employing an existing framework

Housing providers involved in HUD’s utility benchmarking initiatives should report utility data through ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, a free, web-based utility benchmarking tool provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Portfolio Manager can be used to benchmark the performance of properties and/or buildings.

The following documents provide guidance on how to set up an account in Portfolio Manager, add properties and energy/water data, and view results. Housing providers should take advantage of these free training materials (guidance documents, recorded trainings, and live trainings) available through the EPA to become proficient in using Portfolio Manager. EPA maintains a list of service providers that exchange data with Portfolio Manager via web services.

 

Tip

Start by benchmarking one property. Whether your organization has five or 5,000 properties, by starting with one, your organization becomes familiar with the utility benchmarking process and gains the necessary experience to benchmark the entire portfolio and properly maintain the effort over time.

As mentioned in Step 1: Prepare Your Approach, housing providers may choose to work with third-party utility management service providers, which vary in the combination of services that they offer to housing providers – from paying utility bills to collecting utility data to offering enhanced software to advising on performance improvements. Typically, those that offer enhanced software will have the ability to exchange data with Portfolio Manager and provide personal assistance to help their clients meet their federal and local utility benchmarking requirements. EPA maintains a list of service providers that exchange data with Portfolio Manager via web services.


Step 4: Enter the Data

Getting your data in correctly

The Portfolio Manager Quick Start Guide referenced in Step 3: Use Benchmarking Software describes these basic steps in benchmarking a property:

  1. Add a Property,
  2. Enter Energy and Water Utility Data, and
  3. View Results and Progress.

The other training materials previously referenced provide additional detail about completing these steps in Portfolio Manager. The following text, however, provides targeted information for the multifamily buildings sector – particularly those housing providers seeking to comply with HUD's recommendations and requirements. Housing providers with special circumstances and/or complex portfolios should consult this toolkit's FAQs for troubleshooting help.

Data Entry Options

There are three options for submitting your organization's property and utility data into Portfolio Manager. Additional information can be found in EPA's guidance document, "How to Get Utility Data into Portfolio Manager."

  1. Manual entry: Manual entry is the most basic way to submit your organization's property and utility data into Portfolio Manager. To add one property at a time or update the data for one property at a time, the relevant data can simply be keyed into Portfolio Manager, following the step-by-step guidance within the software.

    Once a property is created in Portfolio Manager, the Add Meter Wizard provides guidance on how to enter energy and water meters. Users first enter basic information about meter types, and then go on to add actual monthly consumption and cost values. Manually entering property and utility data into Portfolio Manager may be the easiest approach for housing providers with simple portfolios.

Related Resource

HUD's Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template is designed to help housing providers organize, record, and maintain the necessary property and utility data in one place. This can help simplify the data entry process, whether you choose to do so manually or transfer the collected data into Portfolio Manager's spreadsheet templates for upload – a task that can be automated using the plan's built-in auto-populate feature.

  1. Spreadsheet upload: Uploading tabular property and utility data into Portfolio Manager is an attractive option for housing providers with complex portfolios and those are already using Excel or other software to track utility data. To enter properties for the first time, Portfolio Manager's Add New Properties spreadsheet can be used to create multiple new property records within a Portfolio Manager account. Once the properties are created within the account, customized spreadsheet templates can be downloaded that allow you to add property data, set up meters, and add monthly utility data. These templates can then be populated and uploaded right back into Portfolio Manager. Note that using Portfolio Manager's templates without reformatting is necessary for a successful import.
     

    Those who choose to use the Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template can streamline the process of setting up their Portfolio Manager accounts by using the plan's built-in, auto-populate feature. The Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template is designed to help users catalog all permanent and semi-permanent information about their portfolios in one place – everything needed for utility benchmarking aside from the actual monthly utility data itself. The built-in feature can automatically populate Portfolio Manager's Add New Properties spreadsheet with data from the plan on behalf of the user. After uploading this initial spreadsheet into your Portfolio Manager account, simply download your custom spreadsheet templates (Update Use Details for Existing Properties spreadsheet and Add Meters to Existing Properties spreadsheet) from Portfolio Manager, place these files in the same folder as your Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template, and use the plan's built-in feature again. The plan will automatically populate these custom spreadsheet templates for you, too. After uploading these custom spreadsheet templates to your Portfolio Manager account, your portfolio will be fully set up in your Portfolio Manager account. You can then proceed to add monthly utility data using Portfolio Manager's Add Bills to Existing Meters spreadsheet.

  2. Web services: Utility management service providers or utility providers themselves are often able to automatically transfer property and utility data into Portfolio Manager on behalf of housing providers on an instantaneous or on-going basis. As previously mentioned, EPA maintains a map and list of those utility providers across the country that offer property owners aggregated whole-property utility data and automatic data transfer, as well as a list of service providers that exchange data with Portfolio Manager via web services.  HUD's Multifamily Utility Data Collection Database also provides additional guidance, resources, and contact information to help housing providers collect this utility data.

Multifamily Property Data

The Portfolio Manager Quick Start Guide provides guidance on how to add a property in Portfolio Manager and enter use details, such as Gross Floor Area or Number of Units, for each type of use. Most multifamily properties can be entered as a single use type in Portfolio Manager. Portfolio Manager does offer the option for users to enter multiple use types (e.g., for a property that is part multifamily housing and part retail), but this is not necessary or recommended for most multifamily properties.

All of this property data can be collected and maintained in the Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template described in Step 1: Prepare Your Approach. And, as mentioned above, the Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan includes a built-in feature that will automatically populate Portfolio Manager's Add New Properties spreadsheet, used for easy upload, on behalf of the user.

Entering Multiple Utility Meters

A multifamily property that is metered at the unit level likely has a large number of utility meters. It is possible to track each of these meters individually in Portfolio Manager if a housing provider chooses to do so. However, it is also acceptable to enter utility data in Portfolio Manager by first aggregating the utility data from multiple meters of the same utility type (electricity, natural gas, water, etc.). Either way, HUD recommends maintaining a separation of the utility data by payer (owner-paid vs. tenant-paid) so that the utility data can be easily referenced by the housing provider when establishing utility allowances to cover tenant-paid utility costs, when requesting utility subsidies to cover owner-paid utility costs, and when planning future retrofits.

A utility provider may be able to perform the aggregation of tenant-paid utility data (see Method B in Step 2: Collect Utility Data), or a housing provider may collect 100% of the tenant-paid utility bills (see Method C in Step 2: Collect Utility Data) and then aggregate the utility data. The housing provider should then enter this aggregated utility data into Portfolio Manager as two Portfolio Manager "meters" of each utility type. For example, if there are 60 tenant-paid electric meters and one owner-paid electric meter at a property, they can be entered as two "meters" in Portfolio Manager: one for the owner-paid electric meter and one for the aggregate of all tenant-paid electric meters.

Entering Sampled Utility Data

In some cases, a sample of tenant-paid bills may be collected when a housing provider does not have access to 100% of a property's tenant-paid utility data. Step 2: Collect Utility Data provides guidance on how to select a sample of units and collect utility data. Once the sampled utility data is collected, it can be used to estimate tenant-paid utility data for the whole property.

For each housing unit type (0-bedroom, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, etc.) included in the sample, the average utility consumption and cost for each utility type will need to be computed based on the sampled utility data and then multiplied by the total number of housing units of that type in the property. The estimated total utility consumption and cost for each housing unit type and each utility type in the property will then need to be added together to obtain the estimated total tenant-paid utility consumption and cost for each utility type for the property. Any owner-paid utility data for the property (e.g., common areas, leasing office, exterior lighting, etc.) should be maintained and entered separately into Portfolio Manager.

For all Portfolio Manager "meters" that reflect estimated utility data, it is important to check the box in Portfolio Manager marked "Estimation."

Example: Using Sample Data to Calculate Estimated
Total Tenant-Paid Electricity Consumption for a Property

Housing Unit Type One-bedroom Two-bedroom
Number of Housing Units in Property 150 50
Number of Housing Units Sampled 18 6
Total Electricity Consumption for Sample Set 171,000 kWh 84,000 kWh
Average Electricity Consumption Per Unit 171,000 ÷ 18 = 9,500 kWh/unit 84,000 ÷ 6 = 14,000 kWh/unit
Estimated Total Electricity Consumption for All Housing Units by Type 9,500 * 150 = 1,425,000 kWh 14,000 * 50 = 700,000 kWh
Estimated Total Tenant-Paid Electricity Consumption for Property 1,425,000 + 700,000 = 2,125,000 kWh

Accounting for Vacancies in Multifamily Utility Benchmarking

There will always be vacancies in multifamily properties. Vacancies may be short-term (such as when housing units turn over to new tenants) or longer-term (such as when housing units are renovated.) The goal of utility benchmarking is to track the performance of a property under normal operations. Since short-term vacancies fall in the realm of normal operations for multifamily properties, no adjustments should be made to the utility data to account for these. While longer-term vacancies do not fall in the realm of normal operations, HUD similarly recommends that no adjustments be made to the utility data to account for these. Instead, housing providers should maintain accurate information regarding the occupancy rates of their properties in Portfolio Manager at all times. In this way, it will always be possible to understand how occupancy rate affects the apparent property performance.

Note that Portfolio Manager asks for occupancy level when property data is entered for all properties. Occupancy level calculations should reflect the average percentage of a property's gross floor area that is occupied and operational during the 12-month period being benchmarked. For example, if the property was 50% occupied for the first half of the year, then 100% occupied for the second half of the year, the occupancy level would be 75% for the year. While occupancy level does not affect energy or water metrics or the 1-100 ENERGY STAR or Water Scores, it is used for eligibility for ENERGY STAR Certification (a minimum occupancy level of 75% is required for multifamily properties) and is needed to accurately understand and compare performance.

Those housing providers who are using sampled utility data should take special care to ensure that their sample set is an accurate reflection of the property, however. In properties experiencing normal, short-term vacancies, the housing provider should avoid selecting housing units for the sample set that have been vacant for more than a cumulative 60 days in the past 12 months.  In properties experiencing abnormal, long-term vacancies (e.g. due to renovation), the housing provider should seek to select housing units for the sample set that reflect the average occupancy level for the property during the past 12 months.

Tagging HUD and USDA Properties in Portfolio Manager

When entering property data into Portfolio Manager, housing providers should tag their individual properties with their HUD and USDA property IDs for easy reference by the housing provider and government employees.

In Portfolio Manager, in the "Details" tab for the property, locate the "Unique Identifiers (IDs)" section. Click on the "Edit" button, and navigate down to the "Standard IDs" section.

  • For HUD Assisted and/or Insured Housing properties: Select "HUD Property REMS ID" and enter the property's REMS ID.
  • For HUD Public Housing properties: Select "HUD Property AMP ID" and enter the property's AMP ID. If there are multiple properties that use the same AMP ID, this same ID should be entered for each property.
  • For USDA Rural Housing properties: Select "USDA Property AMAS ID" and enter the property's AMAS ID.

Step 5: Share the Results

Generating and submitting your results

ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager makes it easy to both share and report your organization's utility benchmarking results internally and with other entities.

Those housing providers who are required to share their utility benchmarking results with HUD, should do so by following the instructions below:

  1. Ensure that you've entered complete and accurate data into Portfolio Manager for all of your properties for the 12-month reporting period cited in your program requirements; 
  2. Verify that all properties have been appropriately tagged with their HUD and/or USDA Property ID and that any and all estimated data used in accordance with the aforementioned guidance has been marked "Estimation";
  3. Run Portfolio Manager's Data Quality Checker, which will help identify missing, incorrect, or anomalous data. Correct or provide an explanation for flagged data;
  4. Click on the link below to pull HUD's reporting template into your Portfolio Manager account;
  5. Log into your Portfolio Manager account, click the Reporting tab, and locate HUD's reporting template in the list;
  6. Click "Respond to Data Request" and read the instructions;
  7. Select the properties to include in the report;
  8. Click "Generate Response Preview." Review and correct any final Data Quality Alerts, then click "Generate Updated Response";
  9. Click "Send Response." E-Sign your report, and click "Send Data"; and
  10. Finally, retain documentation for the future, including:
    • A copy of the Portfolio Manager confirmation email;
    • A copy of the report submission in .XLS format;
    • A copy of all working documents used to collect and track raw data for input;
    • A copy of all tenant-paid utility data release forms and correspondence; and
    • A copy of correspondence with and reports from utility providers.

 


Step 6: Make Informed Decisions

Putting your effort and results to work

Congratulations! After your first year of utility benchmarking, your organization is better able to understand the energy and water performance of its portfolio. With each successive year, your insight will continue to grow. There are real, actionable ways to use the information gained from utility benchmarking to benefit your organization:

  • Identify Anomalies: Review your organization’s utility data on a regular basis to look for errors and anomalies within the data. Portfolio Manager has a built-in tool that can help identify these. From the Summary Tab of each property, a simple verification can be run, which helps spot gaps in property use and utility data and identify anomalies in property use data. This can help your organization identify possible typos, missing data, inaccurate meter readings, inaccurate units of measure, and other common problems. Once it is confirmed that the utility data is entered correctly, your organization can investigate atypical energy or water consumption or costs and identify likely causes. Such investigations may indicate billing errors or malfunctioning equipment, which can be easily addressed and result in significant cost savings.
  • Improve Poor Performers: Review your utility benchmarking reports to look for properties that are performing exceptionally poorly. Investigate the reason for the high energy or water consumption, and identify measures that can be taken to improve performance. Facility operators may be able to identify operations and maintenance measures that can generate savings with limited up-front cost. In other cases, a building audit followed by capital investment may be warranted to improve performance.
  • Recognize and Document Best Practices from Top Performers: Review your utility benchmarking reports to look for properties that are performing exceptionally well. Investigate these properties to identify best practices that can be applied across your organization’s portfolio. If a property has an ENERGY STAR score of 75 or above, consider whether to apply for ENERGY STAR Certification.
  • Set Portfolio-Wide Savings Goals: Look at your organization’s portfolio as a whole. It is typically possible to achieve at least a 20% reduction in energy and water use across a portfolio in a cost-effective manner. What would that mean for your organization’s overall utility costs? What is the average ENERGY STAR 1-100 Score and EPA 1-100 Water Score for your organization’s properties? What would be the resulting energy and/or water consumption and cost savings if your organization were to bring up all under-performing properties to a score of 50 or better? To 75?

To improve the performance of your portfolio, a good strategy is to start with low- and no-cost energy- and water-efficiency measures, and then leverage the utility cost savings from these to fund more expensive energy- and water-efficiency measures. These additional resources may be helpful as your organization assesses opportunities to generate utility cost savings.

  • No-and Low-Cost Energy and Water Saving Tips for Multifamily Housing: For those who are ready to dive in, ENERGY STAR provides no- and low-cost energy and water saving opportunities to look for across your organization’s multifamily properties and tips from successful ENERGY STAR partners.
  • Water Score for Multifamily Housing: Visit this comprehensive section on saving water in existing multifamily buildings, which details resources to help you understand, manage, and improve water use.
  • Save Energy: Visit this comprehensive section on saving energy in existing buildings, which details best practices for saving energy, engaging occupants, and calculating potential energy savings. Consider the full range of ENERGY STAR and WaterSense qualified products, as well as the ENERGY STAR Service and Product Provider partners who can help to identify, plan, and implement energy-efficiency improvements.

FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions