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.
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."
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.
In addition to cataloging its portfolio, your organization will need to learn about the utility providers that provide service to the portfolio, including:
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.
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 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
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.
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.
Review Step 4: Enter the Data to identify the approach or combination of approaches that are best for your organization.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Once received from the utility provider, it is important to check to ensure that the utility data is complete and formatted correctly.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
Those housing providers who are required to share their utility benchmarking results with HUD, should do so by following the instructions below:
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:
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.
In rare cases, a housing provider may have a single utility meter that serves multiple properties in their portfolio. This may occur when a district heating or cooling system serves a large campus, as one example. In this case, the housing provider should set up separate Portfolio Manager “meters” for each property and assign a portion of the total utility consumption and cost to each. Use the relative square footage of the two or more properties to apportion out the utility consumption and cost appropriately. Be sure to click the “Estimated” box when entering the utility data into Portfolio Manager and make a note about this step in your Utility Benchmarking Plan for future reference.
If your organization has decided to benchmark at the property level only, each utility meter will be associated with its corresponding property, and there will be no need to identify which building(s) within the property that utility meter serves.
However, some organizations choose to benchmark at the property level and the building level, to meet HUD’s requirements while also meeting local laws or pursuing a deeper level of insight. This is accomplished in Portfolio Manager by setting up “Child Building” entries, which represent buildings, underneath a “Parent Property” entry, which represents a property. For guidance on this approach, review the EPA’s guide “How to Benchmark a Campus in Portfolio Manager.”
If you are using this approach and you have a utility meter that serves multiple buildings, set up separate Portfolio Manager “meters” for each building and assign a portion of the total utility consumption and cost to each. Use the relative square footage of the two or more buildings to apportion out the utility consumption and cost appropriately. Be sure to click the “Estimated” box when entering the utility data into Portfolio Manager and make a note about this step in your Utility Benchmarking Plan for future reference.
For guidance on how to enter consumption and costs for utility types that are not metered but are purchased in specific quantities (e.g., fuel oil), see the Portfolio Manager FAQ on Fuel Deliveries.
In rare cases, certain utility types used by a housing provider may be unquantifiable. This is most likely to occur when a housing provider uses unmetered well water for free or uses unmetered municipal water for a flat-fee. In these cases only, a housing provider should enter estimated consumption data for the purposes of HUD reporting requirements, based on a rule-of-thumb that an average tenant uses 121 gallons of water per day – the average shown in EPA’s research. For example, if a property has 200 tenants and the billing period is 30 days, a housing provider should enter 121 gallons/tenant/day x 200 tenants x 30 days = 726,000 gallons. Be sure to click the “Estimated” box when entering the utility consumption into Portfolio Manager. You should still enter accurate utility cost information, however, and make a note about this step in your Utility Benchmarking Plan for future reference.
See the Portfolio Manager FAQ on Entering Offsite Green Power.
If you have water and sewer costs on the same utility bill, or if they are on separate bills but both reference the same consumption value, do the following:
In some cases, sewer bills may have no consumption values, with only a cost value provided. In other cases, they may have consumption values that differ from water consumption - usually because the utility provider charges based on a percentage of total water use, assuming that not all of the water used is discharged into the sewer (some goes to irrigation, evaporation in a cooling tower, etc.). In these cases, do the following:
Tracking your utility costs is key to understanding the amount of money spent to operate your properties, as well as the potential to save and reinvest money elsewhere. Additionally, because HUD covers the utility costs for both owner-paid and tenant-paid utility accounts, tracking this information alongside your utility consumption information should make it easier to complete other financial accounting and program reporting tasks. In the future, HUD hopes to integrate the utility benchmarking process with other such tasks through the creation of integrated software and databases, offering a fully streamlined process and sophisticated management tools for our housing provider partners. Tracking utility costs alongside utility consumption now will allow for a simple shift later.
When entering utility cost information into Portfolio Manager, it is recommended that housing providers enter the total cost on the utility bill, inclusive of all taxes and fees, since the total cost is the appropriate metric for use when housing providers calculate utility allowances and utility subsidies.
The ENERGY STAR FAQ on Meter Gaps and Overlaps provides some guidance on how to handle gaps in time in utility data. Tenant-paid utility bills at multifamily housing properties may be more likely to have gaps and overlaps than owner-paid utility bills, mostly due to tenant turnover.
If a property is subject to HUD utility benchmarking requirements, the entire property should be benchmarked. Samples should be pulled from all housing units in the property, regardless of support status.