This article was originally published in the September/October 1996 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1996

in energy


Multifamily Conference: Rare and Well Done

In some circles, 1996 will be remembered not so much for the summer Olympics, but for an event that occurs even less often-a multifamily energy conference. In late May, over 300 energy and housing professionals gathered in New York City at the Energy Efficiency in America's Multifamily Buildings conference for the rare opportunity to exchange information on how to make apartment buildings more affordable and comfortable through energy savings.

Multifamilies have generally taken a back seat to single-family dwellings as far as support for energy conservation is concerned. But, as this conference demonstrated, significant progress is being made on multifamily efficiency, and participants were clearly eager to share their research and experience.

The choice of topics alone was an indication of how complex conservation work within the multifamily sector can be. There were sessions dedicated to small garden apartments as well as to low- and high-rise buildings. Case studies on energy analyses and explanations of diagnostic techniques took their place on the program with sessions on many of the non-technical aspects of multifamilies: landlord agreements, management issues, tenant education, unit access, public housing, financing, and specialized training programs.

In the technical sessions on big ticket items, participants got to quiz the experts on boiler efficiency, sizing hot water systems, condensing furnaces, the pros and cons of cogeneration, and how to switch from steam to hydronic heating. The questions and comments from people who were considering these type of retrofits added a problem solving dimension to the sessions, to the benefit of everyone present.

The presentations on diagnostic methods covered techniques used to audit buildings with inside corridors, open stairwells, central versus individual conditioning, electric heat, and dozens of other variables characteristic of multifamilies. One underlying lesson that emerged from these sessions was that the technological advances made in the last few years for diagnosing single-family homes do not necessarily apply to apartments. But researchers and auditors have been perfecting techniques for multifamilies. Participants who attended a series of sessions on assessing air infiltration had the opportunity to compare and contrast methods using strategic blower door testing, tracer gas testing, and modeling.

More comparisons could be made in the sessions on advanced controls, in which manufacturers had a chance to describe their products. Here, penetrating questions from the audience garnered vital information on concerns such as product capacity, availability of spare parts, costs, and reliability of sensors.

Demonstrations of auditing tools are always popular at energy conferences. The showcase at this New York meeting centered on the locally developed EA-QUIP, the only computer software program approved by the Department of Energy for use on multifamily buildings in its Weatherization Assistance Program. In the four years the software has been in use it has been continually improved and updated and can be modified for use anywhere. Another tool, shown in a presentation, had the mark of a resourceful local auditor: the deli flow hood, once a plastic bucket for a classic New York salad.

With a program packed with must attend sessions, it was nice to find that a few of them were repeated. The organizers also scheduled a forum on needed research when there was nothing competing with it on the program, allowing input from the cross-section of highly experienced professionals in attendance.

The sponsors of this conference-the Association for Energy Affordability, Inc., the National Center for Appropriate Technology, the New York State Division of Weatherization Services, and the U.S. Department of Energy-realized the importance of bringing multifamily professionals together. The conference took place just as the New York Public Service Commission announced its decision to deregulate the electric industry and the state's weatherization agency moved to its new home in the housing department. In the midst of these changes and cuts in the federal budget, the conference closed with agreement that multifamily energy conferences should convene more often-if not annually then biannually.

-Ann Kelly


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