SF Apartment : April 2016


Getting to Green

by Emily Landes

No one wants to have an inefficient building. But when dealing with the older buildings that make up a bulk of San Francisco’s housing stock, it can seem daunting and expensive to tackle greening projects, even though the result would be a more desirable building for owners, tenants and future buyers. Luckily, multifamily building owners in San Francisco have a bevy of options when it comes to getting free or discounted services, products and even financing designed to make apartment buildings more efficient.

Water Savings
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) provides many free services, plumbing devices and financial incentives to help multifamily properties make water-saving improvements. Given the ongoing drought, not only are the services free, but the enhancements could help owners save hundreds every month on water bills.

One of the easiest things to do is sign up for MyAccount at myaccount.sfwater.org. Registered account holders can view daily use and water bills, download water usage reports to monitor consumption and help identify leaks, and see how their building’s water use compares to other similar properties. Current average daily water use of San Francisco residents is around 44 gallons per person per day. MyAccount allows you to compare this average to your building’s reported water usage.

The SFPUC also offers a free Water-Wise Evaluation. During the evaluation, a trained conservation technician will visit your property to help identify costly leaks, as well as inefficient plumbing fixtures eligible for replacement with rebate incentives or no-cost installation services. The technician will also provide recommendations to improve water efficiency.

The free Water‐Wise Evaluation includes an assessment of your property’s water use to determine if the building is operating within an efficient range for its occupancy; distribution of free water‐saving plumbing devices, including showerheads, faucet aerators and standard toilet leak repair parts; identification of leaks in residential units; identification of inefficient toilet and clothes washer fixtures eligible for rebates of up to $500 each when replaced with qualifying high‐efficiency models; and an assessment of outdoor landscape and irrigation systems. Plus, anticipated to launch this fall, the evaluation will also identify inefficient toilet fixtures eligible for no-cost replacement through a new free high-efficiency toilet installation program. 

“Apartment managers and homeowner associations are encouraged to utilize our free site assessments to enter each unit to identify potential improvements and receive free high-efficiency showerheads, faucet aerators and standard toilet leak 
repair parts,” advised the SFPUC’s Chandra Johnson. To schedule an appointment, contact the SFPUC Water Conservation section at 415-551-4730.

Even without scheduling a Water-Wise evaluation, all properties can benefit from immediate water savings with free water-efficient plumbing devices from the SFPUC. Select free plumbing devices—such as faucet aerators, high-efficiency showerheads and garden hose shut-off nozzles— are available for pickup at SFPUC Customer Service. The service center is located on the first floor of 525 Golden Gate Ave. and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. (Properties requesting more than 10 of each device are required to schedule a Water-Wise Evaluation.)

Customers may also be eligible for rebates of up to $500 when purchasing select high-efficiency toilets, urinals and clothes washers, including coin-operated leased models. (Rebate incentive programs for high-efficiency toilets will end in 2017.)
Replacement of old, water-guzzling fixtures and wasteful appliances can add up to big savings on water and energy bills and replacing them can help protect our precious water supply.

Energy Savings
The SFPUC also offers incentives for solar systems. GoSolarSF is a city program run by the SFPUC that has helped residents and businesses install thousands of kilowatts of solar energy on residential, business and nonprofit rooftops across San Francisco, reducing participants’ electricity bills and shrinking the city’s carbon footprint.

Multifamily owners who use virtual net metering can get up to $50,000 in incentives through GoSolarSF, depending on the size of the system installed and the number of units in the building. Interested in the amount your building might qualify for? Start by contacting a GoSolarSF-approved installer (the list is at solarsf.org), a nonprofit installer or a San Francisco-based installer with three or fewer employees. If you choose a San Francisco-based installer, you can get a larger incentive payment.

Another San Francisco-based incentive program designed to increase energy efficiency is SF Energy Watch. This program offers a free comprehensive energy assessment of multifamily properties and also provides financial rebates for owners, managers, vendors and/or contractors to install qualified LED lighting products inside residences, common areas and exteriors. Building owners can choose to obtain bids from SF Energy Watch-participating contractors or to apply directly for incentives through a self-installation process.

Building owners who receive electric and/or natural gas distribution service from PG&E on properties located within the city limits are eligible to participate. To schedule a free energy assessment, contact the SF Energy Watch hotline at 415-355-3769 or email sfenergywatch@sfenvironment.org.

PG&E also offers energy efficiency rebates to customers with multifamily dwellings that contain two or more units. The program encourages owners to upgrade to qualifying energy-efficient products in individual tenant units and in the common areas. Rebates range from $175 for a qualifying EnergyStar clothes washer to $1,500 for a qualifying central system natural gas boiler for water heating.

There are further rebate programs for multifamily owners through the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN) Multifamily Program. This program assists owners and/or managers in planning improvements designed to save 10% or more of a building’s energy usage. If the improvement passes the 10% threshold, the program provides $750 per unit in rebates to help pay for the enhancements. The program also pays for a customized project consultation—up to a $5,000 value—that can include utility analysis, priority setting, energy modeling and a site visit. The program is open to multifamily buildings with five-plus units in the Bay Area.

Financing Larger Projects
These incentive programs, rebates and free services can help lower some of the costs associated with greening an older building, but for larger upgrades owners may still have a hard time paying for enhancements without a loan. That’s where financing programs like PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) can help.

If an owner must take out a loan to complete a greening project, the PACE program allows property owners to attach the amortized cost of that financing to their property tax bill. That way they can pay the cost back at a lower amount over a longer period of time than a traditional loan. According to Rich Chien, GreenFinanceSF Program Manager for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, the department takes care of the paperwork to get the financing attached to the building’s title, but the funds are all 100% private capital and may have slightly higher rates than a traditional loan. Even with the higher rates, given the savings from the newly efficient building plus the longer payback time, owners “might even be able to go cash flow positive,” said Chien.

When it comes time to sell the property, the loan stays with the building, so it would become the responsibility of the new owner. But, rather than being a deterrent to a sale, Chien believes that PACE can be a benefit since efficient buildings are so desirable. “Homes with PACE improvements yield a higher sales price in the market,” he said.

San Francisco first began using the PACE program in 2011 for buildings with five or more units. But due to a legal case in San Diego that had statewide ramifications, the program is now only available to residential-only properties with three or fewer units. Chien suggests that owners of larger buildings look into the Bay Area Multifamily Capital Advance Program, or BAMCAP, which is run by the department’s East Bay counterpart, Stopwaste.org.

BAMCAP allows owners to bring down the interest rate from their lender if they are doing efficiency upgrades. The program provides up to 50% of the financing needed for the project at a 0% interest rate. The rest of the financing is provided by a traditional lender, which must agree to participate in the program. BAMCAP’s share of the financing is up to $5,000 per unit or $500,000 per project, whichever is less. The program’s consultants will work with owners to develop a qualifying scope.

From financing to fixtures, there are numerous incentives, rebates and services to make your building more efficient. Even better, once these upgrades are complete, you’ll have a leaner, meaner building that will save you money for years to come.

Emily Landes is the editor of SF Apartment Magazine and can be reached at emily@blackpointpress.com.