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Gary Pivo, PhD
Sept 12, 2012

This analysis of 2005 and 2009 data from the Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) finds that multifamily rentals are significantly less energy-efficient, causing the occupants to spend more on energy than in all other types of housing on both the local and national levels. Moreover, the gap between lower-income multifamily renters and higher-income renters living in low energy-efficient units grew wider from 2005 to 2009. This paper supports the finding that energy efficiency is related to both housing type and household income (although housing type appears to have a stronger effect).

Multifamily units hold tremendous potential for significant and crucial energy efficiency investments because: 
  1. Home energy is a significant component of lower income family budgets
  2. Multifamily rentals are an important part of the affordable housing supply
  3. Many lower-income families already pay a large share of their income for housing and utilities
  4. Both energy prices and spending have been growing quickly over the past decade. The increased spending is linked to more home electronics, larger homes, weather patterns, and geographic population shifts.
The study also notes that high savings at low cost could be found in buildings heated with fuels other than electricity, but buildings heated with electricity often required higher-cost building shell, i.e. windows and insulation, measured to achieve significant savings. 

To determine the efficiency of a unit, the study took an inventory of energy efficiency features (EEFs) - physical attributes that reduce the amount or cost of energy required for a given level of service.  If multifamily rentals had 5 more EEFs, putting them on par with other types of housing, the savings could range from $376 - $611 a year.  

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“Whatever the causes, higher energy expenditures per square foot in multifamily rentals, compared to other housing types makes it harder for multifamily rentals to house their occupants affordably.”
Energy Efficiency & Household Income in Multifamily Rentals, p.2

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