Following YoDa to Utility Benchmarking Glory: HUD’s Year of Data Reaches Benchmarking Goals

By Leslie Zarker, ICF on Sep 17, 2017

Most of us know Yoda as a cute, rumpled little geriatric urging all of us to be our best selves. But for the past year, 100 Better Buildings Challenge multifamily partners have participated in YoDa, HUD’s shorthand for the Year of Data drive. The acronym is appropriate in more ways than one, as the drive urged all participants to realize their best selves as housing providers, through the magic of utility benchmarking.

Utility benchmarking allows property owners to track, analyze, and report energy and water consumption and costs associated with a portfolio of properties. But the process isn’t always easy. There are persistent challenges unique to multifamily housing providers, such as facing privacy concerns when collecting data from tenant-paid accounts. Just cataloguing a portfolio’s square footage—which can run into millions of square feet for the largest public housing authorities—can be a cumbersome task.

Enter the Year of Data. Launched in the summer of 2016 and supported by HUD and DOE, YoDa provided technical assistance for multifamily Challenge partners to accelerate their use of portfolio-wide, building-level data and get a better picture of their buildings’ energy consumption patterns and costs. YoDa’s goals were ambitious: partners that had been in the program between one and two years (juniors) were tasked with cataloging the square footage of their portfolios and benchmarking at least 80 percent of owner-paid utility receipts. Partners in the program for more than two years (seniors) had the additional task of collecting and reporting at least 30 percent of whole property data for one year and publishing the data on DOE’s Better Buildings Solution Center.

HUD is proud to announce YoDa results. The lightbulb graphic below illustrates overall program goals set for the YoDa drive: 71 percent of YoDa participants (juniors and seniors combined) reached their goal - 14 juniors and 57 seniors. These partners overcame numerous barriers and are now tracking, analyzing or publishing their utility consumption and cost data. See Better Buildings Challenge multifamily partners’ energy data displays on the Solutions Center.

The results go far deeper than these numbers show. Working with HUD-contracted data experts, Better Buildings Challenge partners learned valuable lessons on their YoDa benchmarking journey:

  • How to catalogue the number and type of properties in a portfolio and their associated meters: HUD’s Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Plan Template helps housing providers catalogue their portfolios and plan a data collection strategy.
  • How to develop a strategy for collecting data: Should partners pursue tenant consumption data directly from utilities? Are they able to address utility privacy concerns about tenants? If not, many partners learned how to work with their utilities to get aggregated data, meaning multiple meters are summed up together to represent total consumption and cost for each type of payer (property owner, tenants).  If they couldn’t get this, partners learned how to collect samples of individual tenant-paid utility data, using the Tenant-Paid Utility Data Sampling Calculator
  • How to work with ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager (PM).

During the year HUD also developed the Multifamily Utility Benchmarking Toolkit, a comprehensive guide for the multifamily sector with key tools, case studies, and frequently asked questions.

Just as Yoda’s students in Star Wars® stayed the course to victory and success, so HUD’s YoDa participants can realize long term success as they continue to follow the pathway of utility benchmarking. Immediate benefits include discovering equipment malfunctions, usage aberrations, or utility billing errors, that once resolved lead to significant cost savings. Long-term benefits happen when property owners track and analyze their data over time, using the information to plan and invest in building performance improvements.

HUD and DOE congratulate all YoDa achievers on their success and wish them many happy returns from their benchmarking glory.