Drinking Freely at the Energy Trough

The days of conspicuous consumption on the part of apartment dwellers may soon be over. A recent article in the New York Times regarding utility included rents  highlighted the fact that the energy consumption in apartments or multi tenant buildings where utilities are included is about 20 percent higher than apartments where utilities are not included.  With the record temperatures experienced throughout the country this summer this has a major environmental impact since 40 percent of a building’s energy use is spent on heating and cooling.

Property managers are beginning to audit buildings and have discovered renters with utilities included did not worry about turning on the air conditioner in May and leaving them on until October.  Apartment dwellers admit to leaving the air conditioner running when they go to work and even when they go on vacation because it is not costing them anything.   

In the Times article, Lawrence J. Wright, a New York University professor referred to this type of phenomenon as Homo economicus – man’s economics – if something is free you will imbibe until you are full.

Property owners are considering submeters in buildings to identify how much energy is consumed per apartment.  While this would still generate one bill, the landlords could charge tenants based on consumption.

No one wants the label of ‘conspicuous consumer’. The ability to show a resident how much more energy they consume than their neighbors could help to change the behavior.

This may be the end of an era but one that could help to improve the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

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