Jon Lanning By Jon Lanning • November 12, 2018

Plug Load Reduction Strategies for Multifamily Facilities

Engaging tenants in reducing energy use is critical for achieving energy efficiency in multi-family facilities. Numerous tenant engagement solutions exist, and through proper energy efficiency education tenants are learning the benefits of switching off lights when they leave a room, using LED bulbs in lamps, and even installing smart thermostats.

But tenants and property owners alike often neglect an important source of energy use: plug loads.

Plug load is energy consumed by electronic equipment plugged into a standard outlet receptacle. The most common plug loads in multifamily facilities include computers, printers, televisions, gaming systems, speakers, lamps, and appliances. Unfortunately, plug loads are often overlooked by property owners and tenants seeking to save energy, and tenants tend to have the most ability to control this energy end use.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), plug and process loads (PPLs) consume about one-third of energy in commercial buildings. In comparison, lighting uses only 20 percent, while heating, cooling, and ventilation use a combined total of 40 percent.


So how can you reduce plug loads in your facility? The 2016 American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACCEEE) Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings lists some simple but effective tips.

Consider ENERGY STAR® products. When replacing tenants’ refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, washers, or dryers, choosing ENERGY STAR-certified models can not only save money on energy costs but may also net you a rebate from your electricity provider. For more information on ENERGY STAR appliances, click here.

Use advanced power strips. A surprisingly large number of electronics continue to draw power all the time, even after they are turned off. We refer to this as standby power, and the only way to eliminate standby power waste is to unplug electronics completely or by installing an Advanced PowerStrip (APS).

  • While it may look like an ordinary surge protector, the APS eliminates power waste by removing supplied power to unused electronics. A variety of APS technologies exist on the market, which vary primarily based on the type of control strategy used. Example APS technologies include the following:
  • Control/switched (load-sensing). When the primary control device (such as a computer a TV) is turned off or enters standby mode, supplied power to peripheral devices (such as a DVD player or printer) plugged into the switched outlets is removed and electronics turn off.
  • Timer-controlled. All electronic equipment plugged into the energy-saving outlets turn off based on a preset schedule or time delay.
  • Activity monitoring. Featuring a sensor to monitor activity in the room (e.g., motion, IR signals, etc.), the APS automatically removes supplied power to outlets if no activity is detected within a specified time frame.
  • Remote switch. All electronics plugged into the power strip can be turned off via a remote control.

The APS is recognized a low-cost measure that is easy to install and use. As such, many electric utilities and energy contractors offer incentives or rebates.

The ACCEEE study suggests installing an APS in home theaters and other common areas like a workstation, party room, gym, or business space. You can also encourage tenants to install them in their residences.

Engage tenants. The ACCEEE study lists the following ways to encourage tenants to reduce plug loads:

  • Messaging campaigns. Emails, posters, slogans, and building-wide events can increase energy awareness. “The Shorenstein real estate organization saw a 16.2 percent reduction in portfolio-wide energy use since 2008, a portion of which is attributed to their ‘Flip the Switch’ comprehensive tenant engagement program,” the ACCEEE study stated. “Similarly, Tower Companies worked with tenant energy champions to pilot the use of APSs in combination with tenant educational material and in-person APS installation.”
  • Competitions. Floor vs. floor competitions can reward total electric energy bill reduction.
  • Incentives. Consider giving cash prizes or other gifts to tenants that reduce plug loads. “Stanford University conducted a campus-wide plug load inventory and recorded 955 space heaters, consuming 517,634 kWh per year. Stanford incentivized students to swap their space heaters for a Sustainable Stanford fleece jacket,” the ACCEEE study stated.
  • Green leases. Write plug-load energy incentives into tenant leases.

“Most successful tenant engagement strategies have included a combination of tenant education on plug load energy-reduction efforts, messaging, incentives to encourage continued action, and cost-effective controls such as APSs,” the ACCEEE study concluded.

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