Briarlane’s Benchmarking Success Story

By Lindsay McKeeman, BES, certUE and Bruce Fulcher, BES
Originally published in the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario’s  Fair Exchange November/December 2020 Magazine

Property management requires a holistic approach which looks at more than just the bottom line to determine success. In 2016 a multi-year GHG reduction and utility benchmarking plan was implemented by Briarlane Rental Property Management Inc. producing impressive results. The effectiveness of Briarlane’s management strategy is not based on guesswork or who has the best new innovative product; it is all about real numbers; as Brad Smith of Briarlane noted, “if you don’t track your utilities, you can’t manage them”!

Briarlane Rental Property Management Inc. is the largest pure third-party property management company in Ontario managing more than 16,000 units and greater than 2 million square feet of commercial space in the GTA and surrounding area: north to Bobcaygeon; east to Bellville; and west to Chatham. After much consideration, they selected Watershed Technologies Inc., a Toronto based science and engineering firm, to assist with implementing their water and energy management strategies.

Initial benchmarking of their portfolio identified 36 buildings as having an opportunity to significantly reduce water consumption. These opportunities showed savings from 11% to over 50% with resulting savings adding up to greater than $1.1 million per annum with a corresponding reduction of more than 5,000 tonnes of GHG (and a 261% ROI)!

Covid-19 Changes & Water Benchmarking Assessments

Only by benchmarking one’s portfolio, (comparatively looking at each building’s utility consumption, not costs, over a given period), can you truly assess how your buildings are performing. Costs increase routinely and hide what is actually happening with water consumption. Additionally, and particularly relevant today with social isolation, is the substantial increase we see in water consumption. Since March 1st 2020 multi-residential water consumption has increased substantially (between 5% and 50%!) as more people are staying at home, cooking more, and working from home.

The question posed by Briarlane was one that many owners and property managers are posing: are all of the observable water increases attributable to Covid-19 lifestyle changes, or are some of these increases due to leaks, deterioration of parts and faulty fixtures? It’s impossible to tell just looking at your invoices. Therefore, detailed water use profiles are now more important than ever to see how your buildings are performing.

If you can’t see how your buildings are performing, how do you know what to do and when?

For Briarlane, Watershed’s “Energy Brain” is used to track real time water use and compare it with historical water consumption within their buildings. Even though access to real time water use is available 24/7, typically a monthly report on each building provides enough timely insight to make informed decisions on whether or not any changes need to be made at any particular building. It removes the guess work and provides hard numbers.

However, in these times the standard hard numbers can be misleading. A clear example of this can be seen when evaluating completed water retrofit projects: with savings of 21% in January 2020 and an 18% social isolation related increase in water consumption since March of 2020, the numbers would indicate that water savings are only 3%. But this would be inaccurate. The current actual savings are, of course, masked by the Covid-19 related increases. In-depth evaluations are required to determine savings performance.

An example of a typical increase observed due to social distancing protocols
Figure 1: An example of a typical increase observed due to social distancing protocols

 

In order to stay on top of consumption, Briarlane is continuing to rely on the accuracy of Watershed’s Energy Brain system which deciphers the difference between water usage and water leakage, identifies water use anomalies, graphs out each building’s water consumption profile, and produces a monthly financial and performance report for their evaluation and to determine what action, if any, needs to be implemented. These tools are proving essential for effectively managing the uncertainty surrounding water use during a global pandemic.

Benchmarking for Increased Comfort and Decreased Cost

A significant amount of time and money is invested in managing both the comfort and cost of multi-residential buildings. Benchmarking for comfort is a little out of the ordinary, but it goes hand-in-hand with assessing which heating systems are operating at increased gas guzzling levels. A proper evaluation of each of the building’s heating profile will demonstrate comfort levels within the building.

Having done this, Briarlane has begun to incorporate an advanced building automation system, (ABAS), which uses off the shelf components integrating a customized software and control strategy that is building specific. This system uses a patented Interval Data Optimization (IDO) custom designed control strategy. It allows a standard atmospheric boiler systems to operate without overheating the tenants, operating much akin to a high efficiency boiler system.

Through this course of action Briarlane has reduced heating costs by anaverage by 20%. Where IDO was combined with a new boiler plant, the average savings increased to 33%. The first 24 buildings identified and modified will have savings that total over 2 million dollars over 5 years, and will effectively eliminate over 13,000 tonnes GHG emissions!

Typical IDO Savings
Figure 2: Typical IDO Savings

 

Benchmarking analysis is more than determining how much money you’re spending and where. It is the creation of a roadmap which outlines the greatest opportunities and how to get from point-A to point-B. Briarlane’s openness to exploring these possibilities has been rewarded with huge utility savings, ultimately allowing them to invest further in improving each building and providing greater returns for each owner. According to Brad Smith, President of Briarlane Rental Property Management Inc. “These projects are substantially increasing the building’s profitability and real-estate value in less than one year’s time”.

By developing and engaging in a holistic strategy to manage their properties, Briarlane removed the guesswork out of utility management. They have shown that the potential for effective, fiscal and environmentally responsible business is not only possible but immediately attainable.

 

Reviewed by: Pat Brown, V.P and Brad Smith, President of Briarlane Rental Property Management Inc.