Student housing is uniquely both residential and commercial. On the one hand, students live in residence most of the year, but not the whole year round, and they regularly occupy both private rooms and common spaces where they work, study, and interact. On the other hand, students are also short-term or temporary residents who require a range of services and amenities to be adequately supported throughout their student experience.
Of course, there are overhead costs that come with providing the services and amenities that students need to succeed. So while student housing managers must ensure that their properties are profitable and operate within budget, they’re more limited than other commercial property managers on which overhead costs they can cut.
Consequently, to improve the profitability of a student housing operation, property managers must find ways to reduce the costs of providing essential services and amenities. And there is no better place for student housing managers to reduce costs than in their energy consumption.
Rising Energy Costs
A perfect storm of global events has ushered in unprecedented increases in energy prices. The pandemic disrupted supply chains, driving up the cost of nearly all commodities. Climate change has increased the frequency, number, and length of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves that strain existing electrical grids the world over. The war in Ukraine caused “European gas and electricity wholesale prices [to increase] by 115% (109%) and 237% (138%), respectively.” And overall global inflations is forecasted to “to rise from 4.7 percent in 2021 to 8.8 percent in 2022.”
It’s no surprise, then, that US Energy Information Administration is predicting “wholesale electricity prices at major power trading hubs [to] be about 20-60% higher on average this winter.” So student housing managers are facing a significant increase in their energy overhead. Fortunately, however, there is a number of technologies that they can leverage to not only reduce energy consumption and costs, but also improve student resident experiences.
1. Demand Response Programs
One of the most direct ways that student housing managers can reduce their energy costs without investing in additional infrastructure is by opting in to a Demand Response Program. Typically operated by either utility providers or independent commercial entities, Demand Response Programs allow property managers to reduce their energy consumption during peak pricing periods, and even receive cash incentives or bill credits against their energy costs.
Essentially, members of a Demand Response Program receive notifications before forecasted peak usage hours (referred to as an “event”), and unless they explicitly opts-out of that event, their thermostats, water heaters, or other appliances will adjust to draw less energy, allowing customers to reduce their consumption during peak pricing and even “sell it back” to the grid. And since Demand Response Program members who operate larger properties such as student housing facilities have the potential to “sell back” such a high volume of electricity, they can not only save on their energy costs, but generate revenue against those costs.
2. Smart Thermostats
Heating and cooling are essential features of any student housing property. Consequently, climate control represents a significant portion of a student housing energy consumption and overhead. Smart thermostats, however, can help student housing managers curb energy consumption in both common areas and dorm rooms based on actual occupancy patterns.
First off, smart thermostats can be pre-programmed to heat or cool a space at times when it is usually occupied. For example, if students are typically not in their dorms during class hours, their smart thermostats can be programmed to reduce energy consumption during those hours. Furthermore, when installed alongside occupancy sensors and door/window sensors, smart thermostats can respond to occupancy patters in real-time, ensuring that any given space is heated or cooled only when occupied.
Of course, there are different smart thermostats for different use cases. For instance, while consumer-grade smart thermostats (such as those offered by Nest and Ecobee) are suitable for single family homes, properties as large as student residences require commercial-grade smart thermostats that can manage multiple units as well as common areas.
3. Smart HVAC Technology
In terms of optimizing climate control energy consumption, thermostats aren’t the only smart technology that student housing managers can leverage to reduce energy costs. Indeed, smart HVAC systems can serve as the brains behind the brawn of smart thermostats.
For instance, Verdant’s EI energy management technology integrates with both smart thermostats and occupancy sensors, collects data on peak demand loads, historical thermodynamics, and local weather patterns, and then analyzes those data sets and patterns to optimize energy consumption on an ongoing basis throughout the year and in real-time.
The energy savings from smart HVAC systems, moreover, are so significant they have the lowest payback/breakeven period of all energy management technologies, with some commercial property managers recouping their investment in as little as 12 months. Indeed, they are already standard practice in the hotel industry, and even increasing the resale value of residential and commercial properties alike.
4. Smart Lighting
Another unavoidable energy costs that student housing managers incur is lighting. After all, keeping the lights on also means keeping common areas safe and secure. Fortunately, student housing managers can also invest in smart lighting systems reduce their energy consumption.
Similar to smart thermostats and smart HVAC systems, smart lighting allows student housing managers to manage their lighting energy consumption based on real-time changes in occupancy. Specifically, smart lighting systems also use occupancy sensors to adjusts lighting according to occupancy and time of day. They also help foster to a more seamless and comfortable experience for student residents – i.e. lighting can be turned completely off when spaces are not in use, but instantly illuminated the moment a student enters.
Another benefit of many smart lighting systems is that they can be consolidated with other energy management platforms (such as Verdant EI). For instance, Verdant’s own line of occupancy sensors can not only integrate with many third-party lighting systems to adjust lighting to real-time occupancy patterns, but also allow student housing managers to monitor and optimize their lighting energy consumption alongside their HVAC energy consumption through a single interface.
5. Air Source Heat Pumps
Smart HVAC and smart thermostat technology are not the only way that student housing managers can reduce their energy costs associated with climate control. Indeed, advances in actual HVAC hardware technology can also help reduce energy consumption related to heating and cooling both common and private spaces.
Specifically, Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHPs) allow student housing managers to reduce energy costs by transferring cold or warm air from outside a residence to indoor spaces that need to be cooled or warmed respectively. In other words, ASHPs can be used as energy efficient space heaters (or coolers), removing the need to rely on or overload a central HVAC system.
6. Solar Panels
Of course, reducing and/or optimizing energy consumption is not the only way that student housing managers can reduce their energy costs. They can also install solar panels to generate their own electricity, and become less reliant on a shared energy grid.
In fact, solar panels allow student housing managers to reduce (or offset) their energy consumption and costs in two ways: (1) to reduce their energy consumption from the mainstream grid, and (2) to sell back any excess solar energy production through Demand Response Programs. So not only can property managers reduce their energy costs through solar panels, but they can also create new revenue streams that help offset whatever energy consumption they incur when their needs exceed the capacity of their own solar infrastructure.
7. Automatic Shutdown Sockets
Another persistent source of wasteful energy consumption stems from what’s commonly referred to “vampire power draw” or “standby power“. Simply put, “vampire power draw” or “standby power” refers to when energy is consumed by appliances while they are switched off, but still plugged in and in some kind of standby mode.
Student housing manager, however, can reduce vampire power draw by installing Automatic Shutdown Sockets. Essentially, Automatic Shutdown Sockets are power outlets that can use either timers or infrared sensors to cut power to any connected device when (1) the space is outright unoccupied, or (2) the device is not in use. In other words, Automatic Shutdown Sockets allow property managers to save on powering appliances and other devices whenever a common area is not in use or student residents are not in their dorm.
8. Energy Efficient Windows
As much as student housing managers can do to optimize energy consumption through smart technology or even offset their energy costs through Demand Response Programs, they can also reduce their need for cooling or heating through energy efficient construction materials. Specifically, by installing energy efficient windows, student housing managers can limit how much cool or warm air they lose through windows and then must compensate for through HVAC energy consumption.
As the US Department of Energy points out, “ENERGY STAR® qualified windows will improve indoor comfort and filter out damaging ultraviolet light [saving significantly on] heating and cooling costs.” The financial incentives for installing energy efficient windows, moreover, extend beyond energy cost savings. As Modernize puts is:
energy savings are not the only way to calculate the worth of a new window installation. New windows also increase […] property value. In fact, installing a set of new vinyl windows could add as much as $12,000 to [a] home’s selling price,
So in addition to reducing HVAC energy costs, energy efficient windows also increase the value of a property. After all, if energy efficient windows can increase the value of a single home $12,000, the potential to increase the value of a commercial property such as a student housing residence is significant. So similar to smart HVAC systems, energy efficient windows not only reduce energy costs, but also increase a property’s resale value.
Energy Management and Inflation
In a growth economy, inflation is inevitable, pushing up operating costs for all businesses alike. In some cases, pricing can be adjusted in real-time to match inflation. In other cases, such as student housing, longer-term fixed prices (such as rental rates) are set in advance, leaving less room for dynamic pricing that can mitigate increasing overhead costs.
This doesn’t mean, however, that student housing managers can’t mitigate rising overhead costs in other ways. Energy costs are especially vulnerable to inflation, but student housing managers have access to a range of technologies that can not only help them reduce their energy costs, but even generate some revenue against them. And the financial benefits of adopting energy management technologies are not only immediate in terms of lower energy bills, but extend well into the future as they increase the value or a property as a whole.