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For many condos and co-ops, complying with DC’s new Building Energy and Performance Standards (BEPS) may feel like a hardship. We are very excited to share a project that we are currently working on where the community is using BEPS as an opportunity to significantly reduce operating expenses by adopting a 3 part strategy crafted by our team at Honeydew: Assess, Plan, Finance

Project Background and Assessment

Our client is a 58 unit residential, mixed income, co-op in DC’s Lanier Heights neighborhood built in the 20’s. The building is heated by a steam boiler system and cooled by a motley assortment of AC window units. In 2020, their Energy Star score was a 28, far short of the BEP standard of 66. If they buried their head in the sand and did nothing, they could be facing a civil fee of $500,000. Thankfully, their property management company connected them with Honeydew Energy Advisors to formulate a strategy to reduce their energy usage intensity (EUI) by 20% or more. 

The first step in this process was to conduct an ASHRAE Level II Energy Audit to identify which energy conservation measures had the most promising returns on investment. Following this analysis, it became clear that the HVAC systems were going to need a change.

Transitioning to a 21st Century HVAC System: The VRF

While steam power worked great for 19th century river barges, they make for lousy heating systems for midsize multi-unit dwellings. Steam boilers are notorious for heat loss, uneven heating distribution, high maintenance costs, and are dangerous if not properly serviced. 

Window AC units provide the benefit of allowing owners to control how cool their units are, but older units are energy hogs and condensation runoff can lead to costly facade repairs or internal moisture damage. What’s more, they are unsightly and reduce the amount of natural light available to the unit. 

Honeydew recommended replacing both of these systems with a high efficiency Mitsubishi Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) System to provide all their heating and cooling needs. The VRF system has several benefits that make it ideal for this application.

Key Advantages of the VRF

-It’s super high efficiency 

-Minimal rooftop footprint: because we plan on integrating the VRF system with a rooftop solar PV array, this was crucial. While a traditional mini-split HVAC system requires a rooftop condenser for each unit, this system will require at most 4 rooftop condensers, allowing plenty of room to harvest the sun.

-Low profile tubing: the VRF is ductless and the tubing is considerably thinner than a mini split. This means lower cost and less invasive construction that will better preserve the historic character of the co-op building.

It doesn’t use natural gas: gas prices fluctuate wildly. In 2021, they were up a whopping 180% and could climb even higher with a cold winter!

-Multiple climate zones within a unit: Not only will each unit be able to set their preferred temperature, but each room within a unit can adjust their preferred temperature.

-The Co-op board estimates that it will increase their property value by an average of $20,000 per unit.

-It’s all electric, so it gets the co-op off natural gas, which is subject to price swings and emits carbon pollution

Combining the VRF HVAC System with 0 cent Solar

Now of course cutting edge technology is never going to be the cheapest option, so Honeydew engaged the DC Green Bank (DCGB) to create a product that both covered the pre-development engineering design work. The DCGB’s covenant requires the project to be cash flow positive. Roughly speaking, it should pay for itself within the term of the loan. 

Like any other top of the line system, VRFs for condominiums are not cheap, making financing challenging. Thankfully, DC’s uniquely strong solar energy incentives can help overcome this challenge. Honeydew was able to negotiate a 0 cent Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for the co-op and include an upfront payment to the co-op to help cover the cost of the HVAC upgrade.

If you’re looking for innovative ways to comply with DC’s Building Energy Performance Standards, please reach out to us at the form below.