Jul 1, 2010
By Amy Nordrum & Sonia Marcus
Landlords in Athens have made more than $28,000 in efficiency upgrades to their student rental properties, thanks to an Ohio University project which completed its pilot phase this spring.
The Green House Project, coordinated by the Office of Sustainability in collaboration with the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD), was a groundbreaking effort to address the University’s carbon footprint by investing in the local community.
“Nothing quite like this had been done at any college or university previously,” said Sonia Marcus, director of the Office of Sustainability. “We saw it as an opportunity to give back to Athens while doing our part to educate Ohio University students on climate and energy issues.
The project garnered significant attention from other campuses, particularly those that have signed on to the Presidents’ Climate Commitment, as well as national publications such as the “Chronicle for Higher Education.”
Through the Green House Project, participating units in the Athens area received whole-house energy audits performed by the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD) weatherization experts and up to $500 in cash reimbursements toward efficiency upgrades, such as insulation and high-efficiency appliances. Landlords and tenants also received six compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), a high-efficiency showerhead, and student-to-student peer education sessions on energy conservation and cutting utilities costs at home.
A grant from the Sugar Bush Foundation funded the audits, materials and staff required for the project, which was designed to accommodate up to 40 local rental units. The Green House Project was the first gift made by the foundation, a supporting organization of the Ohio University Foundation, whose mission is to support sustainable development in the communities which Ohio University serves through collaboration between the University and local community organizations.
"We felt that the Green House Project strongly promoted our mission through addressing climate and energy issues," said Mary Anne Flournoy, president of the Sugar Bush Foundation. "The project provided an opportunity to educate both local landlords and student tenants about energy efficiency as well as call upon the expertise of COAD in performing energy audits. We also liked the fact that the Green House Project could become a model for other universities and contribute to Ohio University's leadership in sustainability initiatives."
At its conclusion, the Green House Project achieved annual reductions of more than 67,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and more than 74 tons of avoided carbon emissions. Twenty off-campus student rental properties owned by 19 different landlords participated in total.
By reducing the amount of energy consumed at participating properties, the Green House Project was able to generate “carbon offsets” for Ohio University. These offsets help to move the institution in the direction of climate neutrality, which is the goal of the Presidents’ Climate Commitment.
Leah Crowe, a 2009 Ohio University graduate, was one of three student tenants living in a GHP participating rental unit at 5 Coulson Ave. The property's landlord, Jim Stahler, installed a new high-efficiency furnace based on the audit’s recommendations. Meanwhile, tenants took steps to minimize energy consumption by shutting lights and appliances off when not in use.
Crowe says Stahler’s investment in the furnace meant a lot to her and her roommates.
“I think my roommates were proud to be a part of it, and it felt good every time we got our bill and it was cheaper,” Crowe said.
On his end, Stahler appreciated the attention and motivation that the project provided.
“It was a great project,” Stahler said. “I’ll tell you, it gave me an incentive to do something that I wanted to do, but couldn’t afford at the time.”
Most participating landlords chose to invest more than the maximum reimbursable amount, despite the fact that the associated utility savings will benefits tenants, first and foremost. The average amount invested by landlords was $1,181 per participating property. Five landlords chose not to implement any upgrades at all.
While the project was successful in educating student tenants and motivating investments in efficiency by participating landlords, it also demonstrated that local weatherization investments may not provide greenhouse gas emission offsets at the lowest possible cost to either Athens or Ohio University. Each ton of carbon offset ended up costing about $330 in project funding, versus a market price for such offsets of as little as $3.
Furthermore, only half of the available slots in the program were filled in the pilot phase. According to Marcus, this may indicate that the incentives were not sufficiently generous to motivate more landlords to sign on, or that landlords who are receptive to these types of improvements have already found the means to incorporate them into their properties on their own.
Marcus describes these as useful lessons that will assist other universities, state agencies, and utility providers in refining their own weatherization programs.
“We wanted to pilot this project on a small scale so that we could investigate the receptivity of local landlords to implementing these weatherization upgrades and also get a sense of how large an incentive would be required to motivate their participation.” Marcus said. “In the time since we first developed this project idea, weatherization efforts across the state and country have gained momentum. A lot more attention has been paid to the efficiency opportunities that our homes represent and the value of a dollar invested in upgrades.”
Homeowners interested in accessing incentives and rebates to improve the efficiency of their homes can visit the Energy Conservation for Ohioans (ECO-Link) Program and the Ohio page of the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) website.