Author Archives: Minol USA

About Minol USA

Minol pioneered the submetering industry more than 60 years ago. Today, we are leading the industry with innovative solutions that help properties measure, manage, recover and conserve. From meter technologies and utility billing to energy management and water conservation, Minol offers a full suite of solutions that maximize NOI for the multifamily, military and student communities.

Minol on the Road in Michigan

Minol has a busy March in Michigan! We hope to see you at one or both tradeshows.

IREM/DMAA Tradeshow
Tuesday, March 21
Burton Manor
27777 Schoolcraft Rd
Livoinia, MI 48150


Property Management Association of Mid Michigan
Tuesday, March 27
Crowne Plaza Lansing West
925 S. Creyts Road
Lansing, MI 48917

Advertisements

These may seem like simple tasks but all require significant time and effort, as well as a trained eye to know exactly what to look for and when. In addition, dealing directly with utility providers can be challenging if you aren’t accustomed to navigating the processes.

1) Utility rate errors. You may not be charged the correct rate. Check the provider website and compare the posted rate schedule to your bill. If your building is multifamily and you are being billed a commercial rate, it is likely higher than a residential rate. Also, there are some rates based on occupancy. These occupancy numbers on occasion on are reverted to a factor of “1 occupant” if the numbers aren’t updated by the owner. The result is a rate increase. Rates may also be based on meter size. Find out sizes of your meters and compare with your bill to make sure it is reflected correctly. Contact the provider to find out if the meter associated with the account qualifies for a lower rate. If the building does qualify for a lower rate, you may be able to request up to a 5 year credit of the incorrect rate you were charged

2) Utility providers have charged the account taxes. In several states utility taxes aren’t allowed to be charged and yet, the provider charges them anyway. For example, Texas utilities  were charging tax on utilities. If you find taxes on your bill, contact your PUC or attorney to find out if the type of tax on your bill is allowed and how far back you can request a refund if applicable. If you’ve been incorrectly charged, you can estimate the taxes you’ve paid and send a request for a refund to the provider going back 5 years or more.

3) Meter read error. If your consumption has increased more than 15% over the previous month and the previous year, same month, you have a problem. First check to see if the previous read is the same as the end read last month. If not, there’s a definite meter read error. Next, assuming no known leak or work requiring water (like filling a pool, power washing, etc.) has been done, look for a leak. Check to see if the meter is running when the building is unoccupied or residents are likely sleeping. Have a qualified maintenance supervisor check the meter after midnight and take a video if the meter is moving. Utilities are quick to say there is no leak without thoroughly investigating. You will need proof either way. If no leak is apparent, request a re-read of the meter. Be sure to have an onsite maintenance team member there when the utility company re-reads the meter to verify their findings.

4) Estimated reads. Estimated reads can have a very negative impact on your budget by hitting you with an expense that is too high or low. Estimating too low may result in an immense true-up expense on a future bill. Stay vigilant about calling the provider and requesting a “true read.” The provider may be having trouble accessing the meter. Schedule an appointment and meet the meter reader to ensure your read gets correctly trued up.

5) Erroneous deposits. If you are charged a deposit, always investigate it before you pay. Even if this is a new property you may not need to pay a deposit if the same owner name has credit in excellent standing with the utility provider. Call the provider and they will look up the credit standing for the legal entity name. If you can’t get the deposit waived, find out how long the deposit hold will be and make a calendar note to reach out for a future refund.

6) Charging late fees during the grace period. If you have a late fee on your bill, check your records to see if you paid by the due date. If you have proof of the payment date, call the provider and request the late fee be removed.

7) Multiple bills for the same account/same period. If you receive two or more bills for the same account in a bill period, call the provider for an explanation. Unless the dates line up perfectly, there’s a duplicate bill issue to be credited.

8) Bill use/cost duplicate. The use or cost amount of the bill is exactly the same as the previous bill. Unless this is a flat rate bill versus a bill based on actual consumption, it may be an estimated bill. Call the provider and ask for an actual consumption based bill.

9) Overlapping bill periods. If the beginning or end dates are the same as the previous bill overlap you may be charged twice for those days. Call the provider and request a credit for the overlapping days.

10) Zero usage on bill. The meter is likely not working or the provider’s process isn’t catching the read and charging you. Don’t let this for more than one billing period or you will eventually receive a large true up bill.

Don’t let your revenue go down the drain or out the window! By not auditing utility bills, many portfolios are paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars in extra fees and incorrect rates. It’s worth your time to get to know your bills or assign a skilled analyst to manage it for you.

Preventative HVAC Equals Energy Savings

No Cost and Low Cost Preventative HVAC Equals Energy Savings

Heating and cooling accounts for approximately 56 percent of the energy use in a typical U.S. building, making HVAC the largest energy expense hitting your bottom line. HVAC systems that are not regularly maintained quickly turn into energy gluts that can decimate your utility budget. Systems not properly cleaned and repaired can use up to 25 percent more energy just to function.

Completing preventative maintenance on HVAC systems is well beyond cleaning the coils and changing filters. There are many sources for excellent checklists, including the EPA and the manufacturers of the systems you have in place.

Below are some essential steps that can be done in house to assess the condition of the system, as well as other conservation opportunities for little or no expense. The steps can be used on central or individual HVAC systems:

  1. Use manufacturer data sheets to start your check. If you no longer have the hard copies, look online. These sheets will show optimum performance guidelines and steps to keep the system in excellent working order.
  2. Watch that thermostat or time clock! Scrutinize the settings and timing to be sure someone isn’t tampering with them to increase unnecessary energy use. Is your system set to reduce energy usage when occupancy is low such as evening hours in offices, business centers and common areas?
  3. Is anything blocking air intake/exhaust returns or anything being stored around the system that could impede proper air flow to the system?
  4. Do you have proper insulating blinds and shades on windows to reduce heat loss in the evenings in offices and common areas? Are they in good repair and being closed nightly?
  5. Outlets are a source for air loss. Use safety plugs on all unused outlets to prevent heat loss.
  6. Clean all dirt on working and movable components. This includes coils, fan motors, ducts, grilles, drain pans that may be blocked, dampers, heat exchangers and the general exterior of the system as well.
  7. Open access doors and check for loose wiring, turning components, fire dampers, valves and replace as needed. Run the system through a heating cycle and check to see that automatic dampers and valves are opening properly and closing tightly.
  8. Check to see that the fan is rotating in the proper direction and the speed equals the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  9. Replace any loose or worn belts or correct belt tension. Check for drive misalignment.
  10. Verify indicated temperature against actual outtake temperature.
  11. Discontinue use of unneeded exhaust fans, check pump suction and discharge pressures: Do they match manufacturer requirements?  Reduce impeller size for greater energy savings where it doesn’t interfere with manufacturer recommendations.
  12. Install timing devices to reduce heating during low occupancy hours. Close air ducts in little or unused areas not subject to freezing pipes.

Once you’ve completed your preventative maintenance, make sure you set up a log to keep track of your work and the system’s operating standards.  Next, compare your energy use (not cost as rates fluctuate) to the same month in the previous year taking into account heating degree day variables. Your goal is to mirror the manufacturer’s use metrics for your particular system and maintain or reduce energy usage year over year or identify when the system needs to be repaired or updated based on the energy results. 

By taking the time to thoroughly check your HVAC system, you will not only save energy but late night emergency calls from disgruntled residents and uncomfortable explanations to owners about why their building isn’t being maintained. Preventative HVAC is time and energy well spent!

Source: EPA

Minol USA and Zenner USA Support Hurricane Relief Efforts

ADDISON, TX – November 2, 2017 – Minol USA and Zenner USA, leaders in the utility metering and utility billing industries, made a $20,000 donation to the One America Appeal fund to provide much needed relief to those impacted by hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“Our sincere thanks to Minol USA and Zenner USA for their kind donation to the One America Appeal. This has been a truly devastating hurricane season, and even though these catastrophic storms are no longer dominating news coverage there are too many Americans who need our help. Thanks to Minol USA, Zenner USA and the other 80,000-plus donors to this cause, we are trying to help where it is needed most,“ said Jim McGrath, spokesperson for One America Appeal.

Launched by all five living former American presidents, One America Appeal, is one of the few organizations that ensures 100 percent of every dollar donated goes to hurricane recovery. Minol USA and Zenner USA’s donation will be divided amongst the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, Rebuild Texas Fund, Florida Disaster Fund and Unidos Por Puerto Rico.

“Many of Minol’s customers are directly impacted by these devastating storms. We hope this donation will assist them as they rebuild structures and lives,” said Wilmar Basson, President of Minol USA.

“A company is defined by its professional successes but more importantly by its compassion. The Zenner team is honored to help in the recovery efforts,” said Rich Sanders, President of Zenner USA.

For additional information on how you can help, please visit www.oneamericaappeal.org

About Minol USA

Founded in 1952, Minol pioneered the utility submetering industry. From submetering and billing to energy management and conservation, Minol provides a suite of innovative solutions that maximize revenue and enhance NOI. For additional information, please visit www.minolusa.com

About Zenner USA

Zenner USA, a division of the international Minol-Zenner Group, is a manufacturer and distributor of high-quality water meters and heat meters for the measuring of consumption. We bring more than 100 years of experience in measuring technologies and 50 years in billing to each client we serve. For more information, please visit www.zennerusa.com

Increase Asset Value with Water Conservation Retrofit

It’s no surprise that multifamily properties often have high water consumption. Resident habits, pools, laundry rooms and sprinkler systems all contribute to increased usage and as a result – costly utility bills.

Common reasons for high water usage:

  • Residents often aren’t aware of leaks or don’t report them when discovered – 20% of all toilets leak at any given time.
  • Water conservation tips aren’t provided to residents (many residents see no relationship between the amount of water they use and their cost to live in the property).
  • Older fixtures.
  • Poor or aging plumbing.

Managing a property’s water expense varies based on the individual owner as well as city and state regulations. An owner may choose to invest in a submetering system that measures each unit’s actual consumption. If a submetering system is not an option or outside of the owner’s budget, an allocation method may be used to calculate usage and distribute charges among the residents. For some properties, such as affordable housing, residents are not billed for their water usage which can pose a heavy burden on already taxed budgets.  An effective water conservation program not only reduces consumption but has the potential to lower monthly water bills by up to 40%.

How an Affordable Housing Community Saved $500,000

An affordable housing client faced an increase in residents along with a decrease in funding and grant support. The management team decided it was time to explore solutions that would conserve both resources and dollars. The solution: Minol’s Water Conservation Program.

More than Shower Heads and Flappers

Minol developed the Water Conservation Program to minimize excessive water consumption within communities. This unique and innovative program utilizes a combination of high-quality components and a proven methodology developed more than 30 years ago.

The evaluation process to identify eligible properties is complimentary and begins with a Minol team member analyzing specific property survey information and 12 months of water usage. As the team identifies properties that need help, Minol rebuilds property components at its own expense through its Pay-Out-of-Savings Program. Minol’s investment is recovered through the savings generated, which is typically within 12 months. “The Pay-Out-of-Savings component was a key differentiator from other water conservation programs we had researched. We saw savings within months of implementing the program,” said a client representative.

Program Implementation and Results

The client provided property and water usage information for 162 properties with 15,007 units to Minol for evaluation. The Minol team identified 31 properties with 3,418 units that qualified for the program. The client chose to implement their water conservation plan in four phases. All toilets were retrofitted with highly-effective toilet flappers, while low-flow showerheads and aerators were also installed.

The team is very pleased with the results Minol’s Water Conservation program has yielded for their communities.


Will Your Property Qualify for Pay Out of Savings?

The criteria below are typical qualifiers. A simple survey and analysis can determine if your property qualifies. 

  • Property is older than 5 years
  • More than 100 units
  • Owner pays water (or water is allocated)
  • Water/sewer bills are more than $250 per unit annually

Electric Bills Shouldn’t Keep You in the Dark

Rubber stamping electric bills is a secret no one wants to talk about; not you, not the company you work for and certainly not the utility company who bills you!

Electric bills can seem mind boggling when your area of expertise is managing buildings versus kWh and demand fees. You need answers now and utility companies are usually as illuminating as a blown generator. Understanding the anatomy of a bill sheds visibility on why your expenses are in or out of line with your budget.

First, there are four basic types of charges:

  • A Service Charge is a catch-all fee that’s charged on every bill for operational costs such as printing, overhead, customer service and maintenance.
  • The Energy Charge is a standard measure of a unit or kilowatt hour (kWh). The kWh = the measure of electricity you use x the length of time you use it.
  • A Power/Fuel Cost Adjustment is a way for utility companies to charge back operational expenses that fall out of budget. Example, if the expense of running a power plant is more than budgeted, your bill will be adjusted upwards by a proportional share to cover those expenses.
  • Demand Charges can be a large part of your electrical bill. A demand charge is based on when you use your energy and whether you’re using it during a ‘peak’ demand time. If you have a bill related to a piece of equipment that requires significant energy during specific periods of ‘peak’ time, this could adversely impact your bill.  Whereas, if your equipment uses relatively equal energy all the time, your bill would be less impacted. Peak demand use = big bills.

The last critical piece to understand is the rate structure and whether it’s correct or the best option available. There are seasonal rates, tiered rates, time of use rates, and now “real time” rates on smart meters. In addition, there are commercial rates and residential rates. By finding your rate type on your bill and reading the utility provider’s rate structure you can better understand what you’re paying and why:

  • A seasonal rate goes up or down based on the time of year. For example: A utility may charge a higher electrical rate in summer versus winter.
  • Tiered rates generally charge customers more if they use more and less if they use less.
  • A flat rate is simple; it won’t fluctuate based on usage and time. It always stays the same.
  • Time of use does fluctuate depending on when you use it. For example, a utility provider may charge more for residential clients in the mornings and evenings when most people are home and using the most electricity. Or, a commercial client may be charged a higher rate from 9 AM to 5 PM when office equipment is at its peak use.
  • “Real time” rates on smart meters are based on the actual time you use the electricity against the actual cost a utility spends at that same time to generate the electricity.

Armed with basic knowledge you can better dissect your bill. You may even find that you qualify for a lesser rate, such as a commercial or residential rate based on your usage patterns. Maybe you can adjust a high energy consuming piece of equipment to run at a cheaper time without impacting performance? Aim a strong light at your next big electric bill and see if there’s an opportunity to take power over your utility expenses.


 

When Technology is Ahead of Multifamily Regulations – What Are Your Options

The rapid evolution of technological advances in energy and utility metering and billing platforms is constantly surpassing the current regulatory arena causing most companies to turn a blind eye. From new software-based HVAC systems to touchscreen metering devices, in-house legal and compliance departments are encountering difficulties in advising their clients appropriately considering legislation is light years behind.

In looking at the Texas market, many companies are selling smarter technology to multifamily building owners at low costs with enhanced energy efficiency, guaranteed savings and cost-recovery for utility usage. Simultaneously, the Substantive Rules governing electric, water, and HVAC metering of multifamily properties in Texas remain steadfast with requirements to use only watt-hour or volumetric sub-meters or choose to allocate energy and utility charges by subpar standards, such as by square footage or number of occupants.1 Such outdated regulations limit owners from using smarter technology that may provide a more accurate measurement of energy and utility usage.

That being said, every new technology doesn’t necessarily warrant new legislation; however, outdated legislation can create havoc for regulatory and compliance teams. For example, attempting to accurately determine whether use of energy efficient systems that provide Green Building Certifications is within compliance may set up companies for potential risks against future regulatory violations and litigation.

Allocation: Is it Really Fair?

The multifamily industry needs to remain aware of the currently regulatory landscape and its limits in allowing property owners and consumers to potentially benefit from smarter technology.

Specifically, in Texas, tenants may be billed for water and electric usage based solely on the square footage and/or occupancy of their apartment unit. This type of current legislation may cause tenants to pay for energy usage not used solely by the tenant.

You may have one tenant occupying an 800-square foot apartment unit and three
tenants occupying a similar 800-square foot apartment unit while both units are billed for the same amount of energy usage. By adding smarter technology solutions as an option under current regulations, property owners may be able to more accurately measure usage by applying additional factors, such as thermostat set points, valve position and timing, as well as individual unit energy load (demand) for a more accurate assessment of energy usage.

The scenario above is common. In Texas alone, the Public Utility Commission of Texas lists 6,970 submetered and allocated properties. Of that 6,970, only 24% are submetered, with the remaining 75% allocated.

The following provides a high-level overview of some compliance issues with the use of smarter technology for measurement of energy and utility consumption:

Key Focal Points with Technology and the Resulting Issues

Why Regulatory Change is Critical

The primary reason for regulatory change is to meet the demands of property owners who are seeking more energy efficient systems to accurately assess energy charges to their residents. In turn, consumers are seeking more accurate billing methods for energy consumption. Property owners benefit from smarter technology due to the design/installation flexibility, lower installation and maintenance expense, long-term energy cost savings and green building certifications. In addition, consumers also benefit from smarter technology with more accurate measurement devices/software, energy savings due to efficiency, and lower costs allocated as a result of an owner’s savings realized overall.

So where lies the disconnect between regulatory agencies and the industry? Due to the literal meaning of the regulations and lack of regulatory action in the past years, property owners are limited in their use of smarter technology since such use will prevent recovery of energy and utility charges from their residents. In addition, property owners are entrusting the sellers of the smarter technology to provide the due diligence that will allow implementation and use of the technology in this current regulatory arena. Unfortunately; however, property owners are stuck with an enormous project that is of no use after proper review of regulations. Meanwhile, residents continue to be billed charges based on the most inaccurate methodologies of square footage and occupancy or outdated metering systems. 

To avoid these issues and take advantage of the smarter technology, consider the following steps to avoid future compliance issues:

Steps to Consider to Help Avoid Compliance Issues

  • Prior to purchase of smart technology systems, complete due diligence in (1) regulatory research (i.e., regulatory landscape, intent, need for approvals, etc.), (2) manufacturer studies, specifications, testing, actual use, and (3) review of seller’s references.
  • Search for third-party billing providers willing to work with you through the regulatory approval procedures, if necessary.
  • Conduct proper training of leasing staff to keep residents well-informed.
  • Ensure lease language incorporates new technology/billing methodologies with simple summary notices for ease of reference by residents.

While the current regulatory landscape does not incentivize owners to incorporate smarter technology and more energy efficient products within their properties, there are a few methods available that may allow owners to take advantage of energy savings.  Until legislation catches up, owners may have to take the extra, but necessary, steps to ensuring proper implementation of these smarter systems for measurement of energy and utility consumption.


Kimberly Godsey, Esq.
Attorney, Director of Legal Affairs
972.386.6611, x422
kgodsey@minolusa.com

Kimberly has a wealth of experience in regulatory review and compliance. She led the development of Minol’s internal regulatory database that covers all fifty states and contains third-party utility billing compliance information from the utility provider requirements through state regulations. She has facilitated seminars for multifamily property owners in Texas and Massachusetts discussing utility billing compliance. She is a member of the Utility Management and Conservation Association.

She is a graduate of Texas Wesleyan School of Law (currently Texas A&M University School of Law) and is a licensed attorney in the state of Texas.

(1) See P.U.C. Subst. R. § 25.142, § 25.142, and 30 TAC § 291.121-127.

THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE NOR RELIED ON AS LEGAL AUTHORITY. PLEASE CONSULT LEGAL COUNSEL TO DETERMINE SUITABILITY FOR YOUR SPECIFIC PROPERTY.