Fifty-one Monroe Street has a high profile, literally and figuratively, in Montgomery County. So it meant a little more when its property managers recently made it a little greener.
At 21 stories, 223,000 square feet, and located near the Rockville Metro and MARC train stations, the building at 51 Monroe dominates the small but prominent skyline in downtown Rockville. As most county residents know, this area is the seat of local government, and 51 Monroe Street houses several local and state government offices, as well as a host of law firms and not-for-profit groups.
Officials with Washington REIT (NYSE: WRE), the Washington, DC-based real estate company that owns and operates the property, recently decided to retrofit all of 51 Monroe Street with light-emitting diode (LED) lights and low-flow water fixtures.
Though it’s part of a larger sustainability push across the 41 properties in Washington REIT’s commercial real estate portfolio, the significance of this particular project isn’t lost on its leaders.
“Obviously it is a significant building in the county,” said Matthew Praske, Washington REIT’s energy and sustainability manager. “We’re excited to be able to do it.”
Switching out most of the lights in the building, which typically has between 65-70 tenants at any given time, is no easy task. As the December holidays arrived, the project was still underway and was expected to last up to four weeks assuming it continues on schedule.
Once complete, 3,697 lights in the property will be changed to LED, according to Aleah Ireland, a senior real estate manager with Washington REIT and the manager of 51 Monroe Street. It is estimated the retrofit will save a grand total of 781,365 kilowatt hours of energy over 12 months and between $11,000 and $12,000 each month, much of which will go back to tenants. Because of the substantial savings—and rebates on the cost of the project available through Pepco’s Commercial and Industrial Energy Savings Program—Ireland expects the project to pay for itself in just two months.
“It really made sense for us financially,” Ireland said. “Our tenants are going to really appreciate the change when they feel it in their pockets.”
The project is just one of many Washington REIT undertook this year in the name of efficiency. According to Praske, “at least half a dozen” Washington REIT commercial properties have undergone some kind of sustainability-related upgrade in the past 12 months.
One of the biggest changes overall is also one of the simplest, at least conceptually: Only use energy when tenants really need it.
To accomplish this, many Washington REIT properties now use special software provided by EnerNOC, a Boston-based energy management solutions provider, to gather and analyze energy usage data. Based on this information, “smart” HVAC equipment inside the buildings can turn themselves on or off at optimal times of day and night, depending on when heating or cooling is most (and least) needed.
Managers also work smarter on a person-to-person level. Although most property managers are contractually required to provide heating or cooling on Saturdays, tenants are not always there to take advantage. Therein lies another opportunity for efficiency.
“The lease hours might say they run building on a Saturday, but the default now is not to run the building then,” Praske explained. “It’s by request only. They contact us on Friday if they plan to be there on Saturday. For about 80 percent of the weekends, we don’t have to run it.”
According to Praske, Washington REIT is aiming for a 3-6 percent reduction in energy usage in the buildings where sustainability changes have taken place, and so far “things are trending pretty well” in most of the buildings.
Though the scope of such projects can seem overwhelming, more people are coming to understand the significance—real and symbolic—of a move toward better efficiency and environmental stewardship. Fifty-one Monroe Street is a great example.
“The growing support for sustainability stems from the environmental and economic benefits of the initiatives,” Praske said. “Energy efficiency provided us with an exciting opportunity for greater tenant engagement on sustainability and we look forward to introducing our tenants to new efficiency initiatives this year.”
By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer. Read Scott’s other posts on the benefits of environmental peer pressure, birds and climate change, eco-friendly ice rinks, residential solar, and congregational rain gardens.