Skip to content

Chicago Program Lights a Path Forward for Energy Savings in Multifamily Buildings


June 9, 2011 - 10:50am
By Eric Mackres, Local Policy Manager and Senior Researcher

Multifamily housing is often seen as one of the most difficult markets to serve for energy retrofits. Besides barriers specific to the market, such as split incentives between owners and renters, low availability of capital (especially for buildings that provide homes for low- and moderate-income families), and building systems for which there a small number of qualified retrofit contractors, there are the more familiar barriers of lack of information, high transaction costs, and uncertainty about energy savings. 

However, the market offers great opportunity for improved energy performance if these barriers can be overcome. According to a 2007 report from the Energy Programs Consortium, multifamily buildings make up 18 percent of the nation’s housing and have higher potential energy savings than the average residential building. The report estimates that retrofits to multifamily buildings can provide energy savings ranging from 30 percent to 75 percent, depending on the condition of the building.

One effort that has successfully turned this potential for energy improvements in the multifamily housing market into a reality is the Chicago area Energy Savers program, profiled in a new ACEEE local policy case study. This regional collaboration of nonprofit organizations, local governments, and foundations has created a single entity with professional staff that provide owners of multifamily buildings with information on energy savings opportunities, financing, and contractors. The program uses a one-stop-shop model to walk building owners through the complications of each step in the decision-making process. The model has been successful in both providing verified energy savings as well as creating a word-of-mouth referral network that has led more building owners to participate in the program. Since starting in 2007, the program has made energy improvements to 5,000 multifamily rental units resulting in an average energy savings of 30 percent.

To learn more about the Energy Savers program, take a look at the full case study, and check out ACEEE’s other local policy case studies to learn more about other initiatives by local governments and stakeholders around the country to improve energy efficiency. More resources related to energy efficiency in multi-family homes are available on our related topic page