'70s oil crisis taught a lesson to property managers


October 01, 1990|By Michael Enright | Michael Enright,Special to The Sun

Getting burned once was enough for the Time Group.

The oil embargoes of the 1970s hurt the Baltimore apartment ownership and management company as it did many other property management groups that found themselves stuck with long-term leases and tenants who were less than thrilled with skyrocketing heating costs.

So the Time Group decided to look into the feasibility of energy conservation plans, says Mark Caplan, a vice president at the company. One of the first things they decided to do was switch from oil heat to gas.

Now, nearly 20 years later, Mr. Caplan says that what the Time Group learned from that crisis makes him confident the latest troubles in the Persian Gulf won't dramatically affect its bottom line.

"You try and insulate yourself from the things you can't control and take hold of those things you can control, like energy consumption and the efficiency with which it is utilized," he said.

Company officials didn't just stop its conservation efforts with a switch from oil to gas. Over the years, they have studied energy technology and implemented, among other things, energy management plans, fluorescent lights and automatic heating controls.

It wasn't difficult to convince the company of the need for such technology in the wake of the energy crisis, and the potential savings made the decision even simpler.

"It makes a real difference, particularly when you own and manage real estate that you plan to hold on to for a long time," Mr. Caplan said. "Some people buy real estate and only plan to hold on to it for a couple of years -- so a two- to three-year payback on a $25,000 energy conservation project doesn't seem like much.

"To us, it's a wonderful return. In two to three years I've paid for the improvement cost, and now I've got continued savings coming in every year," he said.

In the old days, two boilers would be going around the clock to maintain adequate hot water for an apartment building. Now, with the help of a computerized utility profile that demonstrates how much water is needed at which hours, the two boilers switch on and off throughout the day with little or no oversight.

In the old days, a tenant's monthly rent included utilities. Now, the Time Group has found that tenants tend to consider utility usage a bit more carefully when they know they have to pay a percentage of it.

"Now when people head to Ocean City for the weekend, they think twice about leaving the air conditioning on so they can return to a cool apartment," Mr. Caplan said. "People need to have control over their own utilities, but America has to realize it wastes more energy than any other country in the world."

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