Located on West Hollywood, the Sunset is a mixed-use facility that boasts accolades from LEED, ENERGY STAR and BOMA. It takes focused leadership for a property to meet three industry benchmarks. Learn how Pam Smith, Senior Property Manager, is guiding retrofits that have quantifiable energy savings and environmental returns.
How did you get your start in real estate?
I have a Bachelor of Science in Business and Management. I worked in marketing for a shopping center developer for 12 years but have since transitioned to real estate management. I enjoy this line of work because there’s never a dull moment.
Real estate gives you the opportunity to have an impact in your community. With all of the energy and sustainability initiatives possible, it’s an exciting time to be in property management.
What areas did the Sunset’s two renovations target?
The 2001 modernization was significant and included a lobby renovation,
earthquake reinforcement, upgrading to more efficient chillers, and extending the tower into a retail plaza. As part of a name change in 2008, we focused on exterior elements such as signage to rebrand the entire property and tenant spaces.
But we’re always looking for projects to help increase efficiency. Partnering with our utility Southern California Edison, we use energy audits to identify savings opportunities. They recently recommended lighting as an area for improvement. In the last year, we switched all of the office fixtures to T8s with a lower wattage, electronic ballasts and motion sensors. This applied to all 10 floors of the tower, including every stairwell, as well as redoing the parking garage with T3s. It was a $90,000 investment but it was offset by a $12,000 rebate from the utility. This one change has an ROI of 1.9 years and will yield ongoing savings of close to $47,000 annually.
What improvements contribute to your ENERGY STAR and LEED ratings?
We do an internal review every year to uncover additional savings. Transwestern has a program called the Enhanced Sustainability Audit, which is a scorecard with KPIs. It offers suggestions for waste, recycling, water, energy and IEQ. Using this tool, we implement small changes that lower operating costs for tenants, such as:
- Upgrade water heater to LEED standards
- Use green products for cleaning and paper supplies
- Ask service vendors, like pest control, to adhere to environmental guidelines
- Perform preventive maintenance on all building equipment
- Reset HVAC set points to maximize and maintenance chiller efficiency
- Integrate our EMS so we can participate in demand response
- Add VFDs
- Buy only ENERGY STAR-rated equipment and encourage tenants to follow suit.
We also look closely at water usage. In the office tower, each of our 40 restroom faucets has an automatic hands-free sensor. We also have all low-flow urinals and are evaluating waterless models in the next year.
All of these measures help us keep our LEED Gold status, maintain or improve our ENERGY STAR score, and provide ongoing value to our tenants. Every little change contributes to our collective success.
|The Sunset includes many green features that appeal to tenants, such as bike racks and EV charging. The building also prioritizes energy efficiency, like the use of these VFDs (middle) to reduce electricity consumption.
What are your biggest challenges with retrofit projects?
It’s always tricky to get project approval. We’ve found we can expedite the process by putting together the payback periods and ROIs. Sometimes we have to get creative with the budget in order to secure the highest return on investment with the lowest costs. As good practice, we also budget higher for compliance. We keep close tabs on what is expected on the local, state and federal levels as they can all be different.
Another challenge is keeping up with changing technology. For example, you can do a lighting retrofit with the latest products but you’ll be ready to do it again in a few years because the performance has improved so quickly. You’ll also be left with an inventory of existing parts, which represents capital that’s just sitting on a shelf.
How do you keep communication open between all stakeholders?
We hold weekly meetings with Transwestern’s sustainability team to help keep us on track. We communicate everything with a spreadsheet that’s circulated among team members and updated on a daily basis. This helps capture everything in a single place.
We also keep in touch with our utility company to make sure we have the most current information on new equipment and rebates. We can take these incentives into account when we’re budgeting and include them in clients proposals so we can form a big picture of ongoing savings.
This building is fortunate in having tenants who are sensitive to sustainability and efficiency and they’ve been good partners. We distribute newsletters about our initiatives and conduct questionnaires each year as part of the ENERGY STAR process to capture what occupants are doing to help with our score. We also ensure that leases specify that any tenant improvements follow Title 24 (California’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards).
What initiatives are in the works for 2016?
We have budgeted to upgrade two compressors and add VFDs on the rooftop units. In 2017, however, we will replace our roof from an older style with gravel to a white membrane. This will be a big opportunity to secure better thermal performance.