How to Escape the Tenant Submetering Death Trap
In a previous article, we explained what to look for in a tenant submetering service to avoid being locked in to poor service, billing discrepancies, and lack of flexibility – the Death Trap.
When it comes to new developments or implementing submetering for the first time, owners now understand that lower installation costs don’t make up for years of subpar service and higher long-term expenses.
Unfortunately, the tenant submetering infrastructure in many real estate portfolios was implemented long before there were cloud-based software platforms to make the data collection and billing process easier and more accurate.
To the surprise of many owners and operators, an older submetering infrastructure does not necessarily mean that there are no options for changing service providers. The next question is inevitably “how?”
Decommissioning your current metering infrastructure and installing new meters is one option, but it is a major capital expenditure that may take time to get approved.
Another option is to use this article as a guideline to find out if your current infrastructure can support a better software experience. Armed with the right questions, there is a chance you can adopt powerful tools that will make your life easier and your tenants’ experiences better.
You have the right to ask for a copy of the meter commissioning report from your current service provider. This is also sometimes called the submeter cross reference list, or a metering programming report.
This report is simply a list of the meters that are installed in the building, which is a crucial starting point for both record keeping and transferring from one service provide to another.
Without this report, you may still be able to transition to a new service, but the new provider will need to conduct a physical walkthrough of each location to manually gather the necessary information. While this will not stop the process from advancing, it will slow it down significantly and make portfolio-wide scalability difficult.
Infrastructure Report (cont.)
It’s important to remember that submetering providers likely do not receive a request for meter commissioning reports very often, and the request may raise eyebrows.
The way in which this request is framed is important to ensure it is useful to yourself and third parties. Service providers have been known to make infrastructure reports difficult to work with if they are worried about losing business (i.e. using custom naming conventions instead of standard numerical identifiers).
Framing the request as a requirement for internal reporting can help avoid this issue and facilitate an easier transition.
The goal is to get as much data in the meter commissioning report as possible, including the physical location of the meters in the building, meter serial numbers, meter makes/models, and a mapping of tenants to individual meters.
Once a report of the physical infrastructure and tenant mapping is secured, the next line of inquiry should be related to data processing.
The important question here is whether the meters currently installed support open data protocols such as Modbus or BACnet, or at least have machine-readable data outputs.
While it is in the best interest for service providers to lock you into using their meters, there is often market pressure to integrate with popular protocols, and many providers do integrate (even if they do not make that information public).
Even without integrating with protocols like Modbus or BACnet, there is a chance that the data is being transferred in a way that can be utilized by third parties. There may be an application programming interface (API) for transferring data to their internal system, which could be leveraged by outside vendors using special permissions.
Unlike the meter commissioning report, which can be acquired under-the-radar with the proper framing, this line of inquiry will almost certainly expose that you are interested in changing service providers. It is very unlikely that this information is given without a fight.
One method to try before requesting this information is to have an on-site operator inspect the meters themselves using the infrastructure report. Chances are that most meters will be identical and a sample of meters can be used to identify the make and model. This information can be compared with a datasheet of common meter manufacturers to determine if an open protocol is supported. It should be noted that this may not be worth the effort if there are a wide variety of meters installed.
Which leads us to our final line of inquiry…
Most real estate owners and operators don’t realize that they own the meters installed in their building, and that they can do what they please with the data collected.
If you can find the original contract and show that ownership lies with the building owner, you will have a strong case for getting the current service provider to play nice.
Also look for any language in the contract around the process for the building owner to read data from the existing meter, particularly in terms of whether there are restrictions around who can connect to the data output.
Even the most technologically innovative real estate portfolios are not immune from finding themselves stuck in an old, poor-performing submetering contract.
Tenant submetering solutions can be a powerful tools for lowering energy costs for tenants, generating additional revenue, and creating a channel for engagement. In fact, a recent National Center for Housing Management survey found a 17% decrease in tenant turnover for submetered buildings.
But if bills are late, inaccurate, difficult to understand, and unsupported by digital tenant portals, these benefits can turn tenant submetering into a major source of frustration.
Using the process outlined in this article, any portfolio can escape the Death Trap without any extra capital investment and utilize the latest technology to their advantage.
If you’re interested in a cheat sheet of which meter manufacturers have standard digital outputs, which have options for connecting to third parties, and which are not open whatsoever, you can request one here.