Strategizing with utility incentives may keep you in the black

A new year approaches and with that the chance for property owners to plan for next year and next season

Michelle Estep

While the Pacific Northwest braves yet another wet and windy winter, property managers are on heightened alert, preparing for any possibility during the region’s unpredictable rainy season. Of course, inclement weather can strike year-round, but severe conditions and inconveniences are more frequent during the winter months. In many regards, property managers and a property’s engineering staff are a building’s first line of defense against harsh weather or sudden havoc. Though property managers are oftentimes the first responders to a property’s worst moments – roof leak, power outage, pipe burst, flooding, etc. – they are also reliable experts in preventative measures, such as cost-saving initiatives and commercial upgrades that improve a building’s performance. As such, property managers are indispensable resources to building owners in strategizing preemptive care and maintenance.

Proper building maintenance helps mitigate unforeseen disastrous effects, which is why winterizing a property well in advance is so important. Yet, winterizing a property is not without certain challenges, especially when it concerns budgeting for uncontrollable, extraordinary circumstances. Annual budget forecasts need to anticipate every possibility. Unexpected expenses, like a tree removal service and roof repairs, will eat up a budget in no time. However, one surefire way to extend a property’s budget is to take advantage of utility rebates and energy-savings incentives. Not only does this improve the building’s efficiency, but the cost-savings can be reallocated to emergency or other needs such as winterizing measures. As a property manager with over 13 years of experience in the Vancouver market, I can attest that this is a win-win strategy for property owners.

As a partner in the community, Clark Public Utilities offers great commercial incentive programs ranging from industrial lighting incentives, heat pump equipment conversions and upgrades, ductless heat pumps, compressed air audits and custom energy efficiency improvement projects. As a growing trend in this industry, more and more utility-service providers are marketing advantageous rebate programs for commercial properties. The driver behind these widespread opportunities is rooted in the competition between the United States and growing overseas markets over energy resources, which inflates costs. As a result, many state governments have partnered with public-utility commissions to impose tougher energy-conservation requirements on utility-service providers, thus serving as an impetus behind rebate programs for commercial facilities.

Since the cost of waiting to replace or upgrade out-of-date equipment increases with time, being aware of possible utility incentives is particularly beneficial when preplanning long-term improvement projects. Oftentimes, properties need to qualify for an incentive or rebate, and this process requires collaboration between property management, vendors and the utility-service provider. Strong partnerships and excellent communication is vital, so as not to lose any savings opportunities once a project is underway.

Currently, I’m managing an exterior lighting upgrade project for a 100,000+ square-foot industrial business park in Vancouver as part of Clark Public Utilities’ Commercial/Industrial Lighting Incentive Program (CLIP). This program for existing buildings affords incentives for approved retrofit lighting upgrades and covers up to 50 percent of the total project costs. CLIP lowers energy costs, ensures a more adequately lit business park and provides a substantial return on investment. For example, CLIP covering 30 percent of the installation costs of an estimated $50,000 project yields $15,000 in savings – a tremendous amount of money in a property’s budget that could be better allocated elsewhere.

Though winter may cause more frustration than not when it comes to property management, a new year approaches and with that the chance to plan for next year and next season. So while a roof leak may see red, strategizing now with a utility incentives program may get a property to see black.

Michelle Estep is a property manager and handles portfolios of retail, industrial and office properties throughout the Vancouver metropolitan area at NAI Norris, Beggs & Simpson, a real estate brokerage and asset/property management company. She can be reached at 360.852.9631 or