New York City – The cost of energy keeps rising — but fortunately, energy experts like Marc Zuluaga keep finding new ways to save. Zuluaga, an engineer for Steven Winter Associates, Inc., in New York City, thinks many apartment managers spend too much money heating hot water for their residents.

Most managers agree that to keep tenants happy, hot water should be at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit when it comes out of the tap. Because hot water cools as it passes through the pipes in a building, managers often set their hot water heaters as high as 150 degrees, just to make sure.

But Zuluaga tried something different at Dunn Development Corp.’s 1212 Martin Luther King Blvd. (1212 MLK), which just opened 54 mid-rise affordable apartments here. He added a thermometer at the building’s recirculation pump to measure the temperature of the water after it cooled down traveling through the building.

It turned out that the hot water heater only needed to heat water to 140 degrees to provide 120-degree water to all the apartments. “You could adjust it down 10 degrees,” Zuluaga said.

Although the precise savings of this tip will vary tremendously based on the size of the building and local energy costs, Zuluaga is confident that his extra thermometer added virtually nothing to the cost of 1212 MLK.

Exit signs provide another, often forgotten opportunity to save energy: The exit signs at 1212 MLK provide the same amount of illumination as old-fashioned ones lit with 60-watt bulbs, but only use 5-watt light-emitting diodes.

The LED signs can cost about 25 percent more than conventional signs but should quickly pay for themselves.

These improvements are part of a carefully thought out energy-efficiency plan for 1212 MLK that should help the project use at least 20 percent less energy than similar apartments built to meet the requirements of the building code. And these green building ideas didn’t add much to the cost of construction.

1212 MLK cost $145 per square foot in hard construction costs, which is not particularly expensive for New York City. The energy-saving improvements only added about $3 per square foot to that cost.

The community will be the first to complete construction as part of an initiative by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to extend the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star standards for energy efficiency to multifamily buildings.

1212 MLK will house low-income households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income.

For more ideas on building, marketing, and financing energy-efficient projects, see the special section in AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE, March 2006.