Multifamily building stock in the United States has great potential for significant energy efficiency gains, with potential energy savings are estimated at $9 billion, according to a new report from the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT). Energy Transparency in the Multifamily Housing Sector, reports that while energy costs have risen 20 percent in the past decade, new energy benchmarking laws in major cities that require owners of multifamily buildings to measures or disclose their properties' energy consumption are allowing owners, policymakers, utilities, and lenders to craft better programs and incentives for energy-efficient buildings. The carbon reductions associated with the $9  billion in estimated savings are the equivalent of shutting down 20 coal power plants according to IMT.

“How a building is built and operated has a big impact on tenants' utility bills," saysCliff Majersik, executive director of IMT. "By measuring energy performance and setting improvement goals, owners and operators of multifamily buildings can save energy and money for everyone. This report addresses the practical challenges to ramping up efficiency in multifamily housing.” The IMT report

, written by IMT’s Andrea Krukowski and Andrew C. Burr, describes the particular barriers to energy efficiency in multifamily housing, such as dispersed property ownership; a general lack of information on buildings’ energy performance; owners’ difficulty in obtaining the energy data needed to benchmark, if units are separately metered; and the availability of capital to finance energy improvements.

“As a general rule, greater transparency is a positive development, helping markets work better all around,” says Julia Stasch, vice president of U.S. programs at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “As the report outlines, the implementation of these new laws should be undertaken carefully, especially given that much of the multifamily housing was built before energy codes were enacted and serves many low and moderate-income households.”

IMT recommends measures to address these challenges, such as that cities work with local utilities to ensure that building owners can access aggregated energy data, which allows them to benchmark while protecting tenants’ privacy. Another recommendation is to integrate energy-performance information into real-estate listings, so that prospective renters can know how efficient a building is before signing a lease.