With multiple campus buildings that operate similar to a small village, retirement communities often are high-energy consumers, open to residents and staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Whitney Center, a 244-resident continuing care retirement community in Hamden, CT, provides an active and culturally rich, supportive environment for people aged 62 or more years. As senior living communities move to be more energy efficient and sustainably run, they are seeking affordable ways to make significant changes while maintaining or improving the resident experience.

As Whitney Center’s local utility company, energy engineers from United Illuminating worked closely to guide them in two recent energy audits. Having worked with Whitney Center for more than 20 years, we knew that reaching their energy efficiency goals would require a variety of initiatives and infrastructure upgrades.

Energy audits can be daunting and the results confusing. Our role is to explain the results, provide cost-effective strategies to achieve more efficiency and help customers identify available incentives to finance infrastructure upgrades. As is the case with many multi-building facilities, aging equipment and a lack of a cohesive energy management system contributed to the retirement community’s inefficiency.

With guidance from me and other team members, Whitney Center replaced lighting and heating systems, resulting in more than $317,000 in annual energy savings. The project required the installation of new lighting and HVAC systems. The heat pump system also was replaced, giving way to state-of-the-art touch screen energy management systems.

Concerned for their residents’ comfort and satisfaction, Whitney Center connected engineers, facility managers, maintenance staff members and residents to create a Conservation Committee. Marc Browne, director of special projects at Whitney Center, said residents believed that being included in the energy project decisions both educated them about energy efficiency improvements and made them feel more connected to the community. They enjoyed interacting with UI’s energy engineer as well as Whitney Center staff members to perform energy audits throughout the community’s buildings.

In addition to uncovering the savings the community could realize in their energy bills, the energy audit was used as an opportunity to gather input from residents as well as educate them on the reasons for the upgrades throughout the buildings. People were educated as to how the energy upgrades would help save Whitney Center money and, in turn, provide savings for residents.

The collaboration between building administration and residents to accomplish these savings was one of the reasons this energy upgrade project was such a success. Resident satisfaction was greatly improved after these changes; the number of monthly calls to maintenance was reduced, and temperature issues became almost obsolete.

Additional measures were taken to increase energy savings, such as the installation of new pipe and steam trap insulation and the addition of an indoor pool cover, new chillers and domestic hot water heaters. The community also plans to add other green technologies, conserve more water and reduce waste production.

Energy engineers can be a valuable resource and partner for senior living and healthcare facilities proactively looking for ways to conserve energy, cut costs and decrease their carbon footprint.