Speelman Electric assists housing authority in lighting installation

When Ameresco was seeking a contractor for the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority’s (AMHA) $10 million energy conservation project, the company called on Speelman Electric Inc., Tallmadge, Ohio. Ameresco, an energy services company headquartered in Massachusetts, was hired by AMHA to replace and restore the fixtures.

“The main focus of the overall project was to formulate a program that would promote savings of both water and energy bills; we determined that we could provide on the order of $1.3 million savings per year,” said Ron Rychel, senior project manager for Ameresco.

A savings-incentive program put out by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded the $10 million energy-conservation contract with Ameresco.

Before getting started, Ameresco needed to find a way to secure a substantial future savings. The company presented AMHA with a proposal for energy conservation and monetary savings and was able to guarantee that savings over the next 12 years. Part of the proposal involved replacing inefficient lighting with energy efficient, which would be installed by Speelman Electric.

“We negotiated a turnkey price with Ameresco that was a fixed price for the entire contract,” said Chris Scranton, director of real estate investments and assisted housing for AMHA. 

When negotiating the price, AMHA was looking to deal directly with one electrical contractor.

“Under the federal program, AMHA contracted with us directly,” said Lillian Kamalay, director of business development for Ameresco. “We prepared a feasibility study and proposal, and there was a serious amount of consideration that went into the development, design and construction using primarily local contractors. We replaced the fixtures with high-efficiency lighting that is good for energy savings and can’t be tampered with.”

As part of the citywide project, Speelman Electric had to replace existing fixtures in 381 buildings, including 12 high-rises and 23 townhomes. Speelman Electric was responsible for visiting 3,836 individual occupied apartments to replace the fixtures. Depending on the size, whether it was a two or three-bedroom unit, there could have been five to 10 fixtures in each that required replacement.

Retrofit

Due to its size, the project was divided into two phases over two years. The first phase began in January 2005 and involved replacing inefficient, incandescent lights with more than 33,000 high-efficiency light fixtures. The contractors worked in high-rise structures for senior housing and multifamily low-rise buildings.

Speelman Electric hired 12 employees to help complete the project, which it split into two crews of six.

Because the project was so large, Ameresco and Speelman Electric worked together to create a master plan that would show how the fixtures would be installed and what was needed for each installation.

“We created an Excel spreadsheet that showed us what, where and how many installations were going to be required,” Rychel said. “Then we inputted the types of fixtures and boxes by property. We estimated how much time we would need to go to each apartment and change out the electrical fixture. We had to make sure we also coordinated notifications, because we were required to provide two-week notices to each tenant. From there, we were able to format a plan on how many minutes it would take the electrician to change out the fixture, and we were able to develop a schedule. We could estimate how many days roughly on each side it would take. The spreadsheet essentially told us where we were at in terms of the schedule so we were able to ensure that the installation matched the schedule.”

The lighting-replacement portion of the project was done in conjunction with water and other energy-conservation measures. Phase II focused on energy conservation through gas. In addition to boiler and domestic hot water replacement, windows, and other measures, 500 single-family homes were insulated and more than 3,400 thermostats installed. To control the possibility of overheating, AMHA has capped family units at 75 degrees, and senior housing is capped at 78 degrees.

Changes and challenges

As with every major project, Ameresco and Speelman Electric encountered some challenges. One of the biggest was in organizing installations in the numerous single-family homes. Other difficulties included logistics, coordination and customer relations.

Speelman Electric encountered some of its own specific tests. Because of the large size of the project, the company needed to assess the inventory before it was ready for installation. Workers set up shop in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse with a 3,000-square-foot staging area where each fixture had to be broken down to each allotment. A utility trailer was used to store the supplies and mobilize a week’s worth of fixtures.

Another difficulty Speelman Electric faced was adhering to a strict, predetermined schedule.

“We had to be there no matter what. There was no flexibility,” Yaich said. “The foreman would pick up the keys each day at 8 a.m. and then return the keys at 4 p.m. We had a limited work time with actual hours where we had to incorporate lunch, setup time, time to receive the fixtures, break them down in the warehouse and transport the supplies to the job site to meet the schedule of installation.”

Speelman encountered yet more challenges that required quick thinking, supply changes and new fixture installations.

“When we arrived at some apartments, they weren’t the way they were laid out in the plans, so we had to do some fixture changes,” Yaich said. “Some 10-inch fixtures would have to be adjusted to 5-inch units. About 10 percent of our inventory changed. We had to work with existing outlet boxes for mounting of fixtures and proper grounding.”

Positive feedback

Despite the challenges posed to Speelman Electric, the subcontractor exceeded Ameresco’s expectations.

“Speelman Electric did a great job on this project and we had a great team working with us,” Rychel said. “From a procurement standpoint, we bought all of the product and housed it upfront so there were no procurement issues down the road with installation. It gave us the opportunity to run the schedule as we pleased. The ability to use the product on one site kept things rolling.”

Speelman Electric kept things consistent within the 35 properties by reducing the product manufacturers to three with the same fixtures in the apartment buildings. This simplistic approach also provided uniformity and reduced overall installation times, which were key issues to the success of the overall project.

“The feedback has been very positive for the lighting project,” said Scranton. “We had to give notice to all of the tenants for scheduling activity, and with just three or four complaints from residents of all different personalities, that speaks very highly of Speelman and Ameresco.”

If Ameresco and Speelman Electric’s performances on Phase I are any indication of what Phase II holds in store, they are on the fast track to another successful project. EC

SPEED is a freelance writer based in Weymouth, Mass. She can be reached at 617.529.2676 or kspeed@aol.com.