Monthly Archives: January 2010

Keep Your Money from Going Out the Window

We’ve all been told as children – “Turn off the lights when you’re not in the room” and “Don’t leave the water running when you’re brushing your teeth.” Now, there’s so much more we can do to conserve energy and resources in our homes and businesses. There is heightened awareness that our “small and insignificant” actions collectively have great impact on the environment and personal/corporate budgets.

To know how much energy we spend (or waste); we need to assess the situation and come up with a baseline. Just like we all go to the doctor every year and take our cars in for inspection, our homes and offices need the same check-ups. Hence, the energy audit. In short, an energy audit is a way to determine the energy consumption of a building. These audits can help individuals see where money and energy are going out the window (sometimes literally). For one of our clients, we found they were using 2.28 times the average electricity and 1.65 times the natural gas for buildings of their type. We identified 15 Energy Conservation Measures totaling a possible savings of $615,000 and approximately 30% reduction in energy use. These audits help identify troublespots in the property and methods for improving the building’s performance. Alterations can be as simple as changing light bulbs or as complex as overhauling the heating and cooling systems.

Being efficient is more than saving money; it’s about preserving our natural resources and minimizing our impact on the environment. Many elite corporations are leading the charge by greening their business practices and supply chains. They’re educating their employees on how to make eco-friendly decisions. Further, they’re investing in their buildings via retrofits and even building according to green standards such as LEED.

Building green is booming because this generation demands socially responsible corporations and healthful work environments. Unfortunately, some still cite heavy upfront costs as an obstacle to building green – materials are more expensive, the LEED process comes with additional costs and it just takes more planning and innovation.

Great ideas, innovation and progress come from challenging situations fraught with limited resources. In the case of building green, the financial aspect is favorable to the cause. A USGBC-funded study of LEED buildings in NYC found that there was no significant price differential for construction costs between LEED and traditional buildings. According to the analysis, the average construction cost for a LEED high-rise residential building was $440/sf and $436/sf for non-LEED. I think an extra $4/sf investment is worth it, especially since the returns include better air quality, lowered utility bills, increased productivity and less pollution-spewing buildings.

If we’re going to tackle the looming issue of global warming, we need to take one conscientious step at a time – whether it’s turning off the light, doing an energy audit, investing in a retrofit or starting from scratch and building green.

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Filed under Building efficiency, commissioning, Retrofit

Missing the Bull’s Eye

The Obama Administration has an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 83% by 2050. With GHG being the number one contributor to global warming, this initiative could not have made me, my kids and the polar bears any happier.

Many emitted GHGs come from old, antiquated coal power plants in desperate need of mothballing or upgrades. Creating stricter emissions guidelines for these plants is a great first step. Another step in the right direction is the focus on alternative energy. Developing photovoltaic power, wind energy and nuclear generation are all huge steps to reaching these reduction targets.

However, the biggest and most important item that is being overlooked time and time again is improving the energy efficiency of our current building stock. We are pouring billions of dollars into power plants, smart grids and alternative energy – all of which are needed – but little is being done to clean up existing buildings, which account for 40% of all GHGs emitted.

Of all initiatives laid out, I have not seen a clear cut plan yet; just ideas thrown out there that make sense but have no concrete steps. I see a target, but no clear path of how to get there. It’s good that we’ve set an end goal, but now we have to figure out how to get there. Corporations want to know, states want to know, cities want to know. Heck, I want to know.

Previously, I thought that NYC Mayor Bloomberg had a solution. His PlaNYC program targeted a 30% reduction by 2030. He mandated energy audits and existing building commissioning on all buildings over 50,000-square-feet. Sadly, he buckled under pressure from the real estate industry and removed the requirement to implement capital improvements. I’m incredibly disappointed in the Mayor for not standing behind his original proposal, which would have made NYC an even greener city. But, I am still intrigued by what our city could look like in years to come.

I understand we’re all experiencing pain from the recession; however, when will it ever be a “good time” to invest into cleaning up our buildings? I think the cost of doing nothing and waiting for “another day” is far worse. It’s one thing to identify energy conservation measures in buildings – which at least the legislation will require via an energy audit – but what use is the information if owners are not required to convert the data into action?

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