Tag Archives: Building efficiency

Existing Building Energy Consumption: Current Situations, Trends, Legislature and Solutions (Series Post #5: Intro to Retro-commissioning)

Now that we have an understanding of what ASHRAE is, let’s discuss how their standards are applied, particularly with the retro-commissioning process.

When it comes to maintaining a building, it is important to keep up with the continuous environmental and economic factors attributed to occupancy and utilization patterns. This blog series is intended to highlight the different trends and avenues towards reducing a building’s carbon footprint for an optimized and energy efficient building system. We have identified that buildings present the best opportunity to make a large scale impact towards reducing energy usage. In my earlier posts, we have discussed energy audits and benchmarking as great starting points to access your building’s energy consumption and as a pathway to understanding the functionality of a building. ASHRAE has led the way in providing standards and guidelines to conduct an energy audit, benchmarking and, commissioning and retro-commissioning.

Energy auditing is a practical tool to help determine capital improvement plans. Developing a plan to replace outdated equipment with energy efficient measures is a great way to reduce energy costs. However, this method’s initial costs tend to be higher and return on investments (ROIs) take longer than those of retro-commissioning.

Retro-commissioning enables you to improve the performance of your existing systems by helping you to return your building to optimum performance. It is the number one process that can provide energy efficiency, improved tenant comfort, training for operations staff and improved documentation. Retro-commissioning is a systematic process for optimizing the energy efficiency and operations of existing base building systems. Adjustments that occur throughout this process include, but are not limited to: repairs of defects, cleaning, adjustments of valves, sensors, controls or programmed settings, and/or changes in operational practices. These items are typically low cost to no cost measures that yield high ROIs. Median commissioning costs: $0.30 and $1.16 per square foot for existing buildings and return on investments are typically 13%-15% with payback times of anywhere between 1.0 and 4.2 years. In some cases you are seeing cash on cash returns of 91%.

Good candidates for retro-commissioning include underperforming buildings, older buildings and facilities with large loads. Do you manage and/or own any of these types of buildings? What are common problems you are experiencing? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

In my next blog, I will be walking you through the retro-commissioning process and going into details about each of the four phases.

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Filed under Building efficiency, commissioning, Energy, energy consumption, energy efficiency, energy usage

Existing Building Energy Consumption: Current Situations, Trends, Legislature and Solutions (Series Post #3: Benchmarking)

In my last blog, I provided an overview of the energy audit process. I highlighted the importance of energy audits and want to further this discussion by exploring the topic of benchmarking. Due to rising energy cost and the negative impact of burning fossil fuels, legislators have been demanding, in addition to energy audits, benchmarking. The benchmarking process creates a baseline of comparison for buildings in order to accurately set energy performance/sustainability goals that are specific to your facility, such as reducing overall energy or water usage.

What is Benchmarking?
Benchmarking your building’s performance will show you how the energy performance of your building compares to other, similar buildings. This process involves tracking a building’s energy and water usage and applying a standard metric to compare the building’s performance against past performance and to buildings of similar stature. This information allows us to identify the energy intensive buildings, set energy and cost saving priorities and monitor progress.

Benchmarking in Legislation.
With cities growing at alarming rates, energy demands are skyrocketing. NYC has stepped up to the challenge and is a proven frontrunner for energy legislation, including benchmarking. New York City’s largest buildings, just 2% of roughly 1 million buildings, account for 45% of the energy expended. Building a better, greener, greater New York City starts with Local Law 84 (LL84); which was signed into action in 2009 by Mayor Bloomberg. This law mandates annual energy and water benchmark reports for privately owned buildings over 50,000 square feet. Since the enactment of LL84, California and Washington State have instituted statewide requirements for benchmarking in cities such as: Austin; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis and Boston. Cities across the United States are jumping on the benchmarking movement every day in a fight to reduce buildings’ energy consumption.

Problems with Benchmarking.
Building owners and operators often do not have access to basic information on how their building performs. If building owners and operators obtain this information, it can be difficult to interpret it accurately. Misinterpreting the numbers can be very misleading. Another difficulty is comparing your building to other “similar” buildings. Do you compare your building against one of similar size, but the building use is different? Factors such as facility size and occupancy information, vacancy data and number of computers used can all manipulate data. How can one make an accurate comparison?

Suggestions.
The key to accurate benchmarking is the activities of the end users. Another key factor is communication. Facilities operators and owners must clearly articulate the goals of benchmarking their building, so that intentions are understood from the start. There are several motivations behind benchmarking, the main reasons given by facilities professionals for benchmarking according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study in 2007 are as follows: a) to identify energy-efficiency opportunities, b) to prioritize investments, and c) to make comparisons to other facilities.

Data presentation should explain findings clearly; what you were investigating and what you found. Once you have your benchmarking data, it will help to identify why and where a building is losing energy and where and how you can save energy. A tool that can help includes the newly upgraded EPA Energy Star Portfolio Manager Benchmarking Tool. Read about it here.

What Type of Energy Audit Will Produce Accurate Benchmarking Data?
In my next blog post, I will discuss the building technology society founded in 1894 known as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). This professional association focuses on building systems, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, refrigeration and sustainability within the industry. I will explore what ASHRAE’s standards and guidelines are for energy auditing in my next post.

Do you have any questions regarding benchmarking? Leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to address them.

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Filed under Building efficiency, Energy, energy audit, energy consumption, energy efficiency, energy monitoring, energy usage, EPA

Existing Building Energy Consumption: Current Situations, Trends, Legislature and Solutions (Series Post #2: Energy Audits)

Right now, many building managers do not have access to the information needed to make the most energy efficient capital improvement decisions. Information such as energy saving measures, paybacks and life cycle costs of implementing energy efficient strategies are integral. This barrier has deterred the momentum of energy efficient building systems. The solution to help building managers make energy efficient capital improvement decisions are energy audits. Energy audits can identify where energy is being expended (and/or wasted) and provide methods for improving a building’s performance.

What is an energy audit?

An energy audit is a systematic approach to quantify how building systems are currently performing, how performance can be improved, what benefits will occur if these improvement are implemented and the cost and payback for each improvement. The goal of the audit is to identify ways to reduce energy consumption in the building by giving information to owners so they can make informed business decisions. I recommend applying an ASHRAE Level II energy audit, as it is simple yet comprehensive. Below are all the steps taken to achieve a Level II energy audit:

  • Preliminary Energy-Use Analysis: Includes a general space analysis, utility bill analysis, Energy Utilization Index generation and comparison to similar buildings.
  • Level 1: Walk-through: Includes the investigation of operational practices via interview, space function analysis, rough estimates of energy end-use, identifies low or no cost changes to the facility or O&M procedures, potential capital improvements for further study and provides an initial estimate of potential costs and savings.
  • Level 2: Energy Survey & Analysis: Includes a review of mechanical, electrical and plumbing design and operation, maintenance problems, comparison of key operating parameters to design levels, annual energy end-use breakdown, equipment modifications and practical measures and financial and cost analysis.

Who can perform an energy audit?
Energy audits can be facilitated by owners/facility managers ,however, public utility and independent, private sector companies will provide important third party perspective.
There are many individuals that can perform energy audits, but who is truly qualified? According to NYC, the following five types of certifications are approved to provide PlaNYC Local Law 87: Energy Audit and Retro-commissioning (to be discussed as a future topic):

  • NYSERDA approved FlexTech consultants
  • Certified Energy Manager (CEM)
  • Certified Energy Auditor (CEA)
  • High Performance Building Design Professional (HPBD)
  • Multi-family Building Analyst (MFBA)

Have you had an energy audit done on your building? Share your experiences in the comments below. My next blog will explain the term benchmarking, which can help you to understand how your building operates in comparison to similar buildings and explain why this is important.

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Filed under Building efficiency, Energy, energy audit, energy consumption, energy efficiency, energy usage, Uncategorized

Existing Building Energy Consumption: Current Situation, Trends, Legislature and Solutions (Post #1: Introduction)

Existing Building Energy Consumption: Current Situations, Trends, Legislature and Solutions (Series Post #1: Introduction)

Our nation’s current energy appetite needs to be curbed. And while there are many solutions out there, I wanted to share my thoughts specifically with energy use and efficiency in buildings. My reason for choosing this topic is twofold: 1) Buildings account for a large portion of the US energy consumption (see more details below) and 2) Throughout my 20 years of experience with building commissioning (new construction and existing building), I have witnessed how commissioning and energy studies contribute to not only energy savings, but lower maintenance costs, increased occupant satisfaction and improved building documentation.

Why look to buildings?
The U.S. buildings sector accounted for 7% of global energy consumption in 2010. We must re-evaluate our fossil fuel consumption patterns which have been directly linked to climate change in order to mitigate the adversities we are facing. Buildings accounted for 41% of primary energy consumption in the U.S.; that is 44% more than the transportation sector and 36% more than the industrial sector. Buildings are identified as being responsible for the largest portion of our country’s carbon dioxide emissions; therefore, it seems the best way to combat climate change and create a sustainable future is to demand a higher standard from our buildings.

The federal government estimated that we can save $40 billion dollars annually by reducing energy use in commercial buildings by 20% by 2020. With people spending 90% of their lives inside buildings, we must work to provide buildings that are operating at ultimate performance. We need leadership and coordination to implement legislation. We need education to allow people to make the best choices. We need research and development to cultivate the technology and practices to ensure sustainable energy solutions. My future posts to this blog series will look at current trends in energy efficient buildings such as energy audits and the impact they have on building systems. The posts will explore the different organizations and principles set forth for better building systems such as ASHRAE. I will then tie in my personal experience and lessons learned as an active commissioning professional in order to explain and exemplify the importance of commissioning, retro-commissioning and energy audits.

I will be publishing a new post every other Thursday. Any topics and/or questions you would like me to address? Leave me a comment and I’ll make sure to reply. I hope this is the beginning of a great discussion.

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Filed under Building efficiency, commissioning, Energy, energy audit, energy efficiency, energy usage

Presidential Promises of Oil Independence Aplenty, Results Remain Elusive

Once again, the U.S. is missing out on an opportunity to solve this country’s current energy woes. President Obama has indicated that he would like for the U.S. to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. In his latest speech on March 30, 2011 at Georgetown University, he described how we will reduce oil imports by a third by 2035. In order for this to happen, the focus will be put on producing more electric cars and trucks that run on natural gas, and developing refineries to process billions of gallons of bio fuels. There was brief mention of using alternative energy to help with reducing our oil dependence, but nowhere was building efficiency mentioned. Research report after research report has indicated that building efficiency could be looked at as the next fuel.

Our current President is no different than the Presidents before him. President Nixon declared his intent to get us off foreign oil after the Arab Embargo; and President Carter looked to get us off foreign oil after the Iran hostage situation. President Bush made the same statements after the first Iraq war too. We have been saying this for decades but not doing anything about it.

I can’t put the blame solely on our President; look at the opposition he has had to deal with over his last two years. He killed Cap and Trade due to public pressure from the Republicans as it would cost too much. He tried to develop more offshore drilling, but the rig Deepwater Horizon had its accident. Lastly, he has been pushing nuclear production but, with the last episode in the earthquake/tsunami tattered nation of Japan, the public is now skittish and wants to close nuclear plants and never reopen them.

We have been doing a lot of talking, especially my favorite Senator from Michigan who feels we need to increase electrical capacity by 40-50% to meet the needs of electricity demand for the next decade. He is shooting for a long range plan. I don’t blame him for shooting. Maybe, Mr. Chairman, you can start on developing programs for energy efficiency in buildings which constitutes for 60% of our total consumption in this nation.

We need to set our political agenda aside and come up with a realistic plan. It is my humble opinion that this plan must start with being energy efficient, which is something we could all be doing now, without waiting for further technologies to be developed and implemented.

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Filed under biofuel, Building efficiency, carbon, Energy, energy consumption, foreign oil, Uncategorized

The Benefits of Demand Response Programs

What have we learned from the latest heat wave in the Northeast? As temperatures rose into the triple digit mark and demand for electricity moved higher, what are we doing to curtail usage? Few commercial buildings have subscribed to a demand response program and the residential market is still in the dark.

Demand response programs allow for buildings to be part of the smart grid and curtail their energy usage during peak demand to reduce the load on the grid. Customers can qualify for incentives from their utility companies by participating in a demand response program.

In the event of high demand on the electrical grid (like 100+ degree weather days), the utility company would call certain customers to reduce load in their building to help curtail the large demand that is on the electrical distribution system. It is a great way to try to reduce the burden of electrical generation through the utilities area. It allows plants that produce power efficiently to stay on longer and reduce the amount of power generation that is old, inefficient, and costly to the environment.

Some utilities still don’t have such a program which is counterintuitive to the larger picture of reducing costs, providing customers with costs savings options, and helping the environment.

We all need to be part of a demand response program. Why not get paid to help the environment?

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Filed under Building efficiency, Electrical Distribution, energy efficiency

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