“50% of commercial buildings in the United States were built before 1980…Retrofitting these older buildings is the only path toward substantially reducing the energy footprint of the existing building stock.” Forbes Magazine
A recent article from Forbes magazine highlights the energy saving opportunities represented by older commercial buildings. It is an energy saving opportunity that The Energy Alliance Group of Michigan (EAG) is immersed in every day.
On a recent walk through of a client’s 50 year old building, EAG’s CEO, Scott Ringlein was amazed at the accumulation of energy-intensive technology from an era when the cost of energy was insignificant. The older technology represented a huge collective waste of energy compared to the highly efficient technology that is available today.
Ringlein had been asked to perform a feasibility audit for determining the energy saving potential of a green renovation. He was reviewing not only the building, but also the energy demands of the business operation it contained.
The building and operation are very energy-intensive. The owner wants to improve profitability by reducing the expense of energy. His goal is to reduce wasted energy in the most cost effective manner. Of special interest was an understanding of all the potential rebates, tax incentives and the availability of Property Assessed Clean Energy to finance the project (see PACE video).
“On average, 30 percent of the energy consumed in commercial buildings is wasted. Energy efficiency is the single largest way to eliminate this waste, reduce emissions, and save money.” U.S. Dept of Energy
During the walk-through Ringlein discussed with the CFO, the five most common areas of wasted energy in older buildings. Here are the highlights:
- Insulation – Insulation that has been torn, compressed, retains moisture, never installed, or has become degraded due to age, creates a huge opportunity for energy leakage from a building. Upgrading building insulation can result in energy savings of 30 percent.
- HVAC – Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems use a tremendous amount of electricity and fuel. HVAC and lighting account for 70% of the utility bill for most commercial and industrial facilities.* Poorly maintained or outdated technologies use a great deal more energy than newer systems which have steadily improved rates of efficiency. Coupling the HVAC with a building automation system greatly magnifies those efficiencies.
- Lighting – Old buildings typically use lights that are inefficient and are either on or off because of old light switching devices. Depending on the existing lighting technology, advances in lighting technology can offer energy savings of up to 80 percent. Using occupancy-sensor technology, as well as a building management system, could help reduce commercial lighting costs by an additional 45 percent.
- Windows – Poorly designed windows leak air and lose energy. They also create a green house effect which drives up the cost of air conditioning. Replacing old windows with newer models can increase efficiency up to three times. Adding energy efficient film to existing windows can also decrease energy waste with a minimum of expense.
- Wasted Heat – Chimney exhaust from old buildings contains a lot of heat and moisture. In most older buildings it simply rises up into the atmosphere and is forgotten. New technology can capture a large percentage of that heat and moisture allowing it to be recycled for other uses within the building. The water can be used for irrigation and the heat can be used in any number of ways.
“According to the United States Department of energy, commercial buildings could be made 80 percent more efficient with new and existing technology.”
What Ringlein found is most building owners don’t realize how inefficient their buildings have become over time, or how wasted energy is reducing their profitability. Owners also have little understanding of the variety of technologies that are now available to improve their efficiency.
This building owner’s biggest concern was how much would an energy efficiency renovation cost and what would be the resultant savings. Ultimately–will the savings offset the up-front costs.
“With commercial buildings accounting for more than a third of total U.S. energy consumption, regulations and incentives will be the key to reducing the energy footprint of the existing building stock.” Forbes
One of the biggest unknowns for most energy conscious building owners is what questions should they even be asking (see report – 10 Questions to Ask Before an Energy Efficiency Upgrade). Understanding all the programs available for the express purpose of making energy projects easy to launch and affordable (rebates, incentives, financing) is a big part of those unknowns. Understanding what is available can often be the difference between saving energy and wasting energy.
There is a huge potential for saving money and reducing wasted energy in older buildings. Understanding how much money and energy is being wasted is often the driving force for taking the first step on the journey to saving energy. Continued knowledge, including all the available technology, rebates, tax incentives, and financing opportunities, can ultimately see the journey through to completion.
* Untapped Potential of Commercial Buildings – Energy Use and Emissions “indoor lighting, combined heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC), and refrigeration account for the highest rates of electricity consumption per square foot.”
Photo credit: Colleen Kilpatrick