The metaphor often used in the commercial building industry is that a building is like a car. It is a complex mechanical system that functions best when it receives regular care and maintenance that includes inspections and tune-ups. But unlike buildings, new cars must have a sticker that states their fuel efficiency as MPG (miles per gallon), so prospective buyers can make more informed decisions.
If the metaphor holds and buildings are like cars, then there must be a way to judge a building’s fuel efficiency in order to, in effect, give it an MPG rating. In fact, in the United States and Canada, there is way to learn your property’s PG and that is by utilizing the DOE Energy Star’s free, on-line system called Portfolio Manager.
In a previous post, we discussed how to benchmark your building or portfolio of buildings. Benchmarking is simply recording the energy consumption of your assets over time. Once twelve months’ worth of utility bills have been input into Portfolio Manager, you can print out your Statement of Energy Performance that includes the familiar Energy Star Rating, a number from 1-100 that represents a particular property’s energy efficiency, like car’s MPG sticker.
Once you have your building’s Energy Star Rating, you may be wondering how to improve it and the answer is, it depends. The first thing to bear in mind is that the age of a property has been shown to have no correlation to its Energy Star performance, so whether your building is old or new, there is room for improvement.
Depending upon the complexities of your building’s systems, you may wish to contract with an energy auditor for a general or detailed whole-building energy audit commonly referred to as “retro-commissioning” for a large Houston corporate event venue. Or for smaller building’s, you may be able to perform an informal, less detailed audit yourself.
What to Expect From an Energy Audit
An energy auditor will ask to see the utility bills associated with a property in order to assess energy performance and look for spikes or abnormalities in year to year consumption. They will also take an inventory of all the systems to be assessed and how those systems may be inter-related. They will consider how the building is operating as compared to how it was designed to operate – including analyzing costs and identifying opportunities to reduce energy consumption.
An experienced energy auditor will ask to tour the property at night also, in order to see what and how systems are running. Recommendations for improving energy efficiency should be contained in the final report.
Recommendations for Common Area Savings
- Replace all incandescents with Energy Star compact fluorescents or LEDs (light emitting diodes)
- Install photosensors, occupancy (vacancy) sensors and timers in areas that receive periodic but not continued use.
- Weatherize common areas, including caulking windows and weather stripping doors.
- Consider installing Energy Star fans. People feel cooler when there is air movement and you may be able to set back your thermostat for greater savings.
- Install programmable thermostats and set the evening temperatures back by 10-15°F for 8 hours.
- Create a maintenance schedule for major systems and stick to it, ensuring efficiency and longevity of your equipment.
- Set the temperature on water heaters to 120°F and insulate the pipes and the tank.
- Set the pool temperature to no more than 78°F and hot tubs to 96°F in the summer and to no more than 102°F in the winter.