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By Naomi Millán, Associate Editor
Energy Efficiency Article Use Policy
There is an implication that achieving a green certification for a facility such as a LEED designation means that it is energy efficient. However, being energy efficient really depends on how the building was designed and is then operated, regardless of whether there is a plaque hanging in the lobby.
In order to achieve efficiency in a facility, there are some main areas to pursue. In his presentation at the 2011 NFMT conference, Larry Spielvogel, P.E., of Consulting Engineers, said that complexity often defeats efficiency. Overly complex systems and facilities invite the need for frequent commissioning to keep them running optimally. Building designs should minimize maintenance and service requirements, and limit commissioning requirements.
Paradoxically, newer might not mean better. In terms of efficiency, older buildings often outperform newer facilities. This is sometimes in part due to complex newer systems skewing out of ideal operating parameters, but also sometimes because of different system strategies in older buildings. For example, Spielvogel says that while new facilities almost always have central HVAC, older buildings might use unitary units, which are themselves less efficient but are also used less than a central system.
Beyond simplicity in the systems, better-trained operators are an important component to achieving energy efficient facilities. Common sense engineering and operators that are highly trained are what is needed, Spielvogel says. "The best investment is a five dollar screwdriver and an intelligent person behind it." It also doesn't hurt to provide incentives to operators that provide results.
Of course, too often operators and designers live in different silos and an important transfer of information doesn't occur which is crucial to the success of a facility performing as designed. "You have to know what the design intent was before you can teach an operator how to use it," Spielvogel says.
This is not to say that pursuing a green facility through a building certification will never result in an energy efficient building. These buildings exist, Spielvogel says, but "they are designed with simplicity and operated with great care."