Building Operating Management

Timing, Scope Are Critical In Considering Deep Energy Retrofits

For deep energy retrofits — extensive, often disruptive projects that aim to save 30 to 50 percent or more on a building's energy use — the right timing and the appropriate scope are two of the most important elements of success. And they're very much related.

"The fundamental way to know if you have the possibility for a deep energy retrofit is to get a sense of the value it will bring," says Scott Muldavin, president of the Muldavin Co. and senior advisor to the Rocky Mountain Institute. "If you're going to prioritize where to spend money, it should be where you can create the most value."

But the biggest question is how to decide whether to do a simple like-for-like upgrade, or a full-scale deep energy retrofit, or something in between. A deep energy retrofit is a big commitment, of both time and money.

"It's a really big thing to think about how far you're going with the work you're doing," says Sean Denniston, project manager with the New Buildings Institute. "If you're going to get 30 percent or more savings, you don't really do that by accident, nor do you do it by doing the basic stuff."

Indeed, planning a deep energy retrofit is a challenging process — not unlike constructing a new building from scratch. But the payoffs can be enormous.

Pulling The Trigger

"The best possibility for a deep energy retrofit is simply when you have poor current energy performance," says Muldavin. "You're more likely to have the outcomes you want if you plan around particular deep energy retrofit triggers. The right trigger is essential to determining deep energy retrofit success."

Poor performance is the most obvious trigger, but there are others, like the size of the spend to replace a single piece of equipment. "As components come up for replacement, the more expensive the piece of equipment, the better the opportunity," says Denniston.

A higher cost makes it easier to roll in more retrofits to approach the 30 to 50 percent threshold. Take as an example a chiller due for replacement because of age. Given the cost of that work, it may be possible to upgrade the thermal performance of the building envelope, then downsize the chiller, for an acceptable incremental cost, given the long-term energy savings the project will produce.

Experts suggest that facility managers not limit themselves to only energy-using equipment when considering a trigger for a deep energy retrofit. For example, if fire or life safety equipment needs replacement, it might be possible to roll energy-saving equipment into a bigger project. Code-required upgrades can be another trigger. "Anything that requires substantial disruption provides an opportunity to do energy efficiency on a more cost-effective basis," says Muldavin.

Denniston agrees: "You're already making a disruption, so it makes sense to make the most of that disruption. Even if the systems that trigger the project don't have anything to do with energy, take advantage of the opportunity."

Repurposing space in an owner-occupied building or doing tenant improvement in a multi-tenant building could also trigger a wider energy retrofit project. "Look at tenant churn," says Denniston. "TI is a great opportunity."

Continue Reading: Energy Efficiency

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  posted on 5/11/2015   Article Use Policy