How To Know How Far To Go With a Deep Energy Retrofit?

  May 7, 2015

"A deep energy retrofit means going beyond just hitting a number," says Sean Denniston, project manager with the New Buildings Institute.. "It means going as far as you can with each opportunity." But determining how far to go with a project starts with why the project was initiated in the first place.

Scott Muldavin of the Rocky Mountain Institute calls this process "the intelligent prioritization of opportunities." It means matching the priorities of the organization, the reason for planning the deep retrofit — again, "You're more likely to have the outcomes you want if you plan around triggers," says Muldavin — and the scope of the project.

But the important thing to understand at the outset, says Denniston, is that thinking about the scope of a deep energy retrofit allows considerations about how building systems affect each other. For instance, he says, "You have the opportunity to look at the envelope when it's time to replace HVAC and lighting. And the interactive effect may give you the opportunity to downsize equipment." This may provide more financial flexibility to improve other areas. Denniston says the most important thing when considering projects is not to simply do a like-for-like replacement. "Look more deeply," he says. "It might be time to change whole system types, to a ground-source heat pump or VRF. Then you can get even more savings."

Denniston says it's important to plan projects in such a way that facility managers don't "cannibalize future savings." What he means by that is if only the minimum — say, a lighting upgrade — is done to get a utility incentive, that's not bad. But now the threshold for other upgrades — controls or occupancy sensors — is much higher and such projects will be more difficult to justify. "What you've done by not going as far as you could is made it less likely you'll ever go further," he says.

Indeed, without question, one of the key components of planning the scope will be the money available. And the money available might fluctuate depending on the perceived value of the deep energy retrofit — and not just energy savings factors.

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