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June 25, 2013 -
Today's tip from Building Operating Management: HVAC policies and procedures can help improve efficiency in existing buildings.
Just as a green building can fade to gray, an ordinary building can move in the opposite direction.
Senior managers tend to "think utilities are a fixed expense," says Bill Harrison, past ASHRAE president and the CEO of Harrison Energy Partners. "Utilities are not a fixed expense." Almost any building can cut its energy use if managers pay attention, he says, because "almost invariably, a building does not operate as it should."
A study by Texas A&M's Energy Systems Laboratory concluded that a typical building can save 10 to 40 percent of its energy costs just by operating more efficiently. Buildings on the higher end of that range have severe problems to begin with, says Charles Culp, a professor in the architecture department at Texas A&M.
Obstacles to high performance, says Mike Bobker of the CUNY Institute for Urban Systems, begin with "not enough time, not enough money." But those are often just symptoms of lack of organizational commitment. "Once the organizational commitment is there, time and money are usually found," he says.
Policies and procedures can be an important way to improve efficiency. "A lot of stuff falls apart if there is not good specifications," says Lindsay Audin, president of Energywiz. He cites a university at which workers in each building were able to set the thermostat where they wanted it. Putting the acceptable setting in a manual makes it "the law."
That kind of system also makes it clear to technicians that they won't get blamed. Audin says federal buildings specify that air conditioning may not be set lower than 78 degrees, and "no matter how much people complain, it's not their decision." A manual “may take away responsibility people have not handled it well, or it may give them responsibility because they know someone has their back," Audin says.