Energy usage can account for one-third of a commercial building’s operating costs. Integrating energy efficient strategies can lead to reduced energy use and operational improvements and savings. Regular performance reviews and periodic auditing of a building’s equipment and systems helps ensure that everything is operating efficiently. Benefits to the facility may include a reduction in operating costs, greater comfort level for building occupants, and greater longevity of equipment and systems for a better return on investment.
A commercial building energy assessment should reveal potential areas for operational improvements. Three areas should be highlighted: energy use and consumption patterns, opportunities to reduce energy use, and plans to reduce operational costs and save money. The analysis can be done in a simple manner, through inspections by in-house maintenance and facilities managers, or detailed testing and measurements performed by outside professionals. A basic energy assessment may include the following: an onsite inspection of the facilities, a review of energy bills, and cost effective recommendations for changes. A comprehensive energy survey and engineering analysis will provide a more thorough understanding of the energy usage of the building and identify more significant measures that can be taken to improve operational efficiency. Comprehensive assessments are generally performed less frequently because they are more expensive and time consuming.
Identifying problem areas
A number of major problem areas may be identified through energy assessments.
Lighting – Replace inefficient bulbs with LED bulbs which last longer and perform better. LED lighting uses up to 75% less energy than traditional lighting. Automatic sensors can control when lighting comes on based on time of day, day of the week, and building occupancy. Outdoor lighting for parking lots and security should also be analyzed.
HVAC and Mechanical systems – An assessment should include air conditioning units, heat pumps, air handlers, and exhaust fans. Newer Energy Star systems are more energy efficient to run and more cost effective. A centralized command center can monitor and adjust thermostat settings to keep the building temperature comfortable for occupants.
Windows and doors – Triple glazed and low-e rated windows have better insulating properties. Automatic shades on south facing windows can save energy. A blower door test can be performed to identify air leakage.
Costs of performing energy audits
The costs associated with professional energy audits are dependent on the level and scope of the assessment, the size of the facility, the type of business, and the extent of available documentation. A professional audit should provide the building’s management with a breakdown of how, when, and where the energy is used, as well as the cost of energy. It should include a list of modifications that can be implemented to save money and the engineering and financial analysis to support the potential savings.
Building management should be able to use the project cost and savings calculations to determine capital improvements and investment decisions. Management can prioritize suggested modifications and budget for their implementation.