In Focus: Five Immediate Ways to Reduce Commercial Building Energy Costs
David Leathers, Senior Vice President, Building Service & Energy Solutions, Limbach Facility Services (Aug/Sep 09)

Minimizing energy loss in commercial buildings is a national energy imperative. According to a recently released study by the consulting firm McKinsey, retrofitting improvements to reduce energy loss could potentially reduce energy consumption by 29 percent by 2020. The study forecasts that this reduction would provide an annual savings of $290 billion in energy costs and eliminate 360 million tons of GHG emissions.

Some jurisdictions have already begun to implement energy loss improvement requirements for existing buildings, but whether or not it's required yet in your region, the cost-savings potential alone makes this an important issue for any commercial property owner.

We have identified five immediate actions that commercial building owners and managers can take to save energy and money:

• Retro-commissioning: Just as your car needs to have its oil, fluids, tires, and belts replaced to keep it running efficiently, a building also needs regular maintenance. Making small changes to a building's operational timing can make a huge difference in energy usage and savings. For example, there is little need to run the air conditioning at night when a building is not occupied. As buildings get older, energy efficient design efforts that were incorporated in the initial construction may have been defeated. A retro-commissioning process can return the building to the intended operational efficiency.

• Steam trap maintenance or replacement: Poorly maintained steam systems are a common issue for many hospitals and older commercial buildings that rely on large boilers for heat. Many times these buildings have hundreds of small steam traps that control the condensate within the steam system. If they are not maintained regularly, they can get stuck open and return steam back to the boiler system resulting in excessive energy use. The result is wasted heat and wasted energy used to operate the boiler. Working with trained maintenance technicians and experienced engineers, it is possible to solve the complex issues with steam systems to achieve high levels of energy cost savings.

• HVAC systems optimization: Boilers and chillers are a major source of energy usage in buildings and can account for 20 percent of the total energy usage in a building. In cold climates, older boilers must be maintained properly in order to run at peak efficiency during business hours. In warm climates, the same holds true for chillers. In many cases, replacing an aging chiller with a new energy efficient model can create energy cost savings. Other significant energy saving opportunities can exist with heat recovery options and thermal energy storage.

• Energy management controls: Improperly programmed controls or outdated technology can lead a building owner to believe that a building is running efficiently when it is really performing far below its potential. It's important to take advantage of current controls technology as well as efficient building operation to maximize the efficiency of all of the operating components of the building. Replacing, upgrading, or reprogramming the energy management system and temperature controls will allow the equipment to operate at peak efficiency.

• Advanced technology: Super efficient windows, lighting fixtures, and sustainable construction materials and design can make a major impact on energy performance. When preparing an energy solutions strategy, perform an extensive building energy audit to determine the key areas where energy saving can be achieved. The solutions may include changes to the building envelope, upgrade of lighting systems, or application of modern, renewable energy solutions to meet the needs of the building owners, today, and for the life of the building.

In order to minimize energy loss and maximize cost savings, building managers should evaluate their sites in these five critical areas to identify the highest priority retrofitting improvements. By conducting a thorough audit of the site's systems, and then implementing appropriate changes, you can save millions of dollars and also reduce your facility's carbon footprint.

David Leathers is senior vice president in the Building Service & Energy Solutions division of Limbach Facility Services LLC. For more information on Limbach, visit the company website: