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In Focus: Enhancing the Sustainability of Existing Buildings

Q4 2014
Today, green building and environmental sustainability is one of the top priorities of anyone in charge of managing commercial properties. However, much of this buzz continues to center on new construction projects. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, existing buildings 20 years or older make up nearly 72 percent of the total square footage in the United States. Yet, the majority of these buildings were constructed at a time when energy consumption and environmental impact were not even considered during the planning phase. With such a high percentage of existing infrastructure, there is a far greater opportunity for achieving environmental benefits and reducing energy consumption by promoting more sustainable operations among existing commercial buildings.

Buildings are continuously evolving. As new tenants arrive and interior renovations take place, commercial spaces are being utilized in a variety of ways. It is increasingly important for building managers to be acutely aware of their building’s operational needs and take the appropriate steps to optimize the functionality of mechanical systems.

Recommissioning Facilities
A fundamental step to improving sustainability is the recommissioning of an existing building. The process of recommissioning involves careful examination and hands-on testing of mechanical equipment and is essential to ensuring a building’s HVAC, plumbing, and controls systems are working properly and operating efficiently. The results produced by this careful testing are then used to create a plan of action that outlines ways to fix underlying problems and provides strategic recommendations for performing energy-saving upgrades. Like a tune-up for your vehicle, recommissioning is an important part of a preventative maintenance plan and is vital to increasing sustainability and reducing energy consumption.
Dan Aghdam, RM Thornton Mechanical

As part of the recommissioning process, building managers should perform rigorous indoor air quality (IAQ) tests in accordance with American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ (ASHRAE) standards. IAQ testing can improve ventilation, reduce indoor air pollutants, and create a healthier, more productive environment for building occupants. While IAQ testing may not deliver immediate cost savings, research has shown it does provide a return on investment and long-term financial benefits. A study completed by William Fisk from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California found that IAQ has a significant impact on the productivity and overall health of employees. By improving IAQ and ensuring proper ventilation, building managers can greatly improve the comfort of their tenants and reduce symptoms of illnesses associated with sick building syndrome (SBS), asthma, and other respiratory conditions.

Using Economizers
The use of economizers — often referred to as “free cooling” — is another simple yet effective way of improving a building’s IAQ and energy efficiency. Depending on the climate, economizers use the outside air produced by colder evening and winter temperatures to cool commercial facilities. By harnessing natural air, economizers can provide building managers with an inexpensive way to improve IAQ, reduce harmful contaminates, and stabilize energy consumption.

Existing buildings provide many cost-effective opportunities for increasing sustainability without forcing building managers to make expensive replacements and perform costly repairs. By creating a customized preventative maintenance plan and strategically making economical upgrades to existing mechanical systems, building managers can greatly lessen their buildings environmental footprint and gain measurable results.

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