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All About Energy Audits


Last spring, the board of our 10-story co-op in Brooklyn submitted details of the building’s energy use under the city’s new benchmarking law. Our property manager has told us we now need to have an energy audit as well as perform “retro-commissioning” on the building’s systems, and then file a report by the end of 2013 to comply with another of the city’s new energy laws. What does the audit cover, and what is required under the retro-commissioning? Who is qualified to perform the audit and the retro-commissioning, and what is the expected payback?


In December 2009, the New York City Council passed a set of laws designed to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings. The four laws, collectively known as the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, cover benchmarking energy usage (Local Law 84/09), a new energy conservation code (Local Law 85/09), energy audits and retro-commissioning (Local Law 87/09), and lighting retrofits and submetering (Local Law 88/09).

The energy efficiency laws apply to New York City buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, or two or more buildings on the same tax lot totaling more than 100,000 square feet. Also subject to the legislation: two or more buildings on different lots totaling more than 100,000 square feet that are owned by the same cooperative or condominium and governed by the same board of directors.

The benchmarking law, which took effect in 2011, requires property owners to submit data on their buildings’ usage of electricity, gas, fuel or steam, and water on an annual basis. Local Law 87/09 requires owners to: (1) have an energy audit conducted on their base-building systems; (2) undertake energy-efficient maintenance practices as part of retro-commissioning; and (3) file an energy efficiency report (EER) with the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB)every 10 years.

The year a building has to file its EER corresponds to the last digit of its block number. Buildings with block numbers ending with 3, such as your co-op, will have to file their EER by the end of 2013 (the first year of filing for 87/09). Buildings with block numbers ending with 4 will have to file their EER by the end of 2014, and so on, until 2022, for buildings with block numbers ending in 2. Buildings can begin the audit and retro-commissioning up to four years before their filing deadline to allow enough time and capital reserve accumulation to complete the entire process.

Energy audit requirements

Local Law 87/09 energy audits must comply with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standards for a Level 2 energy audit. The purpose of the audit and associated report is to identify ways to improve a building’s energy efficiency, from system upgrades to operational and maintenance measures.

The audit entails a review of the property’s energy bills to analyze natural gas, fuel oil, and electricity use from a one- to three-year period. Much of this information can be gathered from the utilities data submitted to the city under the new benchmarking law, Local Law 84/09. In addition to looking at the utility use within the building as a whole, the review includes individual billing records for a minimum of 10 percent of all apartments, including at least one of each apartment type.

The utilities data determine the building’s Energy Utilization Index (EUI), which is compared to the EUIs of similar buildings. An energy model can then be developed for the building, and based on the EUI, performance targets established – for example, increasing energy efficiency by 20 percent over the next three years.

The energy audit itself is a visual survey of the following base-building systems: exterior envelope (façades and roofs); heating, ventilation, and cooling systems; electrical and lighting; elevators; fans, motors, and pumps; and any other components that affect energy use. The audit also covers common areas, including lobbies, hallways, stairwells, basements, storage, recreational rooms, gyms, etc. In addition, the audit team will perform a limited inspection of roughly 10 percent of the apartment interiors, looking at energy-related items such as radiators, fan coil units, air conditioners, PTAC (packaged terminal air conditioner) units, vents, and lighting and plumbing fixtures.

The audit includes non-destructive tests, such as infrared scans (to detect heat loss and water infiltration), domestic water pressure and temperature readings, air pressure measurements, and ventilation flow rates. To supplement visual observations, the audit firm may request investigative probes to better determine the underlying construction and conditions of areas not easily visible or accessible, such as a structural roof deck or a plumbing chase.

To get a better understanding of the building’s energy usage, it is helpful for the audit firm to interview building management, maintenance staff, and residents. While the analysis of the building’s utilities bills yields an overall view of energy consumption, discussions with those who live in and/or work for the building can provide more detailed information and insight into patterns of energy use, such as apartments/floors that are too hot or cold, drafty spaces, banging radiators, leaks, lack of hot water, peak usage times, and actions that waste energy, such as keeping doors and windows opened, leaving lights on, letting water run, etc.

After completing the audit, the audit team will present the board with a report that includes a prioritized list of recommendations for improving energy efficiency in four categories:

·Low-cost/No-cost Improvements. These are measures that require little or no funding yet provide immediate or short-term payback. Examples: replacing missing or damaged insulation around pipes and other hot surfaces, tuning and cleaning heating and hot water systems, and installing low-flow aerators on faucets.

Another example of a low-cost improvement is sealing gaps and cracks with caulking and weatherstripping to prevent warm air from escaping and cold air from entering the building. The Department of Energy reports that air leakage accounts for anywhere from 5 to 40 percent of a building’s heating and cooling costs. Air leaks also allow moisture and pollutants to infiltrate a building.

·Prudent Capital Improvements. Cost-effective measures that require substantial funding but provide short-term payback. Examples: replacing inefficient lighting throughout the building and replacing heating system controllers and steam traps.

·Major Capital Improvements. Extensive system upgrades that provide longer-term payback. Examples: replacing older boilers with high-efficiency units or installing a combined heat and power (cogeneration) system.

·Health and Safety Improvements. Measures that do not directly affect energy efficiency but do improve residents’ comfort, health, or safety. Examples: installing emergency lighting, balancing ventilation, and removing hazardous materials.

Areas of Concern

The audit report should also list anticipated budget requirements and an associated energy cost savings analysis (sometimes referred to as a Savings Investment Ratio, or SIR) for each recommended measure. In addition, the report should include an analysis of what would be required for more intensive capital improvements outside the retro-commissioning measures. The areas of concern include:

Retro-commissioning. Based on the findings from the energy audit, the audit team identifies deficiencies in the base-building systems the owner is required to correct through a process called retro-commissioning. Retro-commissioning measures fall into three categories: (1) operations protocol, calibration, and sequencing; (2) cleaning and repair; and (3) training and documentation. Retro-commissioning measures, which are designed to pay for themselves within a few years, do not include major capital improvement projects.

Operations protocol, calibration, and sequencing. Because heating, ventilation, and cooling are so vital to a building’s operation and the comfort of its residents, it’s not surprising that many retro-commissioning measures involve the building’s HVAC systems. This category includes basic adjustments, measures, and tuning of equipment so it functions as efficiently as possible, such as calibrating HVAC sensors and controls, monitoring temperature and humidity levels, and making sure there is proper ventilation throughout the building.

Other items include adjusting lighting levels; adjusting domestic water temperatures; making sure motors, fans, and pumps are operating properly and with balanced loads; and identifying and repairing system leaks.

Cleaning and repair. Although simple and straightforward, cleaning and simple repairs to building systems can go a long way toward improving energy efficiency. Keeping vents, ducts, coils, and filters free from dirt and dust is important for maintaining comfortable temperatures. Piping insulation prevents heat loss, as do sealants and weatherstripping kept in good condition. Maintaining functioning steam traps, which regulate the amount of steam in radiators, is another simple fix that helps save energy by keeping heating systems working properly.

Training and documentation. Once a property has achieved a level of energy efficiency by identifying and addressing areas of energy waste, an ongoing maintenance program is required to continue those savings from year to year. A key component in the retro-commissioning process involves training staff on building systems so they understand the purpose and basic functions of all equipment, as well as how to implement energy conservation practices, such as those recommended in the energy audit.

In addition to training, building owners must implement proper maintenance procedures and keep updated and organized records of the building’s systems. Documentation that must be kept on site includes a log book that records repairs, maintenance, and inspections; operation manuals; work permits; manufacturer and maintenance contracts; and the most recent retro-commissioning report.

Energy Notebook

Energy efficiency report. After completion of the retro-commissioning, an energy efficiency report on the building is filed with the city. The report includes the findings of the energy audit and documentation that the corrective retro-commissioning measures have been taken. The written report also covers the review of historical energy consumption data; drawings and construction documents of architectural, mechanical, and structural systems; and the on-site investigation of the building systems and areas.

It is recommended that your board meet with the audit firm to discuss the report in detail. Ideally, the firm will develop an energy reduction plan tailored to your building’s requirements. Some firms will also research potential funding opportunities for implementing the measures recommended in the report.

Audit and Retro-commissioning Qualifications. To perform an energy audit under Local Law 87/09, the auditor must have at least one of the following qualifications: Certified Energy Manager (CEM) or Certified Energy Auditor (CEA) by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE); High Performance Building Designer or Building Energy Assessment Professional by ASHRAE; Building Performance Institute (BPI)-Certified Multi-Family Building Analyst; or New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Flex Tech Consultant.

A Local Law 87 retro-commissioning agent should be one of the following: Certified Commissioning Professional (CCP) by the Building Commissioning Association (BCA); Certified Building Commissioning Professional (CBCP) or Existing Building Commissioning Professional (EBCP) by the AEE; Certified Process Management Professional (CPMP) by ASHRAE; or an Accredited Commissioning Process Authority Professional (ACPAP) as approved by the University of Wisconsin.

Timeline. Although your building’s filing deadline is still nearly a year away, scheduling and performance of the energy audit, completion of any necessary retro-commissioning measures, and filing of the EER will require a significant amount of time to avoid a last-minute rush and possible penalties for late filings, so you will need to act swiftly.

Depending on the size of your building, an energy audit, including collecting the building’s utilities information to preparing its findings and recommendations, should take about three to four months. Retro-commissioning could take another six months or so – also depending on the size of the property and complexity of its systems. To file your EER report by December 31, 2013, your board should proceed with the audit no later than this winter. Keep in mind building owners who fail to file an EER with the city face penalties of $3,000 the first year and $5,000 for each additional year until the report is submitted.

Costs. As a rough guideline, a typical energy audit costs roughly $0.15 per square foot, and retro-commissioning approximately $0.50 to $2 per square foot. For a 50,000-square-foot building, that would be about $7,500 for the audit and $25,000 to $100,000 for retro-commissioning. According to conservative estimates, the cost savings in reduced energy use from retro-commissioning is estimated at $0.15 to $1.15 per square foot per year with an expected payback in four to five years.

Although complying with these local laws entails upfront costs, implementing basic maintenance and repair measures on your building systems will enable you to reap the benefits and cost savings of having a better operating and more energy-efficient property.

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