Stephen Varone & Peter Varsalona in Building Operations on January 31, 2013
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 your co-op or condominium 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, co-op and condo boards 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.
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.
Stephen Varone & Peter Varsalona are principals at Rand Engineering & Architecture.
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