10 Steps to Conducting an Energy Audit:
Energy Saving Program Saves Money and Tenants

As building owners and managers, you can influence future energy usage by taking steps to improve the efficiency of your buildings. Conducting an energy audit and implementing an energy saving program will yield substantial results, both from a financial and resource conservation standpoint. Financial returns offered by energy efficiency are typically far better than those offered by other financial investments-initial dollar outlay can be returned in four years or less. Incentives are offered in the form of tax credits and utility company rebates. There is also increased aesthetic appeal in new lighting programs, as well as increased tenant satisfaction in updated work space and enhanced productivity.

Using two buildings as a model, Standard Insurance and Standard Plaza, which are both undergoing energy renovations, we will provide a step-by-step guide to conducting an energy audit and implementing the savings program. Standard Insurance center was built in 1969 and has 451,058 square feet and 29 stories; Standard Plaza was built in 1963 and has 191,732 square feet and 17 stories.


1. Determine if the building is a good candidate for a retrofit.

The Standard Insurance Company buildings were good candidates for several reasons. These buildings were built prior to the mid-1970's and the oil embargo, when energy was plentiful and conservation was less of a concern. Key factors about the buildings:

Both Standard Insurance Center and Standard Plaza buildings are good examples of how new technology has changed the way energy is used to provide interior lighting. The buildings' original circa 1960's lighting was at a very high density. When energy became a concern during the 1970's and 1980's, actions were taken to reduce lighting energy use by removing lamps at the Plaza and by adding electronic "chokers" to cut lighting fixture energy at the Center. Both methods were effective at reducing energy but did so at the expense of lighting levels and overall quality of light.

The evaluation that Standard and Glumac conducted found new lamps, ballasts, and louver combinations which are anticipated to significantly reduce energy use, while providing improved lighting quality. This is especially the case for areas with extensive use of computer monitors, a special lighting problem which did not even exist at the time the building was designed.

Another example is the HVAC system. In the Plaza and the Center, air was constantly circulated, cooled down, and then re-heated for comfort—a common system in older buildings. Converting to a variable air volume system allows air flow to be modulated to provide the right amount of conditioned air, saving fan and reheat energy.

2. Building owners and managers with commitment.

Owners and managers must be progressive and committed. Standard's building superintendents, Steve Huskins, Chief Building Superintendent, and Gordon Grote, are that committed. They involved all members of their team and pushed through Standard's retrofit in a year. Most energy saving programs can take a bit longer—five years or more, depending on the organizations goals.

3. Investigate third party incentives.

Tax credits and rebates from utility companies and state governments are useful. Most studies in commercial building' are underwritten by utility companies. There may be a caveat with the funding; however, in Standard's case, the cost of the study was part of Portland General Electric's rebate if Standard implemented the ideas presented in the energy model. The Oregon Department of Energy also had incentives in the form of tax credits over a 5-year period. Your state should be approached for any help in this area. Generally, if the pay-back period is very short—a year or less—funding is not available.

Discovery or Study Phase

4. Select a reputable engineering firm.

Select a firm with skills in both modeling/energy and design/construction. An experienced firm with a verifiable track record of conducting such studies is crucial. The study is not useful if the ideas are impractical or can't be implemented with your particular building. The firm must be able to carry the project through the study and report all the way to design and construction.

5. Look for a solid base of product-oriented versus design-oriented solutions.

The focus must be on cost effective measures that bring immediate savings and reduce pay-back time. The cost should be low relative to savings, and the methods easily applied and as simple as possible. The Standard Insurance Company buildings were excellent candidates in this respect. The mix of solutions for these buildings is expected to result in a rapid pay-back of approximately 3.7 years for Standard Insurance Center, and approximately 2.3 years for Standard Plaza. Product-oriented solutions that replace an older, obsolete component one-for-one with a newer, more efficient product result in a short pay-back. As lighting is a major consumer of electricity in commercial buildings, this is an area to target for substantial savings.

Opportunities for improving lighting efficiency are: Replace or retrofit old fixtures for greater efficiency and performance. Replace incandescent lamps with more efficient lighting sources. Install controls such as occupancy sensors to shut off unnecessary lighting. Increase use of natural light through a daylighting design. Replace old ballasts with electronic ballasts. Note that this also removes a potential contaminant—PCBs are frequently used in older ballasts. Standard was able to utilize many of these options. MetalOptics installed the lighting systems at Standard Insurance Center for more than 15,000 fixtures (550 per floor). Savings of 40 - 50% on lighting are expected with the installation of a custom MetalOptics aluminum film reflector, custom 36 cell louver, T8 lamps, and an electronic ballast in a standard 2x2 prismatic fixture. The new lighting systems brought two 60's buildings into the 90's with a more contemporary and pleasing look to tenants, as well as creating a more productive work environment

Design-oriented solutions for Standard's buildings involved the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. This is a more complex process, with a slower play-back time. HVAC must respond to the building envelope, lighting, and internal loads and accounts for about half of all energy consumed in buildings. Standard converted HVAC systems designed in 1965.

Opportunities for improving HVAC efficiency are:

  • Improve efficiency of equipment when central plant equipment is replaced.
  • Improve control and management of systems using direct digital controls.
  • Use "free" cooling with outdoor air, which reduces mechanical cooling and improves indoor air quality.
  • Add variable frequency drives that manage air and fluid flows to match actual building needs.
  • Use high efficiency motors. Standard upgraded their HVAC system with a new digital energy management system. They also converted constant volume reheat systems to variable air volume by using variable frequency drives. A new control center allows the building engineer to monitor and change parameters of the HVAC and lighting system. This interaction should result in reduced operating hours and a high efficiency operation.

    6. Prepare realistic estimates of cost.

    The study needs to be specific to the building, and result in measures that can be implemented. Some solutions sound good conceptually, but for practical reasons they cannot be used. For example, two of the air handlers at Standard Plaza that were originally chosen for modification could not be changed to variable air handling systems because of their physical configuration and cost.

    7. Owners & occupants must participate in solutions.

    Standard's building management involved all members of their maintenance team to implement concepts. Ideas were discussed and solutions were collaborative. The owners and managers need to feel excited about changes and eager to execute those changes. Energy calculations may be wonderful on paper, but they must work on a practical level. The study needs to be transformed into reality. Communicating with tenants is very important and can make a retrofit go more smoothly. In Standard's case, tenants were consulted daily during the construction phase in order to coordinate installation of replacement fixtures and lighting.

    Design & Construction Phase

    8. Develop a cost effective construction package.

    Exact steps should be defined. The construction package will list points to be controlled, how they are controlled now, and what has to change. Building owners and engineers must work together to insure satisfaction with vendors, products and method of installation.

    9. Reassess cost vs. budget and savings vs. action.

    Costs need to be re-evaluated for periodic reality checks. For example, some building owners may decide to replace glazing on windows (for various reasons this was not an option for Standard's buildings). The cost estimate may be $20 per square foot, with a pay-back of twelve years. In the design phase, however, it may be discovered that the window frames holding the heavier, glazed windows are inadequate for current seismic standards and must be replaced. Suddenly, costs soar to $30 per square foot, with a pay-back of twenty years. Implementing this idea would not be practical for most building owners.

    10. Select a competent construction team.

    Contractors should have a proven track record. Methods used should be reliable and guaranteed. Standard used a mix—for the HVAC air handling systems they used proven methods and known contractors, and in lighting and control systems they incorporated new technology. Some cost effective measures may involve calculated risk taking, and in Standard's case, the choices they made were well worth it in terms of reduced project cost and increased effectiveness. After selecting a competent construction firm, the owners, engineers and construction team must work together to make sure renovation measures are properly implemented and that expected results are achieved. Feedback from all parties involved (including tenants) is necessary to identify and correct any potential problems. The careful preparation and follow through provided by the steps above will lead to a successful renovation. By bringing together computer modeling and energy conservation analysis with new technology in HVAC and lighting, these renovations were possible. Teamwork and communication from the initial energy model to the implementation of all the steps made this renovation successful on all levels.

    Article written by James Thomas, the Vice President and Principal in charge of Energy Engineering in the Portland office of Glumac International.

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