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Opportunities through retro renovations

Achieve energy savings during renovation work
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
By Douglas Spratt

If you have been relying on incentive monies to help get your energy projects underway, you probably have discovered that there is not much of that “free money” offered these days. Incentive funding comes and goes, and although it is not completely gone, there is a more reliable approach to moving forward with some of your energy projects: Retro Reno’s.

What is a Retro Reno?

Retro Renos are retrofit measures that are incorporated within renovation work. Retro Reno’s take advantage of ongoing renovation projects to achieve energy savings. Think of your renovation project (a tenant improvement [TI], for example) as an important vehicle to moving forward with energy retrofits. Incentive funding can not only dry up, but can also delay implementation and add a lot of paperwork (read: administrative costs). Why not use your reno’ projects to move forward with some of your retro goals?

Retro Reno Examples

The following measures are some examples to consider for achieving energy savings in buildings. You may wish to add these items to your tenancy improvement manual, or at least ask your engineer to include them in TI project specifications. These are great items to do while ceilings are removed during renovation projects. Keep in mind that they will not happen “automatically” during a renovation project. Both owner/operator and engineer have to be keeping an eye out for these and other opportunities.

Direct Digital Controls

Establish a building renovation policy that requires any area undergoing renovations to include upgrading of local controls to direct digital control (DDC). Your building may just have central equipment on DDC control at present. If you start expanding your DDC system to terminal devices, you may realize significant energy savings. (You will also improve diagnostic capabilities for call-in complaints about room temperatures.) For example, larger meeting rooms can be equipped with occupancy and carbon dioxide sensors, allowing trimming of air supply during low- and no-occupancy periods. Feedback on variable air volume (VAV) box set and terminal control valve set points may allow you to reset central equipment such as fan speed and heating hot water temperature.

Variable Frequency Drives

Consider adding a requirement, as part of any larger renovation project, to have VFD’s added to motors that serve the area of renovation. Make sure that the associated systems can take advantage of variable flow (otherwise you’ll be increasing energy usage). Also, consider ECM motors (with variable speed capabilities) when replacing heat pump units and fan coils.

Pipe Insulation

During a renovation, make sure all uninsulated “hot” pipes (hot water heating and domestic hot water) are insulated. Also, ensure pipe fittings and larger valve bodies are insulated. Remember that a standard renovation project will only address insulation for new piping.

Duct Insulation

Ducts used for hot or cold air should be insulated. Look for “tired” insulation that is sagging (especially on the bottom of rectangular ducts). Also, think about replacing any old flexible duct insulation with new, insulated flex.

Ductwork Sealing

Ensure that existing ductwork, especially supply air with high pressures/velocities, is sealed. Listen and feel for air leaks. It doesn’t take much for a sheet metal contractor to brush duct sealant on those spots. (Just make sure the air system is off at that time, and remains off long enough to have the sealant cure.)

Final Thoughts

With these and other ideas in mind, you should still see if “product incentives” are available. Also, remember to check for latest code and building bylaw requirements relating to energy performance. Your designer might be looking for ideas to comply with municipal energy requirements. Cooperation between the owner, engineers/designers and tenants is always key to the success of any building renovation project.


Douglas Spratt is principal of Douglas Spratt & Associates Ltd. with 30 years of experience as a mechanical and energy engineer.

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