As utility costs continue to climb, it’s no surprise that building managers in both new and old buildings are experiencing increasing pressure from their tenants to take advantage of cost savings opportunities and to demonstrate that they have achieved the savings.
All too often, building managers focus their efforts in areas where minimal energy reduction and financial savings are available; however, an energy audit will provide a big picture of where the major energy saving opportunities lie.
Technology, materials and energy costs are changing rapidly; an energy audit performed more than five years ago will be out-dated for most facilities. In many cases, buildings that follow the best practice of keeping an up-to-date energy audit prove to be leaders in energy reduction and savings. The focus of any energy audit is to provide the building with a quantifiable look at where a building stands compared to its peers, where the real savings opportunities can be found and provide the building with a realistic energy reduction target and payback assessment.
How does your building measure up?
Every building manager has obligations and opportunities to prove to their tenants that they are acting with the tenants’ best interests in mind by ensuring continual improvement through third party verification of one of the building’s largest operating expenses – its utility costs.
The first step for any energy auditor is to determine how the building measures up to buildings of similar construction and operating characteristics.
Prior to the energy audit, approximately two years’ worth of historical energy bills should be collected by a qualified energy auditor. This will help develop an energy snapshot for analysis and comparison to other facilities and to analyze the retrofit savings potential.
An experienced energy auditing firm will typically identify a wide variety of potential energy savings opportunities. In some cases, an energy audit might identify only minor opportunities, but building managers can be satisfied in knowing they have done their due diligence, that current energy usage and practices are acceptable and the building is spending the least it needs on its energy bills.
Identify areas for improvement
A building with high energy consumption can often be the result of outdated, inefficient equipment with limited capabilities.
For example, many facilities were found to utilize inefficient technology for one of their largest utility expenses – the boiler plant. Boilers today can reach efficiencies of up to 96 per cent using condensing technology; however, a typical building, including new buildings, uses atmospheric type boilers which, for all intents and purposes, are only slightly more advanced than a science lab Bunsen burner. This technology is reliable and it works, but it is expensive to operate. Typically, we see this technology installed to minimize construction costs with very little consideration for the long-term energy impact that the building’s operating budget is left to absorb.
We recommend conducting a detailed inventory of energy consuming aspects and associated operating details as part of any energy audit. These include: lighting systems, building envelope, water consuming equipment, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, control systems and common element equipment.
Where energy audits can go wrong
Energy audits are usually beneficial to a building manager, but some can also be misleading. Selecting the right auditor and agreeing on the right mandate can have a big impact on the quality of the recommendations ultimately made.
Many manufacturers and contracting firms have expanded their services to offer low-cost or no-cost energy audits as a means of gaining a foot step into a building. We have seen numerous low-cost and no-cost audits that overestimate or underestimate savings potential, miss obvious savings opportunities and neglect to assess entire categories of a building’s energy reduction potential because the area is not their focus or expertise. A poor energy audit can result in unnecessary overspending and under-performance for a building manager relying on the expertise of an inexperienced auditor or one focused on selling a single product.
Lower quality energy audits often result in recommendations to fully replace equipment. Yet, improved operation, new controls, partial replacement, or even waiting a few years, may be more cost effective and more environmentally greener.
Building managers will not get the right answers if they don’t ask the right questions. Many upgrades would have never been considered after the initial planning stage if the true savings and financial payback periods were accurately presented.
A common mistake is the replacement of old gas-fired atmospheric type boilers with high efficiency, condensing type boilers that will never reach their potential peak efficiency. More often than not, the original building piping and equipment were never designed or modified to deliver water at temperatures low enough to take advantage of the condensing technology, leading to lost savings and wasted capital costs.
The importance of selecting an independent, experienced energy auditor is vital to avoiding costly mistakes at the initial design stage.
Capitalize on available rebates
In several provinces, especially Ontario, there are financial incentive programs available to the buildings for auditing their facility to identify energy conservation opportunities.
In Ontario, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), through the saveONenergy Audit Funding program, is offering significant incentives that can pay up to half the cost of the audit directly back to the building owners.
Building managers should engage auditors who have experience in working with these incentive programs to maximize available grants.
Get the most from your audit
Energy audits can range in levels of analysis based on the specific interests and needs of the building, from a walk-through audit to an investment grade audit.
A good energy audit is often the result of a building manager working with the auditor to establish clear and acceptable payback periods when implementing any energy conservation measure.
A typical building may already have a number of energy saving or green initiatives in place. Discussions with an auditor regarding past, current and potential future energy retrofits can greatly enhance the quality of an audit so that the audit will focus on items the building wishes to pursue in further depth.
Whether a building is old or brand new, attaining LEED or BOMA certification or simply planning a retrofit, the first step towards energy savings is an up-to-date energy audit provided by a qualified energy auditor. The building manager will not only ensure a trusted analysis but will feel confident implementing the proposed changes.
To learn more about energy audits, connect with professionals at M & E Engineering Ltd.: President Ed Porasz, P.Eng., and Project Engineer Ross Morley, P. Eng. M & E Engineering is a professional multi-disciplined Mechanical & Electrical consulting firm situated in Vaughan, Ontario.