Energy Efficiency for Existing Commercial Buildings

There is abundant information on the construction of new efficient buildings. Of course that’s a great thing to do, but what about the energy efficiency of older buildings? Sure, everyone is trying to change your light bulbs but beyond that, information grows scant. We think there’s value in looking deeper into older buildings too. In this post we’ll focus on why you’d want to have an efficient building and your first steps to get started with the process.

Why would you want to improve the performance of your building?

The efficient operation of a building not only contributes to reducing your regular operating costs, it contributes to property value and the productivity and health of its occupants.  Have you ever tried being productive when you are too hot or too cold or always sick? Let’s face it, business is all about productivity; a productive business is more likely to be a successful business. Successful businesses stay in your building longer! An efficient, comfortable building will therefore reflect directly on your bottom line.

Today’s commercial buildings are extremely complex and dynamic ecosystems. The use of space will change, tenants move in/out or within the building, and equipment is added or changed too. Over time the mechanics of a building can lose effectiveness if not assessed and adjusted as the needs of the building and its occupants change.  This is why you’ll want to assess the efficiency of your building regularly and adjust accordingly. This ongoing assessment goes for new builds too as they’ll start changing on the day the keys are handed over.

Where do You Begin?

When you are first considering looking at the energy efficiency of your commercial building, consider leveraging the knowledge of the people who are currently caring for it. Often your maintenance staff will have great ideas for making systems run better but they are rarely asked for their input. Like all good change, it starts within! Here are a few tips:

  1. Create a plan for how you’ll gather information from your staff. This plan should include a clear indication of who has the responsibility of compiling the information, and who has the authority for implementing any changes found throughout the process.
  2. Prepare your questions for the staff. The least helpful information you’ll gain will come in the form of rants and opinions. If you are prepared with specific questions, your conversation will stay on track and fact-focussed.
  3. Set a time limit for your meetings. If the meeting is to be held in an office or conference room, plan for no more than 30 minutes. If the meeting is to be in the form of a walk-though with your maintenance management personnel, base the timing to be efficient yet thorough. Keeping the time limited will also ensure you stay on track and fact-focussed.
  4. Once your internal meetings are complete, you’ll have a better idea if an outside professional is required for further assessments or if you can begin making changes and self-managing the process.

Beyond the Energy Audit

Typically when looking at the efficiency of your building, you first instinct is to get an energy audit. While this is a great start, most audits assess aspects of your building as unique items rather than assessing the complete building ecosystem. A typical Energy Audit usually identifies projects for reducing costs such as HVAC rejuvenation. Unfortunately these projects are often large in scale, often require outside contractors to complete, and they could take years to realize the return on your investment. It’s no wonder why so many Energy Audit findings remain on the shelf.

The Ministry of Natural Resources here in Canada recommends an “O&M Assessment.” While an O&M Assessment sounds daunting, in fact it can identify some of the more cost and time effective adjustments you can make to the current systems and operation of your building. It can identify the less complex changes that can often be completed by your in house staff or close contractors. An example of a less complex change that can be captured in an O&M Assessment is identifying equipment that is running when it is not needed. A simple change in the control system is all that it takes to capture these savings. Of course large projects can also be identified in this process.

The Efficiency Lifestyle

As you embark on the road to the efficiency of your building, bear in mind that this is a lifestyle change. Like personal diet and exercise, maintaining a building that uses its energy efficiently takes ongoing diligence. The good news is that you’ll become addicted to finding ways to save money while making the life of your building last longer. The efficiency lifestyle isn’t about being cheap; it is about creating a cost efficient and healthy ecosystem for all.