Reducing commercial buildings' energy consumption by 90%

Recently, I was approached by a key member of this group with the intent of bringing us all together as a consulting team to tackle the task of addressing the energy consumption and conservation needs of light commercial buildings (less than 100,000-sq.ft).

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with some of this industry's best instructors from all walks of life. Most recently I was exposed to a number of instructors while I was attending a BPI certification course. I had known some of them for a long time, and some of them were new to me. Recently, I was approached by a key member of this group with the intent of bringing us all together as a consulting team to tackle the task of addressing the energy consumption and conservation needs of light commercial buildings (less than 100,000-sq.ft).

The key person of the group introduced me to a building that they had recently had students from Red Rocks Community College go through in their commercial energy audit program. The students had gone completely through the building and had identified all areas of energy consumption, including heating, cooling and lighting. They developed energy models using state-of-the-art software that showed what the net affect of doing different things to the building would be. They actually went to the building after hours and performed blower door tests and determined the infiltration rates of the system, and also studied the layout and operation of the HVAC system serving the needs of the building. The building is a former community library that has been converted to a learning center dedicated to getting people their GED's so that they might further themselves in the work force and industry.

The building was constructed in the late 1960s and was typical of the construction methodologies used at the time of construction. It was made of brick and mortar, and looked like a typical municipal library. The HVAC system was set up and operated just like it was in the late 1970s, when cheap energy (natural gas) was readily available. The students determined that through deferred maintenance, that the building was using the equivalent energy of a multi-family building.

The building and land was originally financed by a local philanthropist organization and donated to the city in which it resides. It was replaced with a newer, more efficient library when the city expanded its municipal services center, about 1/2 mile away from the original site. It sat empty for some time before the city turned the keys over to the current occupant, The Learning Source, a non-profit organization dedicated to the ongoing and continuing education of people from all walks of life with its primary focus to help people get their G.E.D.s. Since its major architectural face lift, classes have been added to train people to become "Energy Coaches" for commercial buildings located within the city. Kind of like paying it forward with a lot of benefits to the end users and the environment.

When The Learning Source first took over the building, they knew that there were some major physical plant considerations that needed to be addressed, and invited a well known mechanical contractor in to evaluate the system and provide them with a budgetary number for the purpose of addressing these issues. The mechanical contractors bid came in at around $600,000 dollars and they could only estimate an annual savings of around 10% of the previous year's annual consumption. The students from Red Rocks evaluated the building envelope as a whole and decided that there was significant room for improvement as it pertained to the overall structural heat loss. They modeled the building using simulation software and decided that their recommendations should include the option of an insulation wrap with extrude poly styrene (EPS) on all of the exterior walls as well as the roof. Their proposal was submitted for pricing, and came in at about $100,000 more than the mechanical retrofit, but it would guarantee a minimum reduction potential of 50% of previous years energy consumption. The board of directors performed their own economic analysis and decided that the students’ proposal made the most sense from the stand point of reducing the buildings carbon emissions, but also made sense from the stand point of being able to help pay for the conventional loan that they were going to have to obtain in order to move forward with the project.

The students' proposal included the addition of a small solar photovoltaic power generation system, which provides electricity to any devices needing electricity during the day. If it is not needed within the structure (i.e. weekends and Holidays), the electric meter is allowed to spin backwards.

Tune in next month as we continue to look outside our proverbial mechanical box in our efforts to reduce energy consumption and increase overall energy efficiency. Until then, happy think- outside-the-box hydronicing!

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