In an effort to evolve and continue learning, Findorff has added subject matter experts in a variety of fields to the team over the last decade. Two of these experts are Laura Blood Velotta, MEP Group Lead, and Ben Austin, Sustainability Lead.
We take a holistic approach in our work to serve our project partners with their building goals. Regarding sustainability, we advance our own culture and practice through this lens to support the natural environment and local communities. Over the last year and a half, Ben and Laura have taken an intentional look inward at the energy use in Findorff office buildings. The effort to benchmark, track, and implement improvements in our Madison office has resulted in savings of $50,000 in just over one year and receiving EnergyStar Certification for 2019. This article will provide an overview of our energy-saving process which can be implemented anywhere.
Step 1: Benchmark.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. The first step is to benchmark your energy use. This starts by identifying your utility company and compiling your energy bills (we would recommend looking back at least two years). With your energy bills in hand, head to energystar.gov and login to “Portfolio Manager.”
EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a no-cost, interactive energy management tool that allows you to securely track and assess energy, water, and waste metrics across your building portfolio. With your energy use benchmarked, you will be able to see your ENERGY STAR score. If you have a score of 50, you are more energy-efficient than 50% of buildings of your size and type. A score of 75 and above makes a building eligible for ENERGY STAR Certification. After we benchmarked our buildings in late 2018, we had a baseline score of 48.
- For a walk-through on getting your building benchmarked in ENERGY STAR, see this link.
Step 2: Take stock of where you are.
Now that you have benchmarked your building and know your ENERGY STAR score and annual spend, it is time to ask some questions:
Are you in the top half or bottom half of the building of your size and type? How new are your building systems? Do you have LED lighting systems? Who manages your setpoints and schedule for heating and cooling equipment?
In our case, since we had a baseline score of 48, we knew that there were ample opportunities available to improve our energy efficiency. Our building was originally built in 2001 and expanded in 2015 leading to a mixture of systems and efficiencies.
Step 3: Assess Energy Efficiency Opportunities.
When assessing what areas may be targets for improvement, consider how a “typical” commercial building uses its energy.
End uses that should be prioritized (highest users to lowest users):
- Space heating / Cooling (including ventilation)
- Plug loads
- Water heating
Because it is the largest component of our energy use and costs, we began by looking at retro-commissioning of our HVAC system and updating our control systems. If your HVAC systems are newer or have been recently retro-commissioned, then the next steps would be to look at lesser uses (lighting and plug load reduction strategies).
Step 4: Implement Energy Improvement Projects.
With a general project identified, now it is time to engage a partner to provide costs, expected energy savings, and return information.
We knew we could make improvements to our facility to increase efficiency and decrease our bills. We focused on the Building Automation System (BAS) that runs our facility to look for improvements. Our original building was finished in 2001, therefore the system was nearly 20 years old. Looking at the sequences and outdated graphics, we were able to find inefficiencies, such as our building occupancy schedule and space temperatures. Our first step was to contact Trane, our BAS provider, to provide a quote to upgrade our graphics and make important changes to our sequences.
Working with Trane was very valuable. We were able to walk through the building and original graphics, noting inefficiencies and possible solutions. We had the graphics and system upgraded in December 2018, and spent time combing through every sequence of operation to ensure it met our standards. Some key changes included:
- Revising building schedules – Before our updates, the system started “occupied” mode at 3 AM, and going “unoccupied” at 9 PM. We revised the occupancy times to 5 AM-6 PM, including a revised early start sequence to ensure the building can meet temperature before occupants arrive.
- Adding a discharge air reset sequence – Before our updates, we had our discharge air temperature set at a constant 55 degrees, sometimes lower. With our new sequence, we let the discharge air temperature from our (3) AHUs rise based on what the zones are requesting. This has been a large energy savings and saves on equipment runtime.
- Locking in Zone temperatures – Before our updates, our thermostats were released and did not provide good control of the spaces. With the updates, we developed a consistent heating and cooling temperature setpoint in 90% of spaces, which has made the office temperature more consistent. We released the thermostats for executive offices based on individual preferences, and large conference rooms based on change of use.
There were many other tweaks within the system, but these are the largest. During the same timeframe, we engaged with Edison Energy to review the existing system and possible upgrades to increase our system efficiency through a normal retro-commissioning process. They reviewed our existing system and made recommendations that we were able to implement as well. They provided a valuable review of our system and help us connect directly to local utility incentives (see Step 5).
Our “new addition” (built in 2015) utilizes a Variable Refrigerant Flow System (VRF) that is standalone. These Trane changes were focused on the original building, but we did review all VRF zones to ensure they were working properly and that all zones were in “Auto” allowing them to heat and cool, as necessary.
Step 5: Take Advantage of Local Incentive Programs.
Assess what local incentives may be available for energy efficiency upgrades. Focus on Energy is a statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program eligible to Wisconsin businesses. Every project that incorporates these types of upgrades, whether they be new construction or retrofits, should utilize this program.
Edison Energy worked with our team to tap into the specific retrocomissioning incentive that totaled $9,350.
- For more information on Focus on Energy’s full list of incentives, see this link.
Step 6: Continue to Track Energy Use After Improvements.
Once you have implemented any efficiency upgrades, you’re not done! You should continue tracking your projects in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. This will give you a monthly snapshot of how the building is performing and will engage your team in asking questions and making adjustments as needed.
You had information on the front-end about expected savings and payback, what does the now realtime data tell you? Are you overperforming/underperforming? Why? Continue post-implementation to be intentional about thinking through these questions.
Step 7: Celebrate Your Success.
Never forget to celebrate when you have success!
We started our journey in late 2018 by benchmarking our building at a score of 48 and just over a year later (March 2020) we were able to realize a score of 82 and almost $50,000 in energy savings. With the costs of the from Edison Energy and Trane, in conjunction with the incentive savings from Focus on Energy, our simple payback was 8 months on the initial investment.
If you’re looking for additional guidance on where to start, feel free to reach out to our team to help you get going. Remember to have fun with it. Good luck!