Is Your Building Healthy? When it’s Time for a Retrofit David Korn, Ridgeline Energy Analytics

April 26th, 2019

Market Leadership

“Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today,” said Revolutionary sage, Ben Franklin. But when it comes to building retrofits, knowing how and when to invest in energy efficiency can be daunting. We called upon David Korn, founder of Ridgeline Energy Analytics, and his 20 years of experience identifying buildings in need of retrofits, to provide insight into the key things to look for when considering a retrofit. This simple three-step review can help you determine the overall health of your building— and if it’s time for a retrofit.

STEP ONE: Listen

Your building’s energy systems are critical to employee productivity, the healthiness of their work environment and how effectively your business functions. If you are seeing escalating equipment repair costs, or are hearing negative internal or external feedback about your buildings, it’s probably time to consider a retrofit.

STEP TWO: Age is more than a number

By doing an equipment-age inventory your retrofit needs should come into sharp focus. With rapid advances in technology, combined with decreasing equipment costs, the time for a retrofit may be sooner than you think. Here are the key pieces of equipment to assess:

LED Lights

If you have less efficient systems that are producing uneven or poor light, or if you’re starting to see electrical ballast failures, then it’s definitely time to switch to LED lights. In fact, LEDs have improved to the point where it might make financial sense to change out a fully functioning system—even if it’s less than three to four years old.

HVAC Units

If you’ve got a rooftop HVAC unit in the 15 to 20-year old range, it’s probably time to replace it. These systems are out in the weather and can leak, letting in excessive cold or hot outside air. New ones are much more efficient. Taking into account degradation, a new unit can be up to twice as efficient as your old degraded units, cutting energy use in half. Many RTU manufacturers have begun incorporating energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) for pretreating outside air, savings energy and improving indoor air quality. Variable speed drives can cut fan energy in half during periods with light loads.

Boilers and Chillers

Boilers and chillers are large, expensive pieces of equipment, and need careful analysis. The useful life will vary depending on its design and use, but it’s probably in the 15-25 year range. Low efficiency indicators include spending money on parts and labor, downtime and higher energy bills. Large college campuses, for example, are finding savings by replacing aging steam systems with more efficient lower temperature hot water systems.

Steam chiller- any age

In the past, some facilities installed steam or hot water driven chillers that used natural gas and reduced peak electrical demand. These devices, called adsorption chillers, are inefficient. A modern electric chiller is 7 times more efficient than a steam chiller. Look into energy costs and why that chiller was put in in the first place. You may find savings with a replacement.

Building Management Systems (BMS)

If you haven’t installed a new software system in the last five years, you probably need an upgrade. If you haven’t done much with the system in 15 years, you may need to replace parts like sensors or buy some more advanced equipment. The newest BMS are much more advanced and easier to use than older systems.

STEP THREE: Consider the costs, including the cost of delay

Financially, do a quick cost-benefit analysis of upgrades. This includes assessing: 1) the initial upfront cost of new equipment; 2) annual energy and non-energy savings associated with the upgrade, 3) the cost of keeping your old inefficient equipment running, including service contracts, in-house labor, parts, maintenance, emergency calls, or even downtime; and 4) the cost (or lost savings) from delaying or pushing out the implementation of key upgrades into the future. When all of these factors are assessed, investing in energy efficiency upgrades can make a lot of sense. One added critical financial piece to consider is the potential advantage of bundling upgrades—particularly lower-cost upgrades like LED lights and controllers with longer payback items like a new chiller—for efficiency gains. If you have challenges obtaining sufficient internal capital to implement your upgrades, or can’t get enough internal funding because the return on efficiency upgrades don’t meet your internal hurdle rates, consider an Efficiency Services Agreement (ESA). An ESA will help you overcome the financial and implementation obstacles that may be preventing your buildings from reaching peak efficiency (and health.)