In last month's article, I promised that we would look at the major items contributing to the energy consumption reduction of The Learning Source building located in Lakewood, Colo. As we can see, there is a substantial amount of energy conservation potential laying about in the shells and control of these existing buildings. These buildings are considered as the lower end of commercial property sizes, and are the "orphans" of commercial buildings. Too small for most large scale energy conservation contractors to even consider evaluation. Interestingly, commercial buildings under 200,000-sq.ft. consume 75% of the energy consumed by these types of buildings.

The Lakewood program has a significant built in "Pay it Forward" principle to it, in that it helps building owners educate themselves as to the low hanging fruit of energy conservation, and also opens their minds and eyes to others means of conservation that cannot only significantly affect the overall operating efficiencies of their buildings. This includes increases in human productivity, which is almost impossible to track, but is known to have significant impacts on the bottom lines of profitable businesses. In other words, if the occupants are healthy and comfortable, they won’t be spending a lot of time worrying about their comfort conditions, and subsequently, can be more efficient at their jobs. And that is a good thing for everyone involved.

As for financing, the board of directors for the Learning Source decided not to pursue the usual handout grants available for non-profit organizations to perform energy conservation, but instead decided to pursue a more conventional loan tact in their efforts. They felt that if they could prove economic viability for their project on a commercial basis, from the stand point of the potential energy savings paying for the monthly note, that they might be able to convince the financial community to become more involved in green projects. Bear in mind that the building was definitely in need of a major mechanical upgrade, and the estimate to do that came in at $650,000, and would probably only realize an estimated reduction in energy consumption of 10%, with a dollar value of the savings being $3,500 per year. If everything remained stable from an inflation standpoint, it would take 185 years to realize a breakeven point on the investment … Hardly a worthwhile investment to say the least.

A better alternative approach, which included the total building insulation retrofit, Energy Management System, cooling system upgrade, HVAC system repairs/modifications, solar electric/thermal installation, lighting upgrades and day lighting and lighting control upgrades was only $50,000 more than the mechanical upgrade alone, but it resulted in a conservative energy reduction potential of 80%. This resulted in a net return on the investment of 12 years according to The Learning Source. Very reasonable return on the investment, and something that a local bank was willing to participate in. The $50,000 cost difference between strict mechanical retrofit versus whole building upgrade was paid for in energy consumption within the first two years operating costs savings. What was an annual energy consumption (actual historic) of $35,000 per year, has been reduced to $3,500 per year. It has also resulted in a significant increase in occupant comfort, along with a significant increase in employee productivity, and a happier and healthier environment for anyone who has the honor and opportunity of being inside this wonderful building.

It is my hope, through this article, to cause the conventional HVAC contractor to think outside of their usual mechanical room box, and to look for other means of significantly reducing energy consumption of these buildings while positively affecting the buildings occupants, and reducing the energy consumption of this substantial existing baseline of buildings. It requires one to develop a team approach that includes not only the mechanical contractor, but also architects, designers, engineers and other associated subcontractors, including a means of finance through conventional means. Some might consider it net working. I consider it employing common sense and establishing new contacts which will bring additional work to the table.

Tune in next month as we begin an adventure into one of the most unique projects I’ve ever had the opportunity to work on. This project is listed on the Register of Historic Places, and has had numerous appearances on TV as well as the big screen. Until then, happy think outside the saucer hydronicing!

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