... and five tips to help overcome them
Energy audits are one of the best ways to discover money-saving opportunities in an existing building. A commercial or industrial energy audit will identify how much energy a building uses, how efficiently it uses that energy, and where changes and improvements can be made that will impact both the occupant comfort and the bottom line.
I have personally conducted audits on buildings where we have uncovered tens of thousands of dollars in savings just from the walk-through. We have performed ASHRAE Level II audits with retrofits and retrocommissioning that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings over 4 to 10 years.
With so much money at stake, why are building owners still reluctant to have energy audits?
In a very nonscientific survey, I have come up with these three reasons.
1. Cost of the Audit:
A home energy audit can be anywhere from free to $400 or more, depending on who does it and how thorough an audit is requested. An energy assessment on a commercial, institutional or industrial building is entirely different.
A qualified team of professionals who have experience in the building industry, especially in HVAC and lighting, and are well-versed in current standards and best practices, will conduct the most thorough energy audit. (For tips on hiring the right energy auditor for your building, click here.) At a minimum, it should cover these areas:
- Review of minimum of 36 months of utility bills with close inspection of mid-summer and mid-winter bills
- Physical inspection of building, including lighting, HVAC and service water systems
- Blower door testing, if feasible
- Thermal imaging
- Data logging
- Spot-checks of thermostats with hand-held digital thermometer
- Discussions with facility personnel and building engineers
The cost for an ASHRAE Level II audit depends on the size and complexity of the building, e.g., a hospital or an industrial plant would cost considerably more than a standard 3 or 4 story commercial office building with a few packaged rooftop units on it. Also, the per-square-foot cost decreases as the size of the building increases. For example, a relatively simple, 50,000 SF office building might range between $0.24-0.28/SF, whereas a 250,000 SF building with an internal thermal plant might be only $0.12-0.14/SF. Of course, these figures can vary considerably depending on the area of the country.2. Cost of What to Do After the Audit:
You should know the expected payback of every improvement. If you’re told you need to replace the roof, you know it’s going to be expensive. But even that should have a payback period. It may be 7 to 10 years, but it will reduce costs today, and continually save money over time.
There are, however, dozens of low and no-cost options (see article HVAC Gains with No Budget Pains) with shorter ROI (return on investment). Do these and you will start seeing cost savings right away. Take time to plan for the larger investments. While you’re at it, consider applying for LEED EBOM (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Existing Buildings Operation & Maintenance), or some other nationally recognized certification. Such a designation often brings publicity to the organization, increased occupant satisfaction, and even higher rental rates.3. Fear
If you have never been through an energy audit, the idea could be daunting. Even the word “audit” strikes fear into the hearts of many (as in “IRS audit”). ASHRAE now prefers the word “assessment” or “analysis,” which is a more accurate description. We have found, however, that once we have completed the assessment and reviewed the findings, most building owners and managers will say, “Why did we wait so long?”
Here are a few fears that may be holding you back, and some tips on overcoming them.
- Fear: Lack of expertise of the auditor or the audit team that might make you look bad to your superiors when you get the final report.
- Tip: Use our handy guide (click here) to hire a qualified, professional audit team.
- Fear: You will be exposed for poor operations and maintenance practices.
- Tip: The sooner you find these, the sooner you can correct them. Plus, you may also find that you were doing some things right. It’s OK to take credit for the good, as long as you also admit mistakes and make a plan to fix them.
- Fear: You will be exposed for doing no maintenance at all.
- Tip: Be prepared to back up any requests you have made for maintenance but were told “no.” Commit to working with your energy auditor to create and carry out a plan for ongoing maintenance.
- Fear: You will be exposed for lack of knowledge or incorrect assumptions about building operations.
- Tip: Approach the energy audit as a learning experience.
- Fear: More work for an already overworked building staff.
- Tip: The energy audit should help you correct past mistakes and put you on a path of ongoing, preventive maintenance. While this takes time up front, ongoing maintenance (sometimes called continuous commissioning), reduces overall building costs, improves operating effectiveness, and may help improve the indoor air quality (IAQ).
If you have ever wondered whether an energy audit of your office building, industrial park, school, or hospital would be worthwhile, the answer is “Yes, it is.” But only if you want the building to be a healthy place to work, a profitable business investment, and operating efficiently for many years to come.