Efficient Inside and Out
Better, higher-performing, building envelopes present significant opportunities to reduce energy consumption and carbon footprints.
By Carol Brzozowski
Today’s buildings—residential, commercial, and industrial—consume more energy than any other sector of the US economy, including transportation and industry, and are responsible for 40% of US carbon emissions at a cost of more than $400 billion. In achieving greater energy efficiency, what’s wrapped around a building through its envelope is just as significant to its operation as the inside mechanical and lighting systems.
What has been considered exceptional will soon become commonplace, says Eric Bloom, a research analyst for Pike Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides in-depth analysis of global clean technology markets. “Green building and sustainability in the early years was about companies doing something that was sort of ‘feel good, do the right thing’,” he says. “Now it’s really more of a question of ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ So even companies that might not have been so fast to be an early adopter of sustainability are now getting pressure because they’re going to be perceived as a backward company that’s not hitting the sustainability wave.”
Joe Murray, a principle design architect with IDC Architects, a wholly owned subsidiary of CH2M Hill, says with that “deep realization now that buildings use an amazing amount of energy,” and while the 20th century approach was to run “fancy” air-conditioning systems, comes a greater awareness of significant opportunities to reduce energy consumption and carbon footprints. Murray points out that the building envelope works synergistically with mechanical approaches.
“When you have a better higher-performing building envelope, you take a credible amount of pressure off of your mechanical systems,” he says. “They can be downsized.”
Getting the LEED Out
Murray points to numerous examples in which IDC has designed buildings with an eye to improving the building envelope efficiency, thus creating an overall stronger energy performance on the inside as well. One such project is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Pittsburgh headquarters of Medrad, a division of Bayer AG, a provider of medical devices and services. Using an air barrier membrane system in combination with an underfloor air distribution system allowed building owners to significantly downsize the mechanical equipment.
“You spend a little bit more money on the building envelope, but you immediately get savings in the mechanical systems,” says Murray. “The operating costs have been excellent for them for the last five years.”
IDC Architects also is involved as a partner with Bayer MaterialScience AG’s EcoCommercial Building program. The program is an integrated planning and implementation concept to help implement environmentally sustainable and profitable construction projects.
The Life Sciences Building is the keystone of Syracuse University’s initiative to improve research and teaching facilities for the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Bayer MaterialScience is working with a network of members from various disciplines to support professionals such as architects, project managers, construction managers, developers, and managers of larger companies in the creation of public and commercial buildings. The services offered range from energy efficiency assessments during the planning phase and the use of environmentally friendly materials to the employment of renewable energies. As part of that program, IDC works with Graham Architectural Products’ windows. That company developed a fiberglass-reinforced pultruded polyurethane window replacement system for the residential market, which IDC has adapted for a commercial curtain wall system.
“What we know through the studies is that the aluminum mullions that were used in a curtain wall system are the biggest weak point in the thermal transfer of energy from inside to outside,” says Murray. “By using this pultruded polyurethane, we’re able to greatly improve the performance and reduce the thermal loss through those systems.
“When you look through a curtain wall, you think those are just skinny little sticks,” he continues. “When it adds up, it’s 15 to 20% of the wall system. It takes less energy to make this than to make virgin aluminum.”
Another CH2M Hill project in Scottsdale, AZ—the Henkel Consumer Products Headquarters—earned LEED certification for Sustainable Design Excellence. CH2M Hill worked in conjunction with Will Bruder+Partners of Phoenix as the design architect. The 82-foot-high atrium of the 348,000-square-foot building was capped with an inflatable membrane skylight and is the first of its kind in the western US, allowing textured light to penetrate into the heart of the building. Seventy-five percent of the employee work areas are illuminated by natural light. A custom-designed fritting pattern etched into the building’s windows reduces sunlight intensity. A 1.5-acre desert roof garden provides respite for employees and insulates the floors below. Solar roof panels power washers and dryers.
Going forward, “one of the smartest things we can do for the environment is build buildings that last a long time,” notes Murray. “Research on the real value of using old buildings shows there’s probably a bigger, more significant positive environmental impact to reuse an old building than most people think.”
The idea of designing and constructing a high-performance building that gathers energy and lasts longer appeals to clients, especially in the institutional sector, Murray says. IDC recently conducted a study on an old research laboratory taken over by the state of West Virginia and targeted for a retrofit. “We said the first thing we should do is give the building a brand new envelope,” says Murray. “They said they couldn’t afford to do that. They told us to look at the mechanical systems. We did that and could not make the building efficient enough to reduce their operating costs to get them to a place where they could actually rent the building to researchers and make a few bucks.”
The discussion turned to the building envelope. “We showed them by doing a new high-performance building envelope, the mechanical systems could be reduced,” says Murray. “That lowered the front-end costs. They could start to make their performing numbers work. Now they are in a cycle to get this funded. It wouldn’t have worked out if they hadn’t completely upgraded the building envelope.”
Incorporating New Technologies
John Bernardi, vice president of business development for Firestone Building Products, points out that with rising energy costs, “building owners need to be more vigilant than ever before about having energy-efficient buildings. Also, with energy becoming a topic that garners significant corporate and public awareness, building owners understand that having facilities with favorable energy efficiency makes them reflect a more environmentally responsible image and translates to having buildings that are easier to lease and that promote a positive attitude among employees.”
Firestone Building Products is developing and introducing a variety of new building envelope products to address building efficiency challenges, including daylighting systems to reduce the need for interior electricity use, vegetative roofing to promote effective building envelope passive stormwater management, numerous insulation products with the highest R value/inch of thickness, reflective roofing membranes to minimize heat gain in appropriate markets, and building integrated photovoltaic (PV) systems on roofs to help move buildings to a net-zero position.
Bernardi says the technologies have a favorable return on investment (ROI). “The payback on a daylight system can be a few short years based on the savings in electricity from not having to turn lights on during daylight hours,” he says. “PV systems can have a very favorable ROI as well, depending on the state and local government incentive programs.
“One of the least expensive and most effective ways to increase the energy efficiency of a building is by adding insulation thickness to a rooftop which prompted President Obama to recently declare that ‘insulation is sexy’,” says Bernardi. “The addition of insulation is something that is easy to do in both new roofing applications as well as in reroofing projects.”
Going forward, designers need to incorporate these products into their plans, building regulations need to ratchet up in regards to building energy performance, and local municipalities need to adopt and enforce related building code upgrades, says Bernardi. “This process is already well underway with the introduction of the new International Energy Code, and, much like the fuel efficiency standards for cars continues to increase over time, drafts of future code edition language are already moving in the direction of increasing energy efficiency requirements.”
ACH Foam Technologies manufactures expanded polystyrene (EPS) for the packaging and construction industry. “Focusing on construction, we make rigid insulations from the frost line to the roof line,” says Frank Kiesecker, senior vice president of sales and marketing for architectural products for ACH Foam Technologies.
“We’re trying to create an insulation envelope to keep the heat inside in the winter and keep the cool in the summer. The biggest challenge owners of existing buildings have is to bring their buildings up to energy standards or for new construction, to build to a higher energy standard.”
The only way to do that is to create the R value of the envelope, whether it be below grade wall or roof insulation, says Kiesecker. “On a commercial building, the greenest surface area they have is the roof. There’s one area that, by achieving higher insulation and higher energy standards, it’s going to help them reduce energy consumption.”
While an ROI is site-specific, Kiesecker says it’s not uncommon for there to be a three- to five-year payback.
He also points out that while there are “great” technologies available with respect to HVAC and lighting, “if you don’t have an efficient envelope, all of that is for naught.”
What makes EPS unique is that it can be manufactured into a number of sizes and shapes to accommodate the design on a construction project and can also be made into varying R values based on the density of the material, which affects the strength of the material, says Kiesecker.
“In some cases, you may want to use a 60 psi on a roof deck because of pavers or there’s going to be roof access, or it could be a green roof where you may want to use only a 15 psi where it’s going to be used as a sheeting or a cavity wall on a building,” he adds.
Improving or increasing the efficiency of the insulation allows a mechanical engineer to reduce the size of the mechanical unit to heat or cool a building, Kiesecker says. One such product to help do that is ACH Foam Technologies’ Nailbase Roof Insulation, a nailable panel of exposure I-rated oriented strand board and UL (Underwriters Laboratories) classified Foam-Control EPS roof insulation. It serves as a roof insulation and nailable roofing surface over structural roof decks.
|Photo: Ron Hart
1010 Midtown is the first phase of 12th & Midtown, a massive four-block master planned development designed to accentuate the natural curve in Peachtree Street.
Reductions and Savings
Fort Knox is a standout in Louisville, KY, for having reduced its energy use by 41% in the past 20 years while other businesses and military bases were increasing consumption. The reason: the deployment of geothermal heat pump systems, building automation technology, and other building and equipment upgrades installed by Harshaw Trane, an intelligent building technology and energy services provider with a focus on commercial and institutional buildings. The company is an Energy Star Product and Service Provider and a founding member of the Kentucky chapter of the US Green Building Council.
According to Pat Walsh, Fort Knox Public Works Director, the upgrades have reduced the carbon footprint at the 109,000-acre post while also helping to prevent mold common in buildings in the region. The upgrades are mostly internal and mechanical but also include the installation of energy-efficient windows in the building’s envelope. Other upgrades include a new boiler system at the hospital; low-flow toilets, faucet retrofits, and a golf course water collection pond for irrigation; geothermal heat pump systems with a common well field for cooling and heating 4 million square feet of building space; and energy-efficient lighting systems that harvest natural light when available and use occupancy sensors.
The total decrease in energy consumption has saved Fort Knox more than $10 million in energy costs annually and has reduced power plant emissions by 55,878 metric tons of carbon dioxide, 67 metric tons of nitrous oxide, and 76,731 metric tons of greenhouse gases. The upgrades are augmented by Trane’s Tracer Summit computer and control system, which monitors the air quality and temperature of more than 6 million square feet of space in approximately 250 buildings and sustainability services to keep systems running at peak performance.
Tom Abele, vice president of business development for Harshaw Trane, says even though there has been a federal EPAct policy requiring BTU density reduction in federal facilities, Fort Knox has been taking that stance long before that by having a designated energy manager, and have entered into an energy conservation order number 108, reflecting the number of their overall energy conservation orders.
Harshaw Trane’s energy services team’s focus has encompassed lighting and envelope projects. “At the centerpiece of the greatest BTU density reduction has been two strategies: geothermal technologies and building automation,” says Abele. “Coupled with building automation is what we call intelligent services, which is a carousel of retro-commissioning, or what we call continuous commissioning applications.
“One of the greatest opportunities in the future is for companies like ours and others to continue to perfect software applications that run continuous commissioning routines on buildings so that exceptions can be identified extremely quickly and dealt with,” says Abele.
Fort Knox, Harshaw Trane—through hundreds of thousands of data points on nearly 500 gas and electric meters—is able to run an energy density and demand profile and on a per building basis can set thresholds and annual goals through software, “and bring a high degree of transparency to how buildings are performing,” says Abele.
HVAC, ROI, and the Smart Grid
Abele points out that the interrelationship between the building envelope, lighting, and HVAC systems establishes the thermal load. “When we’re talking about commercial office space—assuming that the lighting is relatively modern with T-8 technology, and assuming plug load is traditional in a traditional office space—HVAC will represent upwards of 70% of the consumption in the building. It absolutely dictates what happens with demand.
“The symbiotic relationship between HVAC and thermal loads is in direct proportion to the condition of the envelope,” he adds. “When we’re approaching a building, we start with the envelope to ensure it is as tight and thermally efficient as possible, which then allows you to size the HVAC systems most appropriately to the building load, assuming a building with a great deal of exposure.”
Abele echoes the stance of other experts in that the standalone payback on envelope projects such as windows and insulation—particularly wall insulation in getting the building sealed up, including vestibules, double doors, revolving doors, and using pressurization techniques—“is not going to fit the typical investors’ expectations when it comes to energy projects. In the education market, we see the longest paybacks accepted, particularly when the energy is used to fund infrastructure improvement.
“In the commercial sector, for-profit health care, commercial office space, or industrials, typically, when it comes to competition for capital funds or even the debt service, payback expectations are much, much tighter,” he continues, adding that it could be as little as three and a half years.
“Oftentimes we can augment the energy with some capital cost avoidance operational savings,” he adds. “We typically are able to at least see a ratio of 65% energy and 35% other savings.”
Even so, involving envelope solutions “almost always requires an extreme abuse on the HVAC side,” says Abele. “We confront envelope only when we find the most atrocious HVAC systems that need to be replaced and are operating so inefficiently that it pulls up and spins enough cash flow to fund the envelope, and particularly windows with today’s opportunity in daylighting.”
Harshaw Trane prefers using a small series of light shelves that sit inside the window, as well as ceiling replacement, lighting configuration, and lighting control. “That seems to give us the best return on investment while making the most dramatic improvements for comfort,” says Abele.
Going forward, high level transparency in building performance will be critical, Abele says. “We’ve built an applet that measures daily Energy Star performance. The software has the same engine that the United States Department of Energy site has to establish Energy Star. The greatest issue that we have, as an energy services provider, is clients who buy energy solutions and then, on the back end, have no idea of whether they are receiving the savings or not.”
Abele says it’s important to have proof points for performance and to rally behavioral change for those “who don’t have to pay the bill.
“They’ve got to have some means of visibility,” he contends. “These software applications can be educational. They can be posted in a variety of areas. I can look at one of these applications, and, in nothing more than a few seconds, I can tell if a building has been performing well that day and if it’s performing well over the last week, the last month, and so forth.”
Another critical factor in addressing the national grid challenge going forward is demand control, he says. “Very few owners of buildings understand how demand is billed, how to manage it, when it’s happening, how to get their arms around it, and what the future is going to look like in terms of time-of-day rate pricing.”
Demand management comes through a series of strategies that include combined heat and power, thermal storage, load limiting, and proper scheduling, he says.
One of the issues facing Fort Knox is its score card for BTU density reduction success. “Their utility bill has crossed a threshold—more than 51% of their bill is based on demand,” says Abele. “It’s reached a point that if energy density is our driver, then we’ll continue to go down this path, but if financial performance takes precedence, we need to start considering sacrificing some consumption for the sake of demand reduction. It creates a real dilemma.”
Abele says many energy service providers “are purely focused on consumption. They still frequently work on a financial basis of a blended rate, and the reality, for many energy conservation measures, is you just simply cannot operate off of a blended rate. You have to calculate consumption savings separate from demand savings.”
Another critical measure going forward is the ability to provide continuous commissioning through software, he says. “It’s simply not affordable to do it through traditional building operators and through traditional building automation systems. We find when we start to marry the competencies of the information technology industry, or other industries that process a tremendous amount of data very rapidly, with building automation competencies to sort through a tremendous amount of data, we can find and deal with offenders very rapidly—commission by exception.”
Utilities are offering incentives for building owners to incorporate energy-efficient upgrades. Southern California Edison (SCE) started offering up to $10,000 in free energy upgrades to small businesses in select southern California communities in January, continuing the program in other cities through 2011. The Direct Install survey, equipment, and installation are targeted to qualifying small businesses that draw less than 100 kW. SCE-approved professional contractors visit the businesses, conduct a brief energy-use survey, and make recommendations for free upgrades. The upgrades include window film, occupancy sensors, fluorescent lighting, programmable thermostats, and refrigeration measures such as door closers, suction-line insulation, and strip curtains.
Utility companies are ramping up efforts to participate in energy efficiency programs. Con Edison did so when it hosted its first energy efficiency summit in June, featuring experts across the board including those in building envelope performance.
“We talk to other utilities around the country that have much more mature programs about how they jump-started their programs,” says Dave Pospisil, energy efficiency program manager for Con Edison. In speaking with Con Ed officials in Chicago, IL, he learned of a large event which drove results in the company’s program, so Con Ed followed suit.
“We had not been all the way into energy efficiency programs for more than a decade because of the deregulation of New York State and a variety of other reasons, but we’re trying to overcome that inertia and let people know that in fact we are in the energy efficiency business and we have a portfolio of programs available,” he says.
Some 1,500 people attended the summit, which included a trade show with some of Con Edison’s marketing partners as well as educational presentations. “In New York City [NY], the amount of energy buildings use is substantially higher than what it is throughout the country,” says Pospisil. “The amount of emissions from buildings and building-related systems is much higher than transportation. So it behooves us to try to improve that infrastructure and reduce those emissions.”
Pospisil calls the building envelope “a tough nut to crack, because even though it’s very visible, it’s invisible to building occupants, building managers, and property owners.
“If you’re behind the walls, up in the attic, or in crawl spaces just putting in insulation, it may have significant positive impact on energy use, but it’s not very visible, so it’s difficult to get people to make that investment,” he adds.
The Empire State Building’s window retrofit was a visible example, Pospisil points out.
He adds that Con Ed has had success with window films for those who don’t want to make a full investment in a window replacement but still seek substantial reductions in reducing a building’s cooling loads.
|Photo: Con Edison
Big energy culprits: outdated lighting and HVAC
In addition to programs that provide incentives and rebates for measures undertaken by customers, Con Ed also provides cofunding for studies that seek solutions to building problems, including the building envelope.
Con Ed has a rebate program for well-defined prescriptive measures as well as innovative measures based on the calculated savings going forward. Because Con Ed also is a gas and steam utility, its programs extend to those sectors as well.
“When we look at improving an existing building, we really think the building envelope is the first thing that needs to be addressed,” says Pospisil. “Once you can improve that building envelope and make its performance as high as you can within financial reason, then the next thing you can do is properly size the building systems. If you don’t improve the building envelope, you’re going to put in systems that are larger than they need to be than if you actually improve the envelope.
“Once you have a very efficient building envelope with very efficient systems within it, then you can actually think about renewable energy because then you know what the right size would be.”
Pospisil believes tenants in New York will start shopping for efficiency because of the city’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. Established in 2009, the plan created a comprehensive set of efficiency laws, including requiring annual energy efficiency benchmarking to be disclosed to the public and mandating a set of cost-effective energy efficiency upgrades and evaluations of 16,000 of the city’s largest public and private buildings.
“We’re already hearing about a competitive nature among big portfolio owners who are very concerned their portfolio is going to show up as deficient compared to others once this all becomes public,” says Pospisil. “We have a lot of opportunities in our programs, which folks are trying to use to make improvements as soon as they can.
“There’s an improving economy, so we’re seeing some capital being released that we didn’t see last year, and we have a nicely funded portfolio of programs we can bring to help companies and building owners improve their systems. We think now is the time to act.”
Author's bio: Carol Brzozowski writes on the topics of technology and industry.