Sweat the Small Things; They may Make a Huge Difference
May 13, 2013
We often think about high performance building construction or retrofits as large, multi-month or multi–year projects. But it’s important not to overlook the small things that may end up making a huge difference in the performance of your building and the health of your occupants.
A recent article in Consulting-Specifying Engineer featured a 48-year-old, 100-unit apartment building that addressed its rising energy costs by examining its energy waste. While the article focuses on an apartment building, the energy conservation measures (ECM) and strategies involved can be applied to a wide variety of commercial buildings.
For the apartment building in question, the outdated exhaust system did not properly ventilate the building, which led to high heating and cooling costs and uneven comfort levels for residents. The uneven airflow also meant that the apartments on the upper levels received too much ventilation, while the ones below received too little. In addition, the ductwork was not sealed externally and resulted in an average leakage rate of 30 to 40 percent – a typical rate for a building of this age but two to three times more than rates outlined by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association.
The enormous amount of energy waste caused a reduction in pressure within the duct system, which means that it took even more energy to move the air. Plus, the indoor air quality (IAQ) can affect tenants in more ways than air temperatures; stale and odorous air doesn’t leave certain areas, and moisture from bathrooms and cooking causes mold to build up without a regular influx of fresh air.
Building owners used a sealant technology to seal up the leaks and vastly improve the pressure balance within the ventilation shafts, leading to a replacement of the roof exhaust fans with smaller units. The electricity savings from better fan operations alone was $7,000 per year. And because there wasn’t a dramatic swing in air temperatures throughout the building, gas use for space heating saw a huge 30 percent decrease.
Although a holistic approach to high performance building construction, retrofits and management is best, building managers should not overlook or under-estimate the impact of seemingly innocuous issues like energy waste or leaks, which can lead to much larger IAQ and occupant health issues. From aging apartment buildings to office towers and retail spaces, sweating the small things can make a uge difference in occupant comfort and the bottom line.