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Three Ways Facility Managers Can Improve Energy Efficiency of Building Systems

(Credit: Engie Impact)

According to the EPA, businesses waste about 30% of the energy used in their commercial buildings and worldwide, buildings account for 32% of energy use and 19% of energy-related greenhouse emissions. As companies are increasingly focused on ways to reduce energy waste, they are looking to facility managers to provide input and leadership on ways to improve the energy efficiency of their building systems. 

Because facilities management is responsible for ensuring the functionality, comfort and safety of the built environment, facility managers are uniquely positioned to leverage local operational efficiency initiatives to identify and act to improve the efficiency of energy use across their facilities. Facility managers have a more complete understanding of site-specific challenges and opportunities and can advise on how best to integrate people, processes and technology to achieve optimal efficiencies.

Whether energy efficiency is being pursued as a part of an organization’s corporate sustainability program, operational investment strategy or simply to cut utility expenditure, there are three ways that facility managers can improve the energy efficiency of their building systems.

1. Proactively manage energy-using equipment

The key to maintaining functionality, comfort, safety and efficiency of building systems is to ensure that equipment is well-managed and maintained through routine checks and preventive maintenance. Equipment checks can often go overlooked because attention is directed to more pressing issues. When maintenance is not addressed over a longer period, reduced equipment efficiencies or asset damage may result. Regular, planned preventive maintenance on energy-using equipment can help identify leaks, repairs or replacements. The use of a CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) solution can be used to track equipment maintenance, contracts, planned preventive maintenance and compliance planned preventive maintenance work, especially for a large portfolio of sites. The data collected through this type of system offers insight into asset performance and can be used to further improve energy efficiency.

2. Effectively use lighting and HVAC controls

Facility managers can reduce energy waste by effectively using control solutions to improve the efficiency of lighting and HVAC systems. No matter the technology, if lighting remains on in unoccupied areas or in rooms fully lit by natural daylight, energy is being wasted. One of the most common types of lighting controls are occupancy sensors, which turn lighting on automatically when they detect motion and off when the area is vacated. Sensors can be installed in various ways—wall-mount, ceiling-mount, corner-mount, or on the fixture itself. In areas where enough ambient light is available, automated daylight harvesting systems can read ambient light levels and raise or lower artificial lighting levels to maintain a base level of illumination. Timers are another way to make sure that lighting is turned off when it’s not needed in large, open areas. This can be done with a simple timeclock or computer controls. Lighting control systems can also be used on exterior lighting. Most parking lot pole lights and wall-packs can be equipped with photocells or motion sensors. The key to gaining the full benefit of lighting controls is to routinely check to ensure that programming is correct, and that the system is functioning properly. It is also important to consider safety and occupant comfort when designing, installing and maintaining these control systems.

Occupancy-based HVAC control and programmable thermostats may be used in a similar fashion to that of lighting controls. Facility managers can replace existing mechanical thermostats with programmable thermostats to regulate space temperature. Features to look for include backlighting and a digital display, 7-day programmable clock, remote temperature sensing and voice or phone programming. If programmable thermostats are being installed as a part of a larger retrofit program, facility managers should seek corporate guidance on setback temperatures; standards may vary for different seasons and geographic regions. Once programmable thermostats are installed, ensure that they are programmed to optimize performance and improve occupant comfort. One feature of these units that is often overlooked is the time clock. Facility managers should ensure that all thermostats are programmed with the correct time of day, as setback temperatures are based on hours of the day. 

3. Retrofit existing building systems

There is significant opportunity in retrofitting older, existing buildings through the modification of building systems to be more energy efficient. Project Drawdown reports that, “As much as 80% of the energy consumed is wasted—lights and electronics are left on unnecessarily and gaps in the building’s envelope allow air to seep in and out.” The retrofitting process is most effective when companies limit the scope of their retrofit to a few broadly applicable measures and roll out a sustainable technology investment bundle across their portfolio. By bundling measures, planning for and installing new equipment and technologies at the same time, companies can better account for the interactions between measures. While a building-by-building approach may be taken to initially identify and pilot measures, broader implementation of “one-touch” retrofit programs is more economical and impactful.

Facility managers are often asked to take part in several stages of the retrofitting process, including the identification of retrofit opportunities through onsite audits, coordination with procurement on equipment standards and specs, the retrofitting itself, management and maintenance. Consultants can be brought in to help guide companies through the retrofit process. They may consult on which retrofit bundles will provide the greatest value or help arrange financing. For instance, retailer, GameStop worked with a consultant to make informed decisions about the timing and scope of retrofitting their lighting and HVAC systems. Initial success of their retrofit program is reportedly upwards of a 30% reduction in overall energy usage. These efforts have aided in the reduction of GameStop’s environmental impact and improved operating efficiency. 

Other impactful retrofitting solutions include the replacement of doors and windows or installing insulation. By improving building envelope performance companies can lower their heating and cooling needs, wasting less energy and being more efficient at the same time.

Investing in Ourselves

 Energy is a complex issue that touches every aspect of a building and presents many simultaneous challenges, including energy costs, occupant comfort, and energy reliability. By proactively managing equipment, effectively using control systems and supporting initiatives to retrofit older buildings, facility managers can have a significant impact on the energy efficiency of their building systems.

Using energy more efficiently is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, and reduce the growing energy demand. When companies invest in improving the energy efficiency of their buildings they also contribute to a more sustainable future where people, organizations and the environment thrive. 

By Catherine Osborne, CEM Energy & Sustainability Strategic Advisor, ENGIE Impact

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