How to Save Energy In Commercial Buildings: A Top 10 List

June 1, 2007

To commemorate Earth Day and bring awareness to the importance of energy conservation in commercial buildings, The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International released its top ten ways for building owners and managers to reduce energy consumption. These no- or low-cost strategies are part of the nationally recognized BOMA Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP) that offers commercial real estate professionals strategies for reducing energy consumption by as much as 30 percent.

“The built environment accounts for 48 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in this country,” says Kurt R. Padavano, RPA, CPM, FMA, SMA, BOMA International chairman, and chief elected officer and chief operating officer of Advance Realty Group of Bedminster, New Jersey. “The good news is that there are many low- and even no-cost strategies that are proven to save energy and reduce emissions, and they are easy to implement and often reduce building operation costs.”

“Saving energy is fundamental to all aspects of our lives,” adds Gary J. Bases, president of BRIL, Inc., author of The Bril Book (a complete guide on brick, refractory, insulation, and lagging systems), and American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) instructor. “Thermal insulation is one of man’s first inventions and illustrates the need for energy conservation. Today’s conservation needs are increasingly important, and BOMA’s energy-efficient strategies address those needs.”

In addition to these ten areas, hot air ducts, ventilation, and cold air systems are vital components to all commercial buildings. How they are insulated depends on many factors and needs. Here are some examples:

  • Insulation with a factory-applied vapor barrier may be required to prevent the penetration water vapor and condensation from corroding the duct and fan system.
  • The thickness of the insulation and application requirements must be considered to prevent hot or cold air from leaving the system.
  • Insulation used as an absorbent filler can reduce tonal and broad band noise coming from the fans.

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BOMA Top 10 Energy-Efficient Strategies

1. Check that equipment is functioning as designed.

Regularly inspect all equipment and controls to ensure they are functioning as designed. Double-check Energy Management System (EMS) programming to make sure that operations are optimized. One firm changed an EMS software programming error from “and” to “or” and saved $3,700 annually. “You must remember that the equipment is the first place that raw energy is turned into useful work in the facility,” says Sam Schell, consulting engineer with SESCO, Inc. “A loose fan belt requires more energy to run the fan than a properly adjusted belt.”

2. Consider your cleaning options. The following cleaning options can be used to save the most energy for a particular commercial space:

  • Team cleaning: Janitors go through the building—floor by floor—as a team, and the lighting is turned on and off as they progress through the building.
  • Occupancy sensors: Motion sensors can be installed to automatically turn lights on when janitors are cleaning and turn them off when the floor is vacant.
  • Coordinated effort: Janitors can coordinate with the security crew to walk through the building and turn off equipment that was inadvertently left on by tenants.
  • Day cleaning: Why not have the janitors clean during the day while the lights are already on?

3. Encourage tenants to turn off equipment. During off-hours, make sure to power down everything, including copiers, kitchen equipment, and task lights. Use cleaning and security personnel to turn off miscellaneous items like coffee pots, kitchen equipment, and individual office lights.

4. Use high-efficiency light-emitting diode (LED) exit signs. Replace inefficient exit signs with high-efficiency LED exit signs. LED exit signs operate 24-7 and have lower maintenance costs due to their extended life.

5. Institute an energy awareness program. Create promotional items, posters, and news releases—tell everyone about your commitment to energy savings. Use your company newsletter, as well as company and building announcements, to keep tenants informed about your energy-savings goals, and how they can both help reach them and benefit from them.

6. Install monitor power-management software. In U.S. companies alone, more than $1 billion a year is wasted on electricity for computer monitors that are left on when they shouldn’t be. You can avoid those wastes by installing power-management software for computer monitors, central processing units (CPUs), and hard drives.

7. Change incandescent lights to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and high intensity discharge (HID) lights. CFLs use less energy, have a longer lamp life, and produce less heat, reducing heat load. Also, check the lighting in rest rooms, closets, server rooms, and common areas. Thanks to the 2005 Energy Bill, lighting retrofits and upgrades that meet energy-efficiency requirements may be tax deductible, up to 60 cents per square foot (psf).

8. Harvest daylight. Locate work stations that require high illumination adjacent to windows.

9. Evaluate after-hours usage. Talk to tenants to find out if they are actually using their spaces during the lease-required operating hours. Adjust building operating hours to reflect actual tenant usage.

10. Adjust ventilation. Reduce exhaust and outdoor-air ventilation rates within codes. Take a look at the fans, and adjust ventilation in unoccupied and low-density areas to reduce the ventilation to a practical, yet comfortable level.