Though commercial buildings are often considered to be ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation in architecture and building design, it seems as though residential homes are further ahead on the trend in focusing on energy efficiency. This is a concern since the majority of energy usage within the US is from commercial buildings.
Close to 20% of all energy usage, primarily in the form of electricity and natural gas, is consumed by commercial buildings. Office and retail buildings come in at the top as the highest consumers. With the worry over the increasing environmental impact of industrial and commercial buildings energy requirements it is incredibly important for buildings to be designed to be more energy-efficient, and thereby more eco-friendly.
Not only does saving energy provide a significant incentive in the form of lowered maintenance costs for the building owner, but also in that the ROI of sustainable green architecture and renovation can average between a very impressive 10 to 20%. Every commercial building owner should be concerned over their energy usage and strive to save energy wherever possible, without sacrificing efficiency and tenant comfort.
Here are some different ways you can effectively reduce utility costs within your building.
1. Begin with an Energy Audit and Develop Goals
The very first thing to address is where the building is currently at in terms of energy consumption. This can be done through an energy audit which will show you how much energy you’re using, where the most energy is being used, and therefore allow you to see where you can cut back. There are free tools offered by the EPA that can perform this function or you can work with a professional to get an even more in-depth audit through the use of special software and sensors.
Once you have your audit in hand you can then develop goals for energy savings. This step is easier with a consultant that can guide you through what goals are achievable for your particular building. You will also want some type of method, generally, software, to monitor your progress towards these goals.
2. Inspect Building Envelope for Leaks
The building envelope, essentially the exterior of your building, is your first defense against the elements and the most important factor in energy savings. Drafty windows and doors or even poorly insulated walls will only impede HVAC systems within your building, making them work harder than they should and costing you money.
Inspect the building for any type of air leaks, particularly around windows and door frames. Older walls with poor insulation are also prone to air leaks. If this is the case for your building it would pay off in the long run to renovate with a stronger system like insulated concrete block walls.
3. Cut Back on Water Consumption
Water consumption is a concern nationwide, though it affects certain states more than others. Reducing water consumption is most traditionally done by installing low-flow toilets and sinks or by installing automatic faucets which ensure water will be turned off when not detecting hand motion. Tankless water heaters are another option to consider. Similar to checking the building for air leaks, an inspection should also be done around plumbing to ensure that proper insulation is present around pipes.
4. Upgrade to Energy Star Lighting and Appliances
Energy Star products remain the premier choice for those concerned about energy savings, across the board from commercial to residential. While the extra cost of opting for Energy Star appliances and lighting systems may seem expensive at first, the investment is well worth it as few products can compare to these. Keep in mind that Energy Star also makes windows that are ideal for commercial buildings suffering from leaks or drafts from old windows.
5. Use Smart Thermostats to Automate Energy Consumption
When it comes to thermostats there really is no reason why a commercial building, especially one that functions as an office or retail building, not have an automated smart thermostat in place. An automated smart thermostat will help conserve energy by reducing energy expenses while the building is not in use. Sensors can be set up in rooms that can determine whether it is in use or not and therefore turn on or off heating or cooling. Other automated systems can even be set up to turn off equipment, machines, and lighting in a room when empty.
6. Invest in a Renewable Energy System
Consider investing in some sort of renewable energy system, particularly solar energy since it is more readily available and affordable now. Solar panels are more versatile now, being able to not only be placed up on roofs but also on the backs of signs or walls of outbuildings. These systems do have a great ROI and begin to pay for themselves fairly quickly. You should incorporate these types of systems as a goal, as discussed above.
Commercial buildings are actually quite versatile and ideal for experimenting with higher-scale energy-efficient building designs. For example, commercial buildings are ideal candidates for a green roof deck area. While a fully planted green roof may not be possible for every situation, a raised green deck offers many of the same benefits and can also perform as a leisure area for building tenants. If you’re concerned with your energy savings, or lack of, consulting a professional is the ideal route to go.