Building Engineers Hold the Key to Achieving ENERGY STAR® Ratings

Some owners are discouraged from pursuing an ENERGY STAR® rating due to the age of their building and its systems. This doesn’t have to be the case. The condition of the property will impact the approach, but it doesn’t have to be an impossible barrier to placing in the top 25% of the market. Cue the building engineer.

They have intimate knowledge of their building and the nuances of how the systems operate. Whether they manually run the building, use sophisticated controls, or a combination of the two, the building engineer holds the key to running an efficient property. With the right planning and resources, any building can be competitive in the ENERGY STAR world.

I knew a stellar building engineer who ran a property with a 50-year-old induction system. He operated it completely by hand, no controls, he manually operated and adjusted all the systems. This engineer managed to achieve an ENERGY STAR rating four years in a row. How did he do it? He attributed his success to making a concentrated effort to understand the tenants’ needs, which enabled him to keep them comfortable while staying within the lease parameters. He operated the building keeping systems off as he could. Sadly, when he passed away, the building’s ENERGY STAR score dropped from 76 to below 30. A true testament to the impact a building engineer can have on efficiency.

What other strategies can building engineers use to help increase their score?

Know Your Tenants

  • Follow the profile of your building; are your tenants early in/early out, night owls, or weekend warriors?
  • A few times a year, come in at off hours and observe whether lights and systems are operating. If no one is there, ask why.

Right Your Lights

  • Make sure non-essential lights are off at night. This simple and cost-effective task can’t be overstated.
  • Updgrade your garage lighting to T8s.
  • Code allows you to use stairway motion sensors, even on emergency lighting. Take advantage of that.

Make Small Operational Changes

  • If you have optimum stop/start, don’t use outside air or turn on toilet exhaust until the building is at lease hours; keep it at neutral until it’s at the baseline temperature.
  • Consider reducing the amount of emergency generator tests you run without load. Without load, the generator won’t get hot enough to burn off the moisture from the oil in the engine, which can cause the pistons problems. Code requires you to check on your emergency generator once a month, but it should run at a minimum of half load, once a year, for an hour and a half. It usually is not necessary to run them at full capacity.

Put in the Correct Square Footage

  • ENERGY STAR allows you to jettison 10% of your GSF at your discretion. Submetering and running ‘What If?’ scenarios can help you identify the most advantageous approach.
  • Ask your auditor what you must count, and what you can leave out. ENERGY STAR doesn’t count items such as rooftop antennae exterior to the building, but it does count anything that brings energy into a building, such as generator fuel oil, tenant emergency generators, and 168-hour garages. Have a conversation with your consultant to make sure you are measuring the right data and presenting the true metering of the building.
  • Define LAN rooms and data centers carefully. A data center by ENERGY STAR standards only includes spaces operating 24-7 with UPS power; all you need to report is the secondary side of the UPS*. A LAN room is defined as a space that contains computers and servers and requires 24-hour ventilation and controls. LAN rooms do not need to be metered separately. A server closet without ventilation is not a LAN room; that is considered part of the gross square footage in the building.
    • A note to owners, it can be helpful to specify in the lease that a tenant who will require UPS unit(s) must either provide access to output electrical KWH or allow the designers and contractors to specify and install a remote meter as part of a TI allowance.

Start Thinking About Water

  • ENERGY STAR currently requires building engineers to enter water usage, but it is not yet considered in granting ENERGY STAR ratings. However, it will be in the future. Those who are thinking about strategies to reduce water usage now will be better prepared when that occurs.

These are just some of the strategies you can use to help achieve an ENERGY STAR rating – regardless of the age of your building. Your partner in the process – whether a Professional Engineer (PE) or Registered Architect – can help you navigate these strategies.

Have you turned a former “energy dog” into an efficient building? Tell us your story by contacting us!

*As of 6/1/12. Subject to change in the future.