Building Owners Encouraged to Benchmark Energy Star Scores to Track Energy Usage Trends and Help Define Retrofits

David Borchardt, Senior Mechanical Engineer for MD Energy Advisors

States across the country are enacting new legislation requiring existing buildings to significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions in the near future, as well as comply with net zero energy standards in the coming decades. An example is the Climate Solutions Now Act recently passed by the 2022 Maryland General Assembly Session that seeks a 20% reduction in direct building emissions by 2030 and net-zero direct emissions by 2040. In preparation of these laws that are expected to only multiply across additional jurisdictions, building owners and investors are encouraged to benchmark current Energy Star scores to track energy usage and help guide necessary changes and retrofits.

“Building owners cannot improve what is not first measured and documented, so the first suggested course of action is to benchmark the current energy usage of buildings to establish a starting point and establish existing metrics,” explained David Borchardt, Senior Mechanical Engineer for MD Energy Advisors. “This is easily and quickly accomplished by examining the past two years of energy bills to detect trends in usage as compared to the actual operation of the building. Another important goal is to identify methods to reduce energy usage and expenses.”

Borchardt further recommends a detailed building walk-through to uncover potential equipment deficiencies and breakdowns, improper and cost-inefficient uses of energy, opportunities to improve operational processes and the identification of capital improvement upgrades to improve the long-term value of the asset.

“Unfortunately, and in many instances, some building engineers simply turn the energy system on and walk away,” Borchardt added. “It is important to pay attention to the mechanical systems at all times and remain proactive. A detailed walk-through can determine equipment that is left running continuously, but shouldn’t be, detect empty sections of the building with improper temperature settings and spot upcoming equipment breakdowns. Unusual grinding or squealing sounds emanating from equipment can be the precursor to an upcoming failure. In many cases, this comprehensive audit reveals a building that is using up to twice the amount of energy than is expected.”

Borchardt also emphasizes the importance of building commissioning to conform and operate the existing energy systems in line with the intended design, construction and operation of the facilities.

“It is not uncommon to uncover temperature set points that are seven to 10 degrees off intended operational guidelines, which negatively impacts energy usage and expenses,” Borchardt added. “Reviewing a building’s energy bills over the course of six months can reveal these inefficiencies.”

Existing and upcoming legislation will also significantly impact the decisions made by developers and owners planning to construct new buildings, with respect to the types of fuels and energy systems specified. These groups must determine if an all-electric building is the most viable solution to protect an asset from changes in carbon accounting processes.

Buildings that currently use fossil fuels will eventually be required to become carbon neutral and the systems and methods used to achieve those benchmarks will significantly impact the long-term value of the asset.

“An owner’s decision to take a short-term or long-term approach to the building will dictate the investment of financial resources and modifications made to the energy system,” Borchardt explained. “Replacing gas furnaces now might make sense if the property is a long-term hold, but requires a significant upfront expense. Other emerging processes might bring the building in line with upcoming energy standards. Either way, a head-in-the-sand approach will not solve the pending changes on the horizon, so we recommend staying vigilant and proactive.

Headquartered in Baltimore, MD, Energy Advisors is a customer-centric energy management, marketing, and efficiency firm providing energy solutions to utilities, private companies and residential clients. The company identifies opportunities to reduce energy-related operating expenses, offers strategies that improve environmental impact and provide financial vehicles to help implement these strategies.

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