It’s less expensive to retrofit an older building to make it energy efficient than it is to invest in new construction

You can’t get around the numbers. Buildings consume about 40 percent of all generated energy in the United States alone. Of that consumption, 32 percent is for building heating and cooling.

The average age of an office building in the United States is about half a century – 49.83 years. Mixed-use buildings have an average age of 75 years. It’s easy to think that these ages make for excessive energy inefficiency, but a building doesn’t have to be brand-new to be efficient. It just needs to be retrofitted with newer technology.

Drastic reductions

Forbes magazine reports that simply installing energy efficient LED lighting can help building managers dramatically lower energy consumption. It highlights the example of the Liberty Tower in Dayton, Ohio, which was built 85 years ago. All of the building’s interior lights are being replaced with LEDs, which is expected to use 60 percent less energy than the old lighting systems.

It’s possible that the retrofit will save even more. The new LED lights can be dimmed to compensate for natural light, or when spaces are unoccupied. According to Forbes, retrofitting buildings of this age is the only viable alternative for energy reduction. Lighting often accounts for 20 percent to 30 percent of a building’s energy costs.

Return on investment

Currently, about 86 percent of expenditures on building in the United States are focused on the renovation of existing structures. It’s estimated to be about 150 billion square feet. The focus on renovating and retrofitting is because it can often be accomplished for a lower cost than construction of a new building.

HVAC and lighting are the most common areas to upgrade. These offer the most operational savings once the retrofit pays for itself. Some building owners and managers are looking at additional steps to cut energy costs. They’re heading up to the roof.

Supported roofs can be covered with soil and plants, which increases insulation by protecting against solar radiation. The soil also retains water and allows heat to be carried away through evaporation. This works in conjunction with retrofitted HVAC systems to further reduce operational costs related to energy consumption.

Not an instant payoff

Retrofits of energy efficient HVAC systems offer substantial savings, as about 40 percent of the energy costs of a building are attributed to heating and cooling. You’ve probably had one in your home for years, but the majority of commercial buildings haven’t switched to programmable thermostats.

This is mainly due to the expense involved. Replacing the original pneumatic thermostats often requires replacing the wiring in walls and ceilings as well. Labor costs and tenant disruption can mean a cost of thousands of dollars per thermostat. That could mean a retrofit payback that might take years.

But when that payback is reached, the operating costs are substantial. It’s a long-term operational cost savings investment that also improves occupant well-being and comfort.

There’s also the factor of cultural heritage and significance. Many commercial and multiuse buildings provide architectural value to their surroundings. Retrofitting them allows cities to retain local personality and identity with refurbished interiors that are brought up to current standards.

Help from the government

The federal Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy offers resources to help building owners and managers. These retrofit guides were created to help owners and building managers plan for office buildings, retail structures, grocery stores, schools, and health care facilities.

Guides can be downloaded as PDF publications. The guide for office buildings, for example, includes planning guidance for small office buildings as well as structures larger than 100,000 square feet. There are even calculation tables to help you determine financial payback metrics.

The U.S. Department of Energy also supplements these guides with instructional videos that offer even more insight into the benefits of retrofitting existing buildings with newer technology to make them more energy efficient.

It’s the right thing to do. There’s nothing wrong with the building itself. Many have been around for 50 years or longer, and can easily last that long again. All they need are interior upgrades that take advantage of new technology. Contact us today to learn how we can help give your existing building a new lease on an energy efficient life by retrofitting your HVAC system.