Improving the Resiliency of New Hampshire’s Buildings

By Bryan Dwyer, Energy Efficiency Program Coordinator

energy audit

Resilient is an appropriate word to describe the people of New Hampshire. We have a history of being able to adapt to change. This mentality allows us to thrive in the environment that we call home. There are many external factors that challenge us, whether it is the shoestring budget provided to meet the needs of a town, our fields of granite in between which we grow our gardens or the weather in March and April when winter continues to reject spring’s advances. Common sense, innovation, and stubbornness can combat these forces from breaking us. This mentality is resiliency.

While there is no question about the resiliency of our people, it is time to address the resiliency of our buildings. While stubbornness and the mentality of “This is the way we have always done it, so why change?” can help us plow through life, I suggest that we focus on common sense and innovation when we consider the resiliency of our buildings. The reality is that many of our homes, offices and municipal buildings were not built to address the current expectations of energy performance or comfort. An extra cold winter or an extra hot summer can lead to operating costs skyrocketing and discomfort for the inhabitants. What if there were cost-effective, common sense and innovative actions that can be taken to address these operating costs?

Resilient Buildings Group

If skyrocketing operating costs and occupant discomfort are something you struggle with, Resilient Buildings Group (RBG) can provide cost-effective, common-sense solutions to fix these problems. RBG is a for-profit company originally formed as a subsidiary of The Jordan Institute, a nonprofit entity with a mission to advance public, environmental, and economic health by improving energy performance and resiliency in how buildings are designed, built, renovated, operated, and financed.  RBG takes a comprehensive approach to your project. We provide customized consulting services to reduce your energy costs, improve the comfort and durability of your building, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As a third-party, we do not endorse specific products or services. Although the Jordan Institute has since dissolved, RBG remains mission-driven to find comprehensive, integrated, cost-effective solutions for each client and each building.

In pursuit of our mission, Resilient Buildings Group offers an array of services. Among them are benchmarking, energy audits and commissioning/retro-commissioning. A wise first step in any energy efficiency plan is to contact your local utility. Oftentimes, these services are fully or partially funded through the NHSaves program.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking is a great first step to data-driven decision making for energy efficiency. Benchmarking averages multiple years of energy usage and the costs associated with operating a building. The calculations produce the building’s Energy Use Intensity (EUI), which is how much energy the building consumes per square foot, and its Cost Use Intensity (CUI), which is the operating cost per square foot. These calculations and others can be compared to similar buildings locally and nationwide. Benchmarking allows decision-makers to easily see buildings that need attention. Benchmarking before and after a project allows you to see the real-world savings and provides you an accurate return on investment.  Benchmarking can also be used when a building is approaching the end of its life and a case needs to be made to seek funding for a replacement.

Energy Audits

The buildings identified as weak performers by the bench-marking calculations are ideal candidates for energy audits. Resilient Buildings Group performed over 25 municipal energy audits in 2019. An energy audit includes an assessment, analysis and action plan that describes the current conditions in your building and guides you to make cost savings and comfort improvements. Diagnostic tools are used, such as a blower door test, which determines how “leaky” a building is. ”Leaky” buildings allow excess conditioned air to escape outside, in other words, it contributes to how much you are spending to heat or cool the outdoors. No one would purposely have their furnace blasting while their front door or a window are wide open, but when you add up all the places where air is leaking in a building, you can have the same equivalent. Thermal imaging cameras can pinpoint problem areas not seen by the naked eye. The follow-up action plan of energy efficiency measures is based on your concerns and wishes, aided-by the results from our analysis, energy use, building science, health and safety issues and our expertise to make your building more cost-efficient, comfort-able, safe and resilient.  Audits provide tangible next steps that the building owner can either fix themselves or contract out to implement.

Commissioning and Retro-Commissioning

All the various systems involved in operating a building are similar to if each part of your car was made and installed by a different car manufacturer. I don’t know about you, but I would want someone familiar with all the parts to test it out before I take it for a spin. This is similar to how commissioning works. As a commissioning agent, Resilient Buildings Group is an independent third-party who has no vested interest in selling equipment. Our goal is to eliminate energy waste from your building so it performs the way it should. Commissioning is the process of verifying and optimizing mechanical (HVAC), plumbing, electrical, building envelope, renewable energy, lighting, controls, and other systems to achieve proper operation and maximum efficiency as intended by the building owner and as designed by the architects and engineer. Retro-commissioning is the methodical process of documenting existing systems to be fixed by qualified tradespeople. Fresh eyes and perspective are crucial to optimize the operation of your building.

Case Study - Nelson, NH

The town of Nelson wanted to reduce the energy usage in their municipal buildings.  Given the age and condition of the buildings, they pursued an extensive weatherization project consisting of improving the insulation and air-sealing and thus reducing the ‘leakiness’ of the buildings.  This is a wise first step because you may purchase highly efficient equipment but if you put it in a ‘leaky’ building then you will not realize the potential savings. 

Town of Nelson

The contractor for the project reached out to RBG for technical assistance.  The technical assistance included modeling energy efficiency measures for the buildings, calculating energy savings and the payback timeline for the project.  The project resulted in a 50% reduction in the town’s use of fossil fuels to heat the buildings.  Funding for 50% of the project’s weatherization and 100% technical assistance was provided through NHSaves. 

A year later, after the weatherization project was completed, the town reached out to RGB again to pursue technical assistance as they sought to move completely to electrical heating sources powered primarily through solar energy.  RBG calculated the size of the heat pumps necessary to both warm and cool the buildings and collaborated with the solar installation company to make sure the array would provide enough energy for the heat pumps and other loads of the buildings.  At the request of town officials to inform voters, a representative from RGB made a presentation to the public to explain the work that had been completed and to inform the townsfolk of the long-term savings.  This technical assistance was again partially funded through NHSaves. 

Dave Upton the chair of the Nelson Select Board shared his experience working with Dana Nute, the president of RBG and the rest of the team:

We have been extremely pleased with the services provided to the Town of Nelson by Dana Nute and Resilient Buildings Group. Through his efforts, the town has received rebates covering one half of the cost of our building weatherization projects and 100% of the costs of the engineering study that Dana and RBG completed for us. Dana has always made himself available to present the results of his work to the members of our Nelson's Town Buildings Committee and to the community in public meetings, even when the program runs late into the evening at a location a long way from his home.

The members of the Nelson Select Board and the Nelson Town Buildings Committee appreciate the good work that Dana has done on our behalf and look forward to working with him as we continue to develop and promote projects addressing energy efficiency and renewability.

Next Steps - Contact Resilient Buildings Group

Resilient Buildings Group (info@ resilientbuildingsgroup.com, (603) 226-1009) is prepared to collaborate with you on your energy efficiency needs and to help create more resilient buildings in New Hampshire. We have a small, dedicated team based in Concord, who have worked with over 75 clients, in 10 states and have completed over 250 projects. Our vision is a region in which new and existing structures become resilient, high-performance buildings: energy efficient, comfortable, durable, cost-effective to operate, healthy, and safe.

Contact NHSaves

NHSaves is a collaborative of the state’s utilities providers with the purpose, according to the NHSaves.com website, to “Save energy, reduce costs, and protect our environment state-wide”. Municipal, commercial, and residential customers are eligible to participate. The NHSaves program provides equipment rebates, as well as funding, financing, and technical services for energy-efficient new construction and retrofit projects but it is imperative to contact them early in the process to ensure the greatest amount of savings.

NH Saves Chart

Bryan Dwyer is Energy Efficiency Program Coordinator with the Resilient Buildings Group (RBG) based in Concord, New Hampshire.  Bryan can be reached by phone at 603.226.1009 ext 202, or cell phone 603.748.0935, or via email at bdwyer@resilentbuildings-group.com. RBG provides customized consulting services to reduce your energy costs, improve the comfort and durability of your building, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As a third-party RBG does not endorse specific products or services. RBG is mission driven to find comprehensive, integrated, cost-effective solutions for each client and each building.