March is a Good Time to Plan Ahead for Next Year’s Energy Efficiency Improvements

William A. Turner

As you read this, the risk of frozen pipes has subsided, your winter snow budget is likely used up, and at some point before July you need to ensure the air conditioning still works. Hopefully severely flooded roads won’t be part of the spring thaw and April showers.

March is the perfect time to start planning and budgeting for next winter’s energy efficiency improvements and a facility energy audit is a good first step. March is also the time to have a contractor perform infrared imaging of your facilities to determine which buildings are the highest priority for air sealing and adding insulation. If you want to solicit bids for weatherization services, it is early in the year and many contractors are looking for work opportunities. This is the time to compile your fuel and energy bills from the past year or two, because having this information will allow you to evaluate the amount of BTUs consumed per square foot within your buildings. The Energy Star benchmarking tools found at www.energystar.gov are an ideal place to start because they can help you develop a picture of how your facility performs compared to similar facilities.

Easy Steps to Take: Whether or not you participate in a program sponsored by your utility, it almost always makes economic sense to:

* Have the boiler or furnace serviced; even 1/32 inch of soot reduces efficiency.

* Have a reset control installed on the boiler to match outdoor temperatures allowing it to run more efficiently.

* Change the air filters, install a pleated filter, and change it according to manufacturer guidelines.

* Install a programmable thermostat to control the heat and AC.

* Consider a fan motor retrofit on a hot air furnace. Many older furnaces have a single speed fan. It may make sense to replace the furnace if it is old and has served its useful life.

* Eliminate incandescent light bulbs; switch T-12s to high efficiency T-8s.

* In high bays, switch to T-5s and add automatic lighting controls.

* If your building experienced a frozen pipe or pipes during the winter, now is the time to find the cold air leak that caused it. Completely air seal the gap with expanding foam to stop a cold draft from causing future damage. If pests are using the hole, filling the hole with steel wool first is ideal.

* Consider replacing old windows that may not be air tight or add interior storms if the windows are not frequently opened for ventilation.

* If a space is not frequently occupied or is rarely occupied by the maximum number of occupants, install demand control ventilation.

In March there are often utility-sponsored incentive programs offering dollars that can help you upgrade your facilities. You can learn what programs your utility offers at the New Hampshire Saves web site, www.nhsaves.com, or you may wish to speak directly with your utility’s customer service representative. There is typically funding available for both electric energy use reduction and heating improvements. Lighting retrofits are the most popular programs along with energy audits. You may also find the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency helpful, www.dsireusa.org, where incentives are tracked by state.

Other options to improve energy efficiency include retro-commissioning and continuous commissioning. If your facility is greater than five years old, your HVAC system has not been regularly maintained, or the use of the space has changed over the years, it may be cost effective to have the HVAC system retro-commissioned. This consists of a professional looking at how you currently use the space compared to its original design intention, and determining if you can reduce energy and maintenance costs by making equipment adjustments, minor modifications, or control changes.

HVAC systems in new buildings are similar to modern vehicles in that it is important to keep them operating as designed through routine maintenance and inspection. The longer equipment runs outside of factory specifications, the shorter its life expectancy and the more energy it will waste. Repairing a piece of equipment after it breaks is more costly than following a regular operation and maintenance schedule.

William A. Turner, MS, PE, is president/CEO of Turner Building Science & Design, LLC and is a Senior Vice President at The H.L. Turner Group Inc. He can be reached by email at bturner@turnerbuildingscience.com or by phone at (603)228-1122.

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