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Whole-Building Retrofits

Buildings are the greatest energy consumers on any campus, and most campus managers work hard to keep operations and maintenance (O&M) costs in check. As buildings age, O&M costs reach the point where they are best addressed through a top-to-bottom renovation.

The following links go to sections that describe how whole building retrofits may fit into your climate action plans.

A whole-building renovation can be distinguished from smaller-scale energy conservation and maintenance projects by a replacement of the building HVAC system, which is a major investment. The renovation may also involve replacing electrical distribution, lighting, fire protection, plumbing, and security systems.

A renovation also offers the opportunity to consider architectural alterations to better align a building with its current function. This is the right time to consider improvements to the envelope such as window replacements and exterior wall insulation. Renovations are costly and disruptive, but they are the best way to adapt an aging structure to better meet occupant needs and significantly reduce energy use.

Considerations for Whole-Building Retrofits

Before undertaking an assessment of whole-building retrofits, a research campus should ask these questions:

Are whole-building retrofits right for your campus?
  • Are building renovations planned?
  • Are buildings more than 10 years old?
  • Are you behind on maintenance?

Plan Building Renovations

A complete renovation that includes architectural changes and HVAC upgrades will present more opportunities for energy efficiency than a segmented project that is divided into phases. A project that replaces HVAC systems, particularly in a lab building, will be invasive as shaft walls and corridor ceilings are opened for access. This access to equipment makes a renovation the ideal time to consider changes that can improve efficiency.

Buildings Are More Than 10 Years Old

Some campus buildings are 100 years old or older, so many people think that structures built during the last decade operate efficiently. However, modern buildings, particularly labs, include robust HVAC systems and complex controls that lose efficiency. Off-the-shelf components such as air flow devices and building controls are constantly improving, and performance can improve significantly when these are upgraded, even in relatively new buildings.

Behind on Maintenance

Campus managers are always tempted to reduce budgets for maintenance and defer building upgrades. Eventually, constructing a new building becomes more cost effective than fixing the individual pieces of equipment.

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Leading Example: EPA National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory

Photo of a building with a stone marker in the front that says U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Vehicle Fuel Emissions Laboratory, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a large construction crane positioned over the roof.

As part of the overhaul of the EPA National Vehicle Fuel Emissions Laboratory, the ESPC contractor replaced every electric motor in the building with high-efficiency models and installed a 1200-point energy management and control system.
Courtesy of NORESCO

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, undertook a complete renovation of its facility in 2001 as part of an energy savings performance contract (ESPC) for managing its energy systems. The laboratory was originally built in 1971 and is used to test vehicles for compliance with federal emission mandates and to research fuels and high-efficiency engines.

The contract, which is worth $1 million per year, is with ESPC contractor NORESCO and runs for 22 years. The project cost is paid from guaranteed savings over the life of the contract. NORESCO invested $10.5 million at the beginning of the contract, which covered replacing the aging HVAC system and installing state-of-the-art digital controls, variable-air-volume fans on supply and exhaust ducts, energy recovery on the exhaust air stream, absorption chillers and heaters, and a 200-kilowatt fuel cell. The results:

  • Reduced annual energy cost by 60%
  • Reduced water consumption by 50%

Building performance before and after the renovation is well documented in a Labs21 case study titled, "U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory, Ann Arbor, Michigan".

Other examples of campus building retrofit projects include:

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