Energy Efficient Building Management

As campuses complete their greenhouse gas inventories most conclude their buildings are the greatest consumer of energy and generate the greatest climate impact.

Energy efficient management in the existing stock of buildings is the single biggest action a campus can take to be more sustainable and should be the first action.

The following links go to sections that describe how an energy buildings management and maintenance program may fit into your climate action plans.

Some estimates suggest energy management and maintenance programs can reduce energy use in individual buildings as much as 40%. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) publishes a rule of thumb that operation and maintenance (O&M) programs targeting energy efficiency can save 5%–20% on energy bills with little capital investment at all.

Adding savings across the entire campus can keep total energy consumption flat even as new facilities are brought online as the campus continues to grow.

Energy conservation measures have financial return and significant energy and carbon reductions can result from an energy conservation portfolio with a payback of 5 years or less. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Energy efficient building management should be the first step toward climate neutrality
  • Meter buildings separately in order to identify the greatest opportunities
  • Focus on the big energy users: laboratory buildings and data centers
  • Engage your industrial hygienists to re-evaluate ventilation standards
  • Shut off HVAC service to unused spaces.

Energy efficient building management does not comprise a single project. Instead, it must be a continuous effort that becomes a way of doing business and forms a keystone of a campus climate action plan.


Campus facilities managers have many options for maintenance and energy management programs:

  • Continuous maintenance and commissioning

    Building systems require regular, thorough maintenance to operate efficiently. Today, diagnostic tools are available to identify system components that are operating inefficiently and need attention. The term "continuous commissioning" refers to a process of using diagnostic software in digital building automation systems to prompt service and recalibration. This strategy aims to leverage limited maintenance resources.

    If the resources are available, financing and managing an energy efficiency program with in-house staff can provide the greatest return on investment. This is because all the savings of the program remain with the building owner and dedicated staffs develop institutional knowledge of buildings that is extremely effective in maintenance and troubleshooting. One good resource for in-house programs is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star Building Upgrade Manual.

  • Retro-commissioning

    Older buildings or ones that have not been properly maintained will benefit from a more extensive retro - commissioning effort. This process involves checking all energy equipment and controls in a building to make sure they are functioning as specified, replacing inefficient components, and recalibrating controls. Components such as airflow devices should be checked in all laboratories greater than 10 years old because these devices are likely obsolete and operating outside of their design ranges. Parameters including ventilation rates, space temperatures, and occupancy schedules should be reevaluated as space use may have changed since the building opened. Finally, retro-commissioning should also involve an assessment of current space use.

    Labs21 publishes a technical bulletin to help campus managers fine-tune building performance titled Retro-Commissioning Laboratories for Energy Efficiency.

  • Energy savings performance contracts

    Some organizations do not have the resident expertise to upgrade energy systems to meet overarching efficiency goals. For these campuses, a good alternative is to hire a professional company to undertake this work through an energy savings performance contract. Usually, such contracts are structured so that savings on energy bills pay for upgrades.

    One of the best resources on how to set up and organize energy savings performance contracts is the U.S. Department of Energy Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP). FEMP also publishes online a series of case studies about performance contracts.

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Considerations for Buildings Management and Maintenance

Before undertaking a buildings maintenance and energy efficiency management program, a research campus should ask these questions:

Is an energy management and maintenance program right for your campus?

  • Do you operate buildings that are greater than 5 years old?
  • Does the campus pay O&M costs for its buildings?
  • Need short-term return on investment?

Buildings Greater Than 5 Years Old

It takes continuous maintenance to keep any building tuned and operating efficiently. Nevertheless, it is understandable that many facilities managers believe that only older buildings require attention and the newer buildings operate more efficiently. The fact is that modern buildings, particularly laboratory buildings, include robust HVAC systems and complex controls, and control systems begin to drift from first occupancy of the building and always migrate toward lower efficiency and higher energy use. After 5 years a building will benefit from a thorough recalibration of its controls.

Pay for O&M

Campus management is generally responsible for the total ownership cost of a building although the tendency is to divide cost allocations between multiple departments. Investment in energy conservation and preventative maintenance can have a high rate of return in the form of reduce energy costs. Collaboration among departments is necessary to avoid falling into the trap of "multiple pockets" where one department pays for maintenance while another sees the benefits of energy efficiency.

Need Short-Term Return on Investment

Few campus climate actions can offer a better payback on investment than good energy management and maintenance. It is not unusual for specific actions such as lighting upgrades and control calibration to have simple payback periods as short as 2 years. A broader package of energy conservation work can be assembled to have a payback of 3–5 years, depending on your energy reduction goals and required return on investment.

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Leading Example: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) comprises a campus with several buildings with 532,602 ft2 floor space in Seattle, Washington. The facility was built from 1990 to 2004 and has won numerous awards for energy efficiency because of its original design but also because of its ongoing energy efficiency programs. For example, FHCRC staffs recommission all air-handlers, controls, and energy consuming equipment every two years in partnership with the controls system provider, Siemens Building Technology.

Campus maintenance is managed full time by a team of three professionals. In 2000, for example, this team performed more than 1,500 preventative maintenance operations. The energy performance of campus buildings is the subject of a Labs-21 case study titled Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington.

Other examples of campuses with good maintenance and energy management programs include the following.

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