Energy Efficiency Strategies: Upgrading Your Building Envelope

Possibly lost in the successful crowd gathering commotion of May Day was another collection of minds. On May 1st, 2012, the Human Impacts Institute participated in the second annual Con Edison Energy Efficiency Summit. A full day of lectures and breakout sessions showcased the future of energy efficiency ranging anywhere from solar photovoltaic to variable refrigerant flow(cool!). The first breakout session focused on the “modernization of building envelope through energy efficiency”.

An introduction of the panel includes John Hannum (V.P., Israel Berger & Associates), Tony Camarota (CEO, EPOX-Z) and David Davenport (Principal, Harlem Greenfit Management). Orchestrating the discussion was moderator Ilana Judah (Int’l Ass., AIA, Director of Sustainability, FXFOWLE).

Mr. Hannum was the Holistic approach advocate. In the quest for building efficiency, he often stressed the need for integration “across the board”. A strategy that worked on one building may have an adverse impact on the next. An owner needs to take a step back and assess the project as a whole. Instead of installing only shades to combat high room temperature, inspect the boiler or cooler. Are these core systems almost due for replacement? If the time for upgrade is approaching, it may be wise to overhaul more than just windows. Coupled with this approach is the need to expand your payback period. At this point in building technology, holding your project up to a two-year return expectance is often unreasonable and a deterrent to action.

Mr. Camarota offered the advantages a simple white roof can have for your building’s efficiency. His company has recorded an average of 36% (ranging from 20-100%) in energy reduction for their customers. He touted this roof alteration as the single biggest factor in lowering costs. Primarily, this is seen with the HVAC system. When you lower the “roof temperature as much as 200 degrees in the summer”, the intake air supplying your air conditioner will be cooler. The stress for transforming this inferno into a workable temperature will be alleviated. With little to no resistance to these “cool roofs”, Mr. Camarota says this “low cost, easy appeal strategy is just good business”.

Finally, David Davenport offered the perspective of a developer. When retrofitting buildings, he sees the building envelope as the lowest hanging fruit when compared to the systems (HVAC, boiler, furnace, etc.). A strategy he’s employed over the last few years that he’s seen great results with is the installation of submeters for every tenant. This offers HVAC control and “increases the awareness of temperature”.

An interesting question posed at the end of the session was what is the greatest impediment in upgrading building envelopes. The familiar responses were offered including the trouble in getting traditional asset managers on board with an investment that comes with a minimal track record but an alternative perspective I found interesting came from Mr. Hannum. Simply, he answered “unintended consequences”. Some of these may be obvious such as what the effects a new design will have on antiquated systems but others are not so clear. Examples of this include the effect a newly sealed envelope will have on apartment doors. Will doors now slam shut? How will tinted windows affect the lighting of a room? These types of questions reflect the cascading effect one change can have on such an integrated organism as a building. It is crucial, in the retrofitting process, to acknowledge these sometimes indiscernible connections.

By Alex Turek, 2012 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Services Intern

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