How to Make a Commercial Building More Energy Efficient
July 25, 2023
Managing a multi-use commercial space is no easy task—especially where efficiency is concerned. In the United States, commercial buildings represent nearly 16 billion square feet of floorspace and consume more than 250 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of office building energy use.
For property and facility managers, managing a building’s energy efficiency is essential. But what does running an efficient building really mean?
Let’s dig into the benefits of increased energy efficiency and how to make a commercial building more energy efficient.
Benefits of an Energy-Efficient Building
Designing energy-efficient commercial, multi-use buildings comes with three key benefits:
1. Energy efficiency saves money.
Although energy-efficient equipment can come with a higher price tag upfront, making the investment can result in lower energy bills, and therefore higher cost savings, over time.
2. Energy-efficient buildings are better for both the planet and occupants.
Energy-efficient systems can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and indoor air pollution, as they offer better ventilation and decreased power use than traditional buildings.
3. Energy-efficient systems can qualify for certain tax credits and rebates.
The Inflation Reduction Act funds multiple tax incentives to improve the energy efficiency of new and existing commercial buildings.
Features of an Energy-Efficient Building
The amount of energy a building uses depends on a variety of factors that are both controllable and not controllable. The function, use and age of a building, as well as outside temperatures, for instance, are things that can’t be changed.
But the systems within a building can. Just as all elements of a building work together to create a safe and comfortable environment for occupants, a building’s systems all play a role to increase energy efficiency.
Making updates to any of the following systems can help make commercial buildings more energy efficient.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that energy-efficient heating and cooling systems reduce energy use by 50% for electric heating and cooling and 10% for gas furnace heating systems compared to older equipment. With space heating accounting for the largest single energy end use in U.S. commercial buildings, choosing the right HVAC system can have a large impact on overall building energy use.
2. Commercial building controls
Studies show that as much as 30% of building energy consumption can be eliminated through more accurate sensing, more effective use of existing controls and deployment of advanced commercial building controls. Additionally, controls also collect valuable building data that can be used to fine-tune building operations and optimize energy use—saving time and money in the process.
For example, Rheem’s ClearControl™ control board allows building managers to easily identify and address system maintenance while also benefitting from its easy compatibility with building automation systems.
Commercial windows account for about one-third of heat loss or gain in commercial properties. That’s because inefficient windows are prone to heat loss in the winter, which increases overall heating loads, and solar heat gain in the warmer months, which results in increased cooling costs. Both scenarios mean that a building’s HVAC equipment has to expend more energy to keep the building at a comfortable temperature.
Installing National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC)-rated, low-energy windows can help reduce heat transfer. Blinds can also greatly reduce heat that is coming through, and solar screens can be installed to further block the sun’s rays from entering a commercial building.
4. Air barriers
Air barriers help control airflow and are an important piece of the energy efficiency puzzle. According to the DOE, up to 40% of the energy used to heat and cool a building is consumed due to uncontrolled air leakage.
Using a continuous air barrier can make a commercial building more energy efficient by eliminating unwanted heat loss and gain. This also helps prevent the building’s HVAC from having to work harder, and therefore reduces heating and cooling costs.
Did you know that incandescent bulbs give off 90% of their energy as heat? Switching to LED lighting will not only save energy but also help reduce a commercial building’s heat load.
Installing an efficient commercial water heater will also improve a building’s energy efficiency. Rheem’s Triton® family of high-efficiency commercial gas water heaters, for example, have a high-efficiency burner that saves on energy costs compared to standard gas water heaters.
Installing water heater blankets can also help reduce energy consumption. Water heater blankets prevent heat from water transferring to the air around it. Adding this layer of insulation can reduce standby heat losses by 25% to 45%.
Updating older appliances can make a big difference on energy efficiency. For example, a typical new refrigerator uses 75% less energy compared to a 1973 model.
In particular, look for appliances with ENERGY STAR® certification. An ENERGY STAR® label signifies that the appliance meets strict energy efficiency requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency.
To keep efficiency high, occupants must also be smart about their usage. Running washers and dryers in the heat of the day, for instance, only adds a bigger heat load to a building that the HVAC system has to work harder to remove. Instead, schedule them to run earlier or later in the day, when head loads are not as high.
When updating any building system, it’s important to partner with a manufacturer that focuses on sustainable products and keeps sustainability a priority focus during the manufacturing process to reduce the overall carbon footprint of a building. Regular maintenance is also important to keep equipment running efficiently and performing as designed.
Learn more about Rheem’s commitment to sustainability in the 2022 Sustainability Report.