With winter in full swing, all of a sudden energy efficiency is jumping to the top of the list of major concerns for facility managers and building administrators. Few aspects of a building’s operation cost as much as power consumption, and if you aren’t proactive, you’re likely to find yourself facing some enormous utility bills.
If you’re spending too much on energy, you may be tempted to go straight for your HVAC system or retrofit your lighting solution – both of which can be costly endeavors. Before you dip into your capital budget, there’s another place you should look that may be significantly impacting your building’s efficiency: its exterior.
Look outside to improve efficiency inside
Inspecting your building’s exterior may seem like a roundabout way of lowering energy costs, but it makes sense when you consider the effect that external repairs can have on your HVAC system. It’s a simple equation: The harder your HVAC has to work, the more money its operation will cost you and the greater the chance that it will break down and require repairs or replacements sooner. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions reported that 34 percent of energy costs in the commercial sector are due to on-site energy use – a significant fraction of an already big number. Anything you can do to reduce the strain on your heating and air conditioning can pay big dividends in energy savings.
Here are some common exterior elements to consider in your energy-saving quest:
In general, windows are less energy-efficient than walls because they lack insulation, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. On top of that, any cracks, fissures or gaps between the window and the fenestration will let outside air in while releasing the climate-controlled air from your building, essentially rendering the efforts of your HVAC system moot. Given the fact that commercial buildings tend to have a large number of windows, this should be among your first stops when you’re inspecting your building exterior.
Start with checking the window frames for any gaps between the panes and the frame, or the frame and the wall. Any gaps that are larger than one-quarter inch should be caulked immediately, as those windows are doing nothing but venting climate-controlled air to the outside world.
The window panes themselves are an important factor too. You should know your windows’ U-factor – the measure of how much solar heat gain or loss it allows. The higher the U-value, the less efficient the windows. You can reduce solar heat gain with window coverings, but there’s also non-solar heat loss that occurs as a result of the difference in external and internal temperatures. The U.S. Department of Energy indicated that this heat loss is more significant in the winter due to larger temperature disparities, so now is the perfect time to tackle this problem.
“Poorly insulated buildings are a huge drain on energy.”
Another of the most important building components when it comes to managing your energy efficiency is the building envelope. This spans the whole facility and serves to insulate the exterior elements from the interior climate. According to the International Energy Agency, building envelopes are projected to be a serious part of future efficiency plans. The agency reported that between now and 2050, building envelopes alone are expected to conserve around six exajoules worth of power – roughly equal to the current energy output of the entire United Kingdom.
So how can you ensure that your building envelope is working for you and not against you? The tighter your building’s envelope, the more efficient it will be. A tight envelope has few gaps that can allow air to escape, or let encroaching outside air in. Similarly, consider your building’s insulation. Ultimately, the important statistic is a given insulation’s R-value. This is a measure of its heat resistance, and the higher this figure is, the better it will perform. Poorly insulated buildings are a huge drain on energy. This applies to more than just your walls – floors and ceilings can also be sources of heat loss. While you can get temporary reprieve from un-insulated stone or marble floors by placing a carpet down, you’ll ultimately want to have your building envelope inspected by the building professionals at Clean & Polish Building Solutions to determine what repairs need to be made.