Services & Maintenance: Think Outside The Box

The building envelope can offer substantial energy savings opportunities for commercial properties by taking a comprehensive and holistic approach

Hidden in plain sight, substantial energy savings opportunities can be found in the most visible part of any commercial property — the building envelope. Improving the building envelope can reduce air leakage, increase insulation levels, and enhance air quality. These improvements can lead to substantial energy savings opportunities easily visible to everyone.

Facility managers (FMSs) check every building system to make sure everything runs correctly. They’re constantly looking for problems, like broken HVAC, lighting, or roof issues. They also watch for problems outside the building, like doors and curtain walls that aren’t operating well. But, usually, they only pay a little attention to this until there’s a problem. This is called “end-of-life” maintenance, and it’s only done every 10 to 20 years.

This is a natural mindset since the building envelope is affected by things FMS can’t control (like the weather). As a result, building components are often seen as capital expenses instead of operational items. But giving up on the exterior is a lost opportunity. Instead, FMS improves operations by taking the same approach to the building envelope used for systems and operations. This means targeting problems with a comprehensive, holistic approach that includes the exterior of the building.

From The Roof On Down

As the first line of defense against the elements, the roof is a logical first place to look for energy and efficiency improvements. Unfortunately, people usually have to replace the roof every 10 to 20 years because it is starting to leak. However, leaving the roof to fend for itself without proactive maintenance can cut its lifespan in half.

On the other hand, repairs or improvements can extend a roof’s lifespan by about as much as replacing it. Also, finding weaknesses early can reduce moisture problems or air leaks, which account for about 25% of commercial buildings’ energy loss. Many people think an aging roof needs to be replaced, but research suggests that 50% of roofs do not need to be replaced. For example, project leaders thought a new roof was necessary because the old one needed replacement. However, using current forensic diagnostics technologies, roofing experts discovered that strategic repairs could extend the life and improve the roof’s performance.

Savings Under the Eaves

Of course, what’s beneath the roof counts, too. Curtain walls, doors, and windows account for 35%, 15%, and 10% of a building’s energy loss. Simple measures like caulking and weatherstripping are easy, popular ways to control energy loss in many areas around a building. Yet, infrequently used areas like emergency exits should be considered in the quest for energy savings.

Areas where air loss is a severe problem, like New York’s skyscrapers, show how vulnerable they are. The renovation of one of these buildings showed how much light could get in when the radiators were removed and cleaned. The team was shocked to find daylight peeking through gaps in the brick walls where the radiators had been. An estimated 50% of the heated air generated by the radiators had been escaping through these gaps. Had this critical discovery been made earlier, the building’s owners could have avoided significant energy expenses.

With building diagnostics available today, it is not necessary to take the building apart to find sources of air loss. Additionally, with tracking technologies available today, it is much easier to identify areas of energy waste in the building.

With sensors and thermoscans, diagnostics technology can see heat loss and moisture issues in more detail than the naked eye. For example, a NASA-grade infrared fly-over roof survey can see temperature changes down to one-hundredth of a degree. This enables FMS to find air leaks and mitigate mold, mildew, and moisture. Pressurizing curtain walls and windows to test for air leakage can also indicate what percentage of air is escaping through cracks in the façade or leaks around the corners of windows.

Experienced builders will know when to use advanced tools and how to evaluate them to make the most of them. They will also make recommendations to improve the return on investment.

Data ROI: Benefits Of Thorough Analysis

It’s like getting a blood test or MRI scan before seeing the doctor. This comprehensive pre-build assessment lets you decide whether to improve the building envelope or replace parts. It provides a reliable baseline assessment and removes the need for costly guesswork, saving you time and money.

Many analyses will reveal areas that require immediate action. It is no secret that fixing a broken façade on an enormous building, recaulking every window on a skyscraper, or repairing or replacing the roof are costly endeavors. Knowing vulnerabilities and acting while problems are minor, rather than responding after they have become full-fledged emergencies, can have several benefits.

Energy Savings

The building envelope, which accounts for 40% of a building’s energy use, is a crucial vulnerability. Identifying and strengthening vulnerabilities is an excellent way to reduce energy loss and improve efficiency. For example, a facility management team recently replaced a high-efficiency air conditioning system with a new, more efficient system. Additionally, an infrared scan showed that the roof needed more insulation. But if the building had been cooled with a smaller air conditioning unit, the roof wouldn’t have been a problem.

Improving the building envelope can reduce the need for air conditioning by 20% to 30%. Additionally, when the building skin is more efficient, all related heating and cooling systems become more efficient.

Budget Benefits

FMSs can achieve operational budget goals with more information, like budget forecasts and capital planning. This difference is essential for tax reporting. Plus, it’s cheaper to fix something immediately than to buy new materials or start over after a disaster.

More Informed Facility Management

FMS use better information to do their jobs better. This means they spend less time fixing things and more time making decisions. As a result, a problem in the envelope can be addressed early rather than becoming a costly emergency. To plan a monitoring program, FMS can do the following.

  • Take a comprehensive inventory of individual building envelope components
  • Perform diagnostics and surveys of the building, or an entire building portfolio, with aerial infrared scanning
  • Qualify the results with an expert in building envelope diagnostics
  • Analyze the financial implications of the survey findings and remediation strategies
  • Develop a condition-based maintenance plan rather than replacing components according to their estimated lifespans
    Measure and evaluate results

Working with an engineering and consulting company can help with an objective analysis. The more accurate the monitoring, the more value FMS and other stakeholders will see in energy savings and business decisions. Adopting a comprehensive approach to energy and water can lead to discoveries that the roof and related components don’t need to be replaced, which benefits everyone.

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