Well, kind of like finding out you have great blood pressure. Or low cholesterol. It’s basically a confirmation of overall great “building health.”
You might have an idea what condition your health is in, but to know for sure, you’ve got to compare basic health readings with statistic averages for a healthy person, aka a “benchmark.” The Energy Star rating system works similarly.
Created in 1992, Energy Star is a “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency.” You’ve probably seen the Energy Star logo on appliances, but the program also encompasses homes, buildings and industrial plants. To participate, a building must submit one year of energy consumption data. That data is then categorized into 18 different building types. Achieving Energy Star designation requires performance within the top 25% of buildings of the same category.
Comparing within the same category is critical. It does no good for me, a 31 year old female, to compare my cholesterol or BMI to that of, say, an 85 year old male or an infant. Likewise, SOA’s office’s energy consumption per square foot must be compared to other offices to be a useful. Comparing our office’s consumption to a warehouse or a school, or an average of all building types, could be misleading. So Energy Star’s 18 broad categories are then broken down into 80 primary functions to “make it easy for you to identify and compare similar buildings within your portfolio.”
SOA’s office’s recent rating of 98 means we are performing within the top 2% of office buildings nationally. While that is a great score, we can’t rest on our laurels. Just like managing your health requires regular check-ups, managing a facility is also benefited by regularly reviewing energy consumption data. As Mike Boles, engineer at CM Engineering (which shares and co-designed our building), noted, monitoring our energy consumption “led us to discover that” unbeknownst to us, the manufacturer of the heat pumps built in a night setback function which changed the temperature” when the building was unoccupied.” But, Mike noted that’s not the best solution for our geothermal system. Keeping an eye on the energy data helped CM Engineering identify the problem and “tweak the setback substantially.” As we go forward with Energy Star, Mike thinks the next steps for our office building might be “optimization for the HVAC controls & monitoring of the heat pumps – See if we can level the energy load a little bit.”
The equivalent solution for an energy-hog building might be to throw some solar panels on the roof. But that strategy won’t help an Energy Star rating. The Energy Star program is only concerned with the energy efficiency of the building itself; it does not give credit to buildings that offset their consumption with wind or solar power. Of course, renewable energy and prescription drugs are important tools, but the first and cheapest step is to get a building, or a body, functioning optimally on its own.
So why should a building owner participate in Energy Star? Well, it’s like getting a physical and bloodwork done FOR FREE! An owner might find out that a building thought to be in good working order is really hemorrhaging kilowatts! Submitting to Energy Star is useful even if an owner has no interest in achieving a rating, because it gives a building owner an opportunity to take corrective action if needed. As Mike says “the more data you have, the better able you are to react.” Consulting with an architect or mechanical engineer might be the next step to help an owner prioritize the most effective remedies, like: replacing windows or light fixtures, adding insulation or window shades, or tweaking the settings on an HVAC system. If a building ends up performing within the top 25%, then the final step to achieve the Energy Star designation is a review by a design professional. This assures the building design hasn’t skirted design standards (i.e. for fresh air, light levels, occupant comfort etc.) in order to get a better score.
And if an owner finds out their building is doing great, then why not share that information with the public? Energy Star’s great video of the top 10 reasons to pursue certification lists “Connecting with Customers” as the #1 reason!