An energy audit is not typically something that brings the community together. The Green Building Alliance, however, is not your typical organization. This week, they brought in Cindy Bittel and Tom Cosgro of sustainability consulting firm RCx Building Diagnostics. Ruth Maust of the GBA also invited the local community to participate in the process and I was fortunate to be able to attend. Earlier this week I met with Josh Lucas of the Hardware Store to discuss whether or not an energy audit would be beneficial for our co-working space on Warrington Avenue. The timing of  the public energy audit for the GBA office space was the perfect opportunity to help aid in this decision.

Both the GBA and DECO Resources are participating in the Green Workplace Challenge, a competition created by Sustainable Pittsburgh for “local businesses and organizations save money and reduce emissions by using energy more efficiently by completing greener actions”. An energy audit is one of the recommended actions to perform on your building. Although I’ve read about energy audits and felt that I had an understanding of the process, I had never actually participated in one.

GBA

Visiting the GBA office in Southside, Pgh.

Is An Energy Audit a Good Thing?

Unlike the negative perception of an accounting audit, an energy audit is an investigation that should be welcomed into a home or commercial space. The goal of an energy audit is to measure how well a building is performing by testing the major appliances and building envelope. For example, it’s possible to determine how much heat your building is losing by looking at how well the windows are sealed. Another major consideration is how much energy is being wasted by comparing existing lighting with newer, energy-efficient bulbs and identifying how much time the lights are left on. The best way to get hard numbers on how well appliances are working is with a slew of fancy gadgets. To be sure, Bittel and Cosgro brought plenty of tools. The image below shows a few of the instruments used during the audit.

Instruments

The thermal imaging camera is arguably both the most useful and most fun of all the devices. The camera’s accuracy and precision are being tested on Cosgro in the first image below, followed by a more appropriate use of the camera in the second image by identifying a thermostat as a heat source.

Thermal Imaging 2

 

Thermal imaging 1

The RCx Building Diagnostic team walked us through the proper use of the instruments and explained each as field data was recorded. This type of hands-on measurement is typical of what their company offers as a “Level II” test. Their services, based on the ASHRAE standards, range from Level I to Level III, each including increasingly detailed amounts of data collection. The information on energy, water use, and waste is used to generate a report that prioritizes cost-saving maintenance actions.

For example, a “Level I” audit might use more generic or standardized appliance data, focus on making sure larger appliances are up to date and are the right size for their current use, and should take about half a day to complete. A “Level III” audit, on the other hand, would likely include many more on-site measurements, list calculations for individual components, and could take three days or more.

The biggest savings come from right-fitting large equipment.

While RCx might offer a different process from other companies, the goal of any audit should be to determine an approximate return on investment for any actions taken. It is also important to consider how any changes will affect the rest of the space. Low-cost and no-cost solutions should be considered first. Cosgro stated that “the biggest savings come from right-fitting large equipment.”

Before the Audit…

If you think an energy audit might be useful for your home or office, there are a few things you can do to make the process more cost effective and less time consuming. Two main drivers of cost in an audit are availability of information and the time it takes to perform testing and calculations. Therefore, it will be cheaper if you know specifically what components the auditor will want to look at. For example, we know that we have older windows at the Hardware Store and we would expect them to perform poorly. If we tell the auditor beforehand, he or she will be able to test it quickly and move on. As for other things you can do, it is most helpful to have data sheets on your large equipment or appliances like heating and cooling units, water heaters or boilers, spare light bulbs, etc. It will take more time if the auditor has to pull out a ladder and look at each individual bulb and behind each appliance. A full equipment list will make the audit go much faster. Additionally, it is helpful to know historical information like the age of appliances and what the maintenance procedures are. Typically, an auditing company will request a minimum of two years of utility billing information on electric, gas, and water.

With the information you provide and the data they collect, a sustainability consulting firm will be able to benchmark or compare your building’s performance against similar buildings. Then they will be able to provide suggestions for going forward. A professional auditing company will be able to help design and shape your corporate policy to ensure that your building is managed efficiently and effectively to minimize waste. For more information on energy audits, read more from the Green Building Alliance and visit the RCx Building Diagnostics page on GreenerPittsburgh.com.

RCxBD

A special thanks to the GBA team and RCxBD for taking their time to invite us to this event! Check back next week for more information on lighting from our interview with Barry Stolar of the LED Light Shed.