Newer buildings tend to be designed to be ‘green’, but what about older existing buildings, which still represent the largest share of environmental impact? There is more work to be done in the retrofit sector; and improving environmental performance of older buildings often involves ‘deep retrofits’ that are costly and impact multiple factors inside a building.

In the COVID-19 era, there is also growing concern about needs such as circulating outside air, increasing humidity, and improving filtration systems even as older buildings seek to become greener. The consistent theme is a need to work toward better-designed, more energy efficient and healthier buildings. 

Healthier Buildings for a Greener Future

If you layer infrastructure issues with the new health challenges, it raises the issue to a higher level"

If you layer infrastructure issues with the new health challenges, it raises the issue to a higher level,” said Tony Cupido, Research Chair, Sustainability at Mohawk College, adding “You will see a greater need to provide health and wellness as we move forward.”

Cupido was among the panelists at a ‘Healthier Buildings for a Greener Future’ Virtual Summit sponsored by Armstrong Fluid Technology. The discussion centered around the various aspects of “deep retrofits,” how to pay for such improvements and how to measure success.

Balancing health features with energy-efficiency

Achieving healthy and green buildings might involve working at cross purposes. “When we think about healthy buildings, we are seeing recommendations that tend to increase the energy needs of the buildings,” said Marta Schantz, Senior Vice President, Greenprint Center for Building Performance, Urban Land Institute, adding “For example, a better filtration system might require a more powerful motor to offset the added drag.

 “In order to be both healthy and energy efficient, there are creative strategies,” said Schantz, adding “We should be thoughtful about how sensors and other technologies can address the challenge of balancing healthy features with energy-efficient features.

Deep retrofits

Deep retrofits are more complex from an engineering standpoint, especially when compared to other green issues such as LED lighting. Paving the way for more deep retrofits can include reining in that complexity by creating prefabricated or ‘canned’ solutions that are easier to implement,” said Peter Thomsen, Director/Global – Building System Solutions, Armstrong Fluid Technology.

An obstacle to deep retrofits is lack of information about what technologies are available. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” said Schantz. The second obstacle is financing. One approach is to ‘bundle’ multiple projects to improve building performance, such as combining a fast-payback project (e.g., lighting) with a longer- (and larger-) payback project such as an air handling system.

Another approach is to create pay-as-you-go models and/or ‘energy efficiency as a service’ plans that help to make the expenditures and budgeting more manageable. A step-by-step approach can achieve energy savings that will pay for each successive step.

Efficiency of Building management systems

Occupants of buildings today have a better understanding and are more informed through better technology"

New metering, intelligence and transparency capabilities of building management systems can yield metrics and measurable results that can drive return-on-investment (ROI) considerations. Metrics also drive useful comparisons with other buildings in the same peer group, thus inspiring best practices to achieve better results compared to buildings of the same size and type.

Occupants of buildings today have a better understanding and are more informed through better technology,” said Cupido, adding “It will become even better over time as AI (artificial intelligence) looks at the pieces and fixes it themselves.

Widening scope of AI integration

Better understanding equates to more buy-in by building occupants. “They are not only becoming more informed, but are more likely to buy into the technology,” said Schantz, adding “The long-term success depends on it. Everyone needs to be bought into the technologies to ensure long-term success, both on the health and wellness side, and the energy efficiency side.

A holistic approach is needed when planning deep retrofits, and care should be taken to ‘right-size’ the equipment by taking into account design changes that can lower system requirements.

Advent of new building systems

Designers should resist the temptation to ‘bulk up’ systems to exceed minimum requirements. For example, when specifying a rooftop unit, engineers should factor in any efficiency gains they have achieved by using tighter windows, LED lighting or other factors.

Building owners face a learning curve in relation to new systems"

The idea is that you don’t replace it directly, but right-size it to the new requirements,” said Schantz, adding “Building owners face a learning curve in relation to new systems, and new building systems are “almost like a computer. It’s no longer a case of just turning building systems on and off. There is a risk that the building operations team does not know how to run the equipment.

Avoiding data overload

Schantz further said, “Technology will not run as intended if it is not operated properly. It loses some of its value. The building operations staff needs to stay up to date and know how to operate the equipment. 

Peter Thomsen concludes, “One pitfall is to overwhelm building operators with too much data. “Data overload is too much and, as leaders, we need to avoid that.

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