Professional Development: Green ROI

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By Michael Jeppesen, CCIM, LEED AP, and Robert Piñon, AIA, LEED AP
Published in the November 2009 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

Robert PiñonSustainable renovations to existing facilities can raise a commercial building’s return on investment (ROI) as well as its intrinsic value by reducing operating costs and improving perception by occupants and the market. Such renovations carry benefits beyond the portfolio too; greener buildings help reduce both fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas release and benefit the environment in a host of other ways. [For more on greening the total site portfolio, see “Embracing Sustainability: Good For The Bottom Line” by Lee Kaufman, October 2009.]

However, renovations need not be all encompassing or cost prohibitive. It is possible to find sustainable efficiencies by doing relatively simple analyses of lighting systems and mechanical systems. A comprehensive approach would involve commissioning a complete analysis of the building’s operating characteristics by a third-party consultant who could formulate a sustainable program for the building.

Consider a 30 year old 100,000 square foot building near downtown Salt Lake City, UT. A consultant conducted a walk-through of the building and noticed T12 fluorescent lamps with magnetic ballasts (common area lighting that remained on for 24 hours a day) and an antiquated mechanical system. The consultant recommended changing the lighting fixtures to T8 lamps with electronic ballasts. The new lamps and ballasts use 20% to 30% less power while emitting 20% to 25% more light. Another easy change involved installing sensors on the common area lights, allowing them to adjust to available daylight. Finally, the consultant specified a mechanical system overhaul, which would involve replacing the basic equipment with a modern, energy efficient unit and tightening up the ventilation system.

After incentives, the cost for the lighting upgrade was just over $30,000 while the mechanical system upgrade cost nearly $150,000. The ROI for installing new lighting was 27%, while the ROI for the mechanical upgrade was nearly 9%. The client realized annual operating cost savings of $21,000. The increase in the building’s capitalized value from upgrades was nearly a quarter of a million dollars, or conservatively a 25% cash on cash return.

Because these improvements increase the building value more than the improvements cost, they are very strategic, especially if the organization is preparing for disposition or refinancing with the intention of holding the building for the long term. As part of an analysis, facility managers (fms) should pencil out costs and payback times.

Generally speaking, any facility older than about 10 years might benefit from an analysis of its lighting and mechanical systems. These buildings often use T12 fluorescent lamps and oversized mechanical systems.

For fms who don’t want to replace mechanical systems, it is often possible to find measurable efficiencies in existing systems through the exercise of building commissioning. This involves retaining a third-party consultant to make sure all components are working properly.

Frequently, it turns out that efficiency features have been turned off over the years. In other cases, it may be possible to replace certain components, such as condensing units and fans, with more efficient models.

Steps directly related to building operation and maintenance can also yield substantial green savings. For instance, janitorial operations that take place during the evening and require those crews to turn on all the lights can be shifted to daytime cleaning. The janitorial company would then be required to use ultra-quiet backpack vacuum cleaners and work around the employees. Not only would the employees be happy to see the space being cleaned, but they may also like being able to make custom cleaning requests.

The cleaning crew, meanwhile, would enjoy seeing and realizing that employees appreciate what the cleaning crew does. As the two groups grew more engaged with each other, the crews may work harder, employees might be happier, and the lights would stay off at night.

The LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EB: O&M) provides a set of building performance standards connected to sustainable operations in buildings that are not undergoing renovation. While intended to be used by fms to earn one or another level of LEED certification, the system also provides a wealth of sustainable best practices that can boost operational and maintenance efficiencies whether or not the facility is eventually certified.

LEED best practices fall into six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor air quality (IAQ), and innovation in operations.

Considering these LEED best practices in order, sustainable site management techniques find few opportunities in densely built urban settings. A new building might employ a roof garden to reduce run off and insulate against the heat of summer to cut cooling expenses. But existing downtown buildings are, well, set in concrete.

On the other hand, it is almost always possible to manage water more efficiently. Strategies might include collecting storm water and filtering it for use in flushing toilets. Water efficient urinals and toilets as well as sensors on restroom sinks have become increasingly common water management techniques.

LEED energy and atmosphere best practices cover energy efficient lighting; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems (HVAC); and third-party commissioning or re-commissioning. These systems are the low hanging fruit of a LEED-based ROI makeover.

Today’s energy efficient lamps and fixtures can slash electricity costs. Combining energy efficient lighting with sensors tied into lighting controls can save even more. A system equipped with motion sensors can turn the lights out when a room is vacated. Lighting level sensors can signal the lighting controls to adjust light levels to take full advantage of natural daylight from the windows.

Most of the major heating and air conditioning manufacturers have come out with more energy efficient systems that will save energy if selected to fit the building. Specification methods for HVAC systems have evolved as well.

In the past, engineers sized systems to handle the hottest and coldest days of the year (along with some extra capacity to handle unusually hot and cold spells). Consequently, peak loads were frequently overestimated, resulting in increased energy use due to inefficiencies at low, part load operation. Today, the trend is toward modeling and right sizing systems by feeding hour by hour temperature records into a modeling application designed to calculate precise heating and cooling requirements.

Once the appropriate lighting and HVAC systems have been specified and installed, the challenge becomes ensuring that the system operates efficiently. Third-party consultants provide objective commissioning services that tune up and balance building systems so they operate as efficiently as possible. Commissioning entails calibrating building controls such as thermostats and occupancy sensors and setting system schedules so equipment operates only when necessary. To keep the system tuned, periodic re-commissioning procedures follow these steps. Along the way, technicians can repair leaks that may have developed and clean heat exchanger tubes, when necessary. These best practices cut operating costs and can work to lower costs during hard times.

Other LEED best practices won’t cut operating costs, but they can help with marketing the facility and improving an organization’s standing within the community. In today’s environment, buildings that advertise the use of sustainable materials (such as carpets, paints, and other finishes that don’t off gas) have an advantage over those that lack these environmentally sensitive qualities. The same holds true for other sustainable techniques including energy efficient lighting and HVAC systems.

Often overlooked is that sustainable buildings can help boost productivity. In one warehouse building, for example, the installation of T8 fluorescent lamps (compared to existing metal halide fixtures) reduced eyestrain and allowed employees to select the correct stock keeping unit (SKU) more quickly and safely.

Finally, fms should not assume that a small measure like turning the lights off at night is too little to matter. Reduced operating costs and increased employee satisfaction come from the accumulation of dozens of small ideas as well as a handful of big ideas including energy efficient roofing materials and renovations to the lighting and mechanical systems. The cumulative value of all sustainable changes is what counts.

Overall, such changes can produce a measurable increase in, and preservation of, building value. In this challenging economy, the importance of these measures can not be emphasized enough.

Jeppesen works for Innovision Property Group LLC in Salt Lake City, UT. Also based in Salt Lake City, Piñon is an associate principal for MHTN Architects, Inc.

To discuss some of your experiences in real time, come to FacilityBlog; to comment on this article, send an e-mail to [email protected]; for past Professional Development columns, visit this link.

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