Article Date: 03/15/2013

Expert Discusses Ways to Improve the Energy Efficiency of Buildings

By Steve Rizer


When choosing ways to improve the energy performance of a building, often it is best to pick the “low-hanging fruit” first and leave the rest for later. This was one of the key takeaways from a presentation that Kelly Gearhart, founder and principal of Triple Green Building Group LLC, delivered during a webinar that WPL Publishing held last week.


A suitable time to pursue on- and off-site renewable energy options, for example, is “after you’ve done all of the low-hanging fruit, all of the easy stuff,” Gearhart said. “What I don’t recommend for our projects is to throw a solar panel or a wind turbine up on a very energy-inefficient facility. That effort and those dollars should be [invested in some of the more] fundamental areas first. [Once] you have … investigated and implemented some of these simpler opportunities, absolutely go for both on-site and off-site renewables. But, if you’re in a position where you’ve assessed your [building’s energy] performance and you see [that] you are well below the [performance of other buildings in terms of] energy use intensity …, you may have a lot of work to do before it makes sense to implement renewables on your site.”


Such low-hanging fruit can be identified during an American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Level 1 walk-through, Gearhart said. An ASHRAE Level 1 walkthrough “is very light. It’s very non-invasive. You’re looking at things like whether dampers are functioning properly. You’re looking at whether the lighting is all working, and you’re assessing the intensity of some of those systems and how well they’re functioning.”


It is important not to miss some of the opportunities for improvement that an ASHRAE Level 1 walk-through can provide, Gearhart said. “If you don’t assess the proper strategies for your facility thoroughly and you missed some of those [opportunities that can be identified via an] ASHRAE Level 1 walk-through or some of those basic things -- those fundamental things about how your building should be operating -- and you jump the gun and do something that’s more expensive and may not have the best impact, you risk over-promising and under-delivering if you don’t know the facts about what your building is doing, how it stacks up to its peers, and what its opportunities are.”


During her presentation, entitled “Improving Energy Efficiency for Existing Buildings,” Gearhart addressed a target audience of construction managers, contractors, subcontractors, developers, public and private owners, consultants, architects, engineers, and facility and property managers.


Other topics of discussion included the Energy Star Energy Tracking Tool (Version 1.0), commissioning and retrocommissioning, a “staged approach” for optimizing lighting in buildings, estimated returns on investment for green buildings, “strategies for success,” among other things.


A recording of the webinar can be purchased via the following link:



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