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Condos, Co-ops Save Energy with Good Studies

See more about energy assessments

An energy audit can suggest ways to achieve fast paybacks and identify potential problems in a condo or big building, whereas an investment grade “Level 2″ energy assessment can dive deeper into complex equipment such as space heating boilers or large air conditioning chillers, experts said.

Speaking at the first of Bethesda Green’s “Greening Condos” series, Rueven Walder of ecobeco and Robert Burgess of Ted Ross Consulting described two types of energy studies that condominiums, cooperatives and other multi-family residences can use to improve their utility use.

Although basic energy audits can also be tailored for single family homes, Walder described techniques employed to study larger residential buildings.

Such larger buildings have common areas that use significant amounts of energy. Lighting in common areas can often be adjusted so that the building’s electric bill is reduced.

Energy auditors look at the wattage of the common area bulbs are and how often they are on. They then make recommendations about the power level and the timing of the lighting. Walder said some lighting modifications can have paybacks periods of less than a year.

An audit can also look to see if the common areas of a building are properly pressurized.

Further, energy auditors are trained to look for air infiltration. The little gaps around older windows or the holes cut in floors for pipes often are sources of heat and air conditioning loss. Plugging these air infiltration leaks can be a cost effective way of maintaining comfort.

He also noted that a basic energy audit of a condo or co-op can raise red flags about the condition of equipment. He showed slides of rusting ducts in boilers rooms and insulation in disarray.

While fixing these problems are typically beyond the scope of a basic audit, Walder said, an audit report should point them out and recommend that the building address them.

However, a more extensive study, known as an “ASHRAE Level 2″ audit examines the more complex equipment of a building, said Burgess. “ASHRAE” stands for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

This Level 2 study identifies and develops recommendations for modifications of building systems and then reports on the proposed modifications to the decision-makers in a building in a way that will help them evaluate which, if any, modifications to proceed with.

The investment grade energy audit starts with an understanding of the goals and priorities of the building, Burgess said. Then the level 2 study reviews two years of utility bills and of the buildings blueprints or relevant drawings.

It will look at the common area heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), rooftop exhaust, electrical and domestic hot water systems.

A report would give an estimate of paybacks. In some cases where the payback is lengthy, Burgess recommended consulting the Web site dsire.org. This Web site catalogs the incentives and subsidies around the United States that could help a building defray some of the cost, thus making the project more cost effective.

Some recommendations that are often made are to install variable frequency drive electric motors. These are motors that adjust the power (and thus the energy consumption) to the task at hand. Less efficient motors either run at top speed or are turned off, thus often burning more electricity than is needed for the task at hand.

Another typical recommendation is to adjust water temperature. Burgess said that in one project a building saved $8,000 by lowering its water temperature from 140 degrees to 130 degrees in the day and 120 degrees at night by the use of a mixing valve.

He went on to say that although he works with the goals of the building in mind, an investment grade energy audit must keep building and operating codes in mind.

Burgess said that although there is an overarching description of the scope of a Level 2 audit, a building could ask for a hybrid of a Level 1 and a Level 2 audit.

He said that his pricing model for an investment grade energy audit would depend on the equipment to be studied; specifically how many building systems are to be analyzed and their characteristics.

The Level 1 energy assessment that ecobeco provides costs between $1,000 and $2,000.

The basic Level 1 energy assessment and the Level 2 investment grade energy audit are procedures that can be used in any multi-family or commercial building. However, the Bethesda Green session also presented information of specific relevance to Maryland and Montgomery County. Pepco in conjunction with Lockheed Martin has a commercial and industrial incentive program that will help fund proven energy saving modifications. Condos and co-ops can qualify under the commercial program. Also, Montgomery County soon will be announcing its multi-family energy grant program on a Web site called mcenergyfunding.com.

Further, Bethesda Green on April 6 will hold its second “Green Condo” event and cover the topic of organizing a green team in a building.


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Ted Ross Consulting

Bethesda Green