Explainer: how an energy audit can help your commercial building sing

Willow Aliento

There are a few golden rules to getting an energy audit of your mid tier or small office building.

Say you’re the owner or manager of a mid-size B Grade commercial building, or even a tenant in one. You know there are ways to save energy and improve your building’s carbon emissions, and you know it doesn’t have to cost the Earth, so to speak.

Start by thinking about your NABERS rating– the system that measures how your energy efficiency is tracking. It’s one of the most highly regarded in the commercial property world and one credited with turning around a big segment of the energy-guzzling commercial buildings of old.

  • See the NABERS website for everything you need to know about how this rating tool works

Getting a good NABERS rating can lead to better tenant retention, fewer tenant complaints,and improved wellbeing and health for everyone in the building, not to mention the value of a better reputationfor your building brand.

And that’s before we get onto lower costs because of the savings you will make from fixing faulty or badly working equipment.

So how can you get all these great positives without investing huge amounts of capital?

It all starts with an energy audit. As the experts say, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

What is an energy audit?

An energy audit will profile the performance of all the elements that make a building work and fit for purpose, because if they’re not working they can be an extra drain on the energy supply.

Top of the list the auditor will look at is lighting. This is where you can get the quickest and cheapest energy saving. Next is the heating ventilation and airconditioning system, or HVAC.

The hot water will also come in for scrutiny as will any lifts or escalators, other machinery and the information and communications technology (ICT).

If you are an asset owner or building manager it’s best to get the tenants engaged and working alongside early in the process.

According to the Australian Standard, AS/NZS 3598:2014, there are three levels of detail to choose from when you get an energy audit.

Each level of audit will provide:

  • information on energy use
  • actions that can be taken to reduce use
  • an estimate of the operational or capital expense required for each option
  • the corresponding payback period

This is the information that can then be used to get the go-ahead from the finance people to undertake improvements.

  • Learn more about the energy audit standard so you’ll know what you are dealing with and what to expect

Key upgrades

It is almost standard practice now for the replacement of energy-guzzling halogen and fluorescent lights with energy-efficient LEDs, and there may be state or local government assistance available.

There are some other quick and cost-effective wins to be had, too.

Behaviour change programs, for example, have seen major success. For tenants, practices such as turning computers and lights off entirely when going home can mean big savings, and also helps staff get engaged on the efficiency journey.

Engaging tenants in behaviour change was one of the key strategies used by the team that turned Sydney’s ageing Australia Post building into a sustainability stunner. Read about what they achieved and how they did it here.

Other low-cost technology an audit might recommend includes daylight and occupancysensors to automatically turn lights off when they’re not needed; carbon monoxide sensors to turn car park exhaust fans on and off; variable speed drives to make airconditioning systems more efficient; and “kill switches” that automatically turn off all non-essential systems when the last person leaves for the night.

The big-ticket item

In terms of HVAC – one of the biggest energy users – there are some simple principles to follow for reducing energy use.

Experts have found that in many cases, “tuning” delivers a quick win. Tuning means making sure all parts are running at their best – that temperature set-points, scheduled timings, fan and pumps speeds, and air delivery rates deliver the best occupant comfort and efficiency.

Another advantage of tuning is it can reveal where small components may need to be repaired or replaced before they cause a major failure.

Making the most out of data

Getting a specialised data analytics program to gather and analyse your energy use information can also help the building management team and consultants maximise your performance.

At 222 Exhibition Street, a data analytics program was critical for making the older building perform like a new one without a massive spend.

Making good decisions when replacing parts

All equipment in a building has an expected operational life. In many older buildings, things like boilers, condenser units and fans may be reaching the end of that life.

Many building owners and managers have found that rather than replacing like for like, getting something more energy-efficient can deliver big savings that can be used to repay the upgrade.

For more detailed information on how to improve the energy efficiency of a commercial building, download The Fifth Estate’s free ebooks – The Energy Gold Rush, the Green ICT Book and Renewable Energy – Joining the Zero Carbon Revolution.

Commercial building owners, tenants and building managers can also obtain information and support through the nationwide CitySwitch program.