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Ask Dr. RetroFit

The doctor is in. Find out how you can successfully drive deep retrofits in your own organization.

Have a question? Contact Dr. RetroFit today and you might get listed here too!



Answering Your Retrofit Questions

How can I find capable designers and architects?

Professional accreditation in green building and design is available through a number of organizations like the Association of Energy Engineers, GBCI (LEED), Passivhaus, NAESCO and the Building Performance Institute —all have directories of certified professionals. In addition, many professional associations, such as AIA and ASHRAE, require continuing education credits just to maintain professional standing, including sustainable design issues. When choosing a designer or contractor, look for these qualifications and memberships, ask about their green building experience, and find out what inspires them.

Why should I pay for a deep retrofit when my tenants pay the energy bills?

We call this the “split incentive” issue. Fortunately, green lease structures enable both tenants and owners to benefit. A building owner cannot achieve deep energy savings without the cooperation of the tenants and building management; and, in fact, none of these parties can achieve deep energy efficiency without the help of the other players. When all collaborate, all can benefit.

Also, it’s important to know that deep retrofits provide value beyond energy bill savings, including lower vacancy, higher rents, and better tenants. For more, see the RetroFit Depot Storylines Guide

Why shouldn't I just do a light retrofit—change some lights, maybe improve the air conditioning system?

If you take this light retrofit approach—which we call “cream skimming”—you will exhaust all of your quick payback measures, making further energy reduction nearly impossible to financially justify at a later date. Additionally, you miss out grouping energy efficiency measures together to compliment each other and build on savings. For instance, if you jump right to upgrading your air conditioner, you miss the opportunity to reduce its size through additional measures such as efficient windows. Or if you settle for just a lighting retrofit without optimizing daylighting opportunities and assessing lighting power densities, you lose the opportunity to eliminate fixtures.

At RMI, we consistently find that taking advantage of the synergies between measures (both in terms of energy use and programmatic benefits) means that two plus two sometimes equals five or more. Keep in mind that sustainable design isn’t a line item, nor should efficiency measures be considered as such.

I’m just a tenant. What can I do?

You have more influence than you know! The owner needs you. When a tenant asks for efficiency, the building owner takes notice. Work with your building owner to find shared incentives to increase building value and utility. Develop a sustainability feedback loop that goes beyond energy efficiency requests.

When your lease is up for renewal, propose a mutually beneficial green lease so you both share in the energy savings and lifestyle benefits. The customer drives the market. See our Landlord/Tenant Relationship Guide for more.

Additionally, don’t underestimate what you can do without the owner. Evidence suggests that purchasing efficient equipment and turning them off when not in use can reduce whole-building energy consumption by 10 to 20 percent or more. Pay attention to your plug loads (office equipment, personal heaters, etc.) and look for Energy Star ratings when replacing equipment. Desktop computers use 60–250 watts while laptops operate closer to 15–45 watts; laptops are designed to conserve energy. LED desk lamps are great and last a long, long time. Form a company green team to help motivate your employees. You’d be amazed at the impact.

How can I get deep energy savings out of my historic building?

Historic preservation guidelines from the Department of the Interior provide helpful performance specifications. With a little creativity and a good innovation charrette, nearly any historic building can realize deep energy savings with the same approach we encourage for any building—sometimes taking advantage of BOTH historic preservation tax credits and energy efficiency incentives. Just look at the Empire State Building and the Byron Rogers Federal Building for terrific examples.

For many historic buildings, the technical potential may be practically net zero if it was constructed before the age of electricity with passive solar features and natural ventilation. You may want to approach it as “restoring sustainability.”

Can an ESCO (Energy Service Company) help me with a deep energy retrofit?

Yes, absolutely. ESCOs are in a position to help you with a deep energy retrofit; however, it may be outside of their standard model, so you’ll want to ask for it specifically. That may include bringing on an architect and a builder for the non-mechanical aspects of the work and using Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). The ESCO can also help by financing the deep energy retrofit with an Energy Savings Performance Contract.

I have a buildings portfolio. Do I need a deep energy retrofit for each one?

No. We are working on a framework to help portfolio managers get away from the “one building at a time” approach and see the portfolio as an opportunity for finding patterns.

The simplest building portfolio is the prototypical portfolio—like a retail chain with very similar “big box” stores. In that case, the prototypical store can be analyzed for bundles of measures using a deep energy retrofit, and that analysis becomes the basis for implementing energy efficiency measures across the typology.

The more challenging portfolio is the diverse portfolio—like a college campus. No two buildings are alike. In this case, there are opportunities to identify prototypical spaces instead of buildings—dorm rooms, classrooms, labs, dining areas, etc. We can analyze each for efficiency measures, consider the technical potential, and implement measures across those portfolio spaces. We would next optimize the central plant, and then go back to key buildings to address mechanical and envelope issues—again looking for patterns within the portfolio.