The electrical contractor holds the key to high-performance buildings:

There is growing nationwide push to ensure that buildings are constructed or retrofitted to be more energy efficient; the need to plan for and monitor a building’s energy performance, which is frequently driven by federal and state energy codes, presents the electrical contractor with opportunities to take on new roles and add value to its offerings.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), part of the high-energy-performing building process involves combining good design with efficiency and technologies that reduce energy consumption. Energy efficiency, as defined by the DOE, means using the building’s individual components to perform at the same
levels as less-efficient components for less money over the long term. Energy-

efficient building components range from the building envelope (which includes energy-efficient windows, lighting, insulation, foundation and the roof) to office and building equipment with power-management features. It also applies to heating and cooling systems, which can be aided through automated controls, ventilation, improved duct systems and other advanced technologies.

A high-performance commercial building, as defined by the DOE, is a building with energy, economic and environmental performance that is substantially better than standard practice.

“A high-performance building is energy efficient, so it saves money and natural resources. It is a healthy place to live and work and has a relatively low impact on the environment,” said Murray Anderson, project manager for Dynalectric, San Francisco, Calif., an EMCOR company. And according to Keith Lane, director of engineering for SASCO, Woodinville, Wash., a high-performance commercial building is one where all the systems are integrated for complete energy savings.

“In these buildings, the energy code is used as the bare minimum standard. The qualified electrical contractor will tweak the systems to cost effectively go beyond those codes,” Lane said.

High-energy-performing buildings are most effectively approached through whole-building design, which considers all building components during the design phase and integrates all of the subsystems. Because all the pieces must fit together, it is essential that the design team—which can include architects, engineers, building occupants and owners, electrical contractors and specialists in areas such as indoor air quality, materials and energy use—be fully involved from the beginning of the process.

According to Robert Sauchelli, national program manager for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR service and product providers, whole building design allows, for example, “variable speed drives and air handling systems to be designed in relation to each other and appropriate to the HVAC application.”

Benefits of whole-building design include energy consumption reductions of up to 50 percent, reduced maintenance and capital costs, reduced environmental impact, increased occupant comfort and health and increased employee productivity.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program also encourages high-performance facilities. LEED is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings and gives building owners and operators the tools required to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

The contractor’s role

According to Sauchelli, electrical contractors can improve the energy performance of a building by encouraging customers to become an ENERGY STAR partner and to stimulate use of the organization’s energy-management guidelines.

“Involvement in the program raises awareness and organizational commitment to the benefits that can be achieved through energy efficiency,” Sauchelli said.

ENERGY STAR’s energy management guidelines can help the contractor and its customer assess the energy performance of a facility and suggest strategies that can be implemented for building performance, from merely refining systems to complete retrofits.

“We advise electrical contractors to become ENERGY STAR partners as well,” Sauchelli said. The program provides contractors with the planning tools that will enable them to develop energy-efficiency strategies and the financial tools that will help them demonstrate the long-term benefits of improved energy performance to their customers.

“ENERGY STAR’s goal is to help implement high energy- performance strategies that do not waste energy, nor sacrifice comfort or convenience,” Sauchelli said.

In addition, it should be the role of all good electrical contractors to provide the best product to their clients. “It is our job, as providers of design/build high-performance buildings,” Lane said, “to be aware of all codes and good design standards, the appropriate engineering tools that address meeting recommended light levels and be aware of all available technologies to most cost effectively achieve energy efficiency.”

Technologies, such as new lighting and lighting controls, cogeneration systems, photovoltaics and variable frequency drives, help owners improve their energy consumption, according to Ron Zuccaro, president at Dynalectric. Energy-efficient technology creates an opportunity for contractors to improve energy consumption and to provide suggestions and ideas to help the owner design a sustainable building.

Planning for energy-efficient performance

Steve Aubert, preconstruction and estimating manager at Dynalectric, suggested that when designing a new building, a contractor should take advantage of daylight harvesting, which reduces the amount of time lights are on or at full load, the heat produced by fixtures and the amount of cooling required.

“Daylight harvesting can dramatically reduce the energy consumption of the building and should be integrated into the building-management system,” Aubert said.

From ENERGY STAR’s perspective, new construction should incorporate energy-performance goals that will result in a building that performs as efficiently as possible.

“One way to accomplish that is to use ENERGY STAR’s
Target Finder tool on its Web site to determine what the ENERGY STAR rating of a building will be after it is up and running,” Sauchelli said.

In retrofitting buildings for higher energy performance, the contractor can focus on more efficient lighting by encouraging the use of new, efficient lamp sources, fixtures, controls, occupancy and motion sensors and daylight harvesting, according to Sauchelli.

“Contractors can also make their customers aware of the load-reduction opportunities these technologies provide by being a consultant to and partner with the customer in developing energy-efficiency improvement strategies,” Sauchelli said.

Other technologies to make retrofitted buildings more energy efficient include, but are certainly not limited to, the use of LEDs, improved T5 fluorescent lamps, electronic ballasts and Digital Addressable Lighting Interfaces (DALIs) for total-building lighting control.

In actuality, both the federal government and states mandate many of the lighting system and control improvements being made to buildings. For example, the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 established a number of tax deductions for expenses incurred for either new or retrofit construction of commercial or residential multirise buildings that are designed to achieve 50 percent energy-cost savings. The deductions apply to improvements that upgrade the energy efficiency of any aspect of the building installed after Dec. 21, 2005, through 2008. It is, however, limited to up to $1.80 per square foot for either retrofitting an entire building to improve energy efficiency or designing a new energy-efficient building, and it is limited to up to $.60 per square foot for partial improvements.

According to Sauchelli, to provide customers with high-performing, energy-efficient buildings, electrical contractors need to stay current on developments in energy-efficient applications, new equipment and new technologies to provide reliable, proven energy-performance strategies.

“Product knowledge, familiarity with design and its implementation, continuing education, partnerships with mechanical contractors, architects and lighting designers, and a clear understanding of the client’s business and how the space will be used are critical to the success of improving energy efficiency in new and retrofitted buildings,” said Allan Ford, project executive at Dynalectric.

The European agenda

In Europe, the same concerns exist and have driven the establishment of the 2002 European Energy Building Performance Directive. The principal objectives of the directive are to promote building energy performance within the European Union (EU) through cost-effective measures and to encourage converging building standards with those EU-member countries that already have ambitious levels. As with U.S. energy codes and voluntary rating programs such as ENERGY STAR and LEED, the directive includes a methodology for calculating the energy performance of existing buildings, certification schemes for all buildings and regular inspections and assessments of energy-efficient installations. Each EU member nation was required to transpose the directive into law by the beginning of 2006 and has an additional three years to allow for full implementation of specific articles.

In the United States, building energy codes and standards for the residential and commercial sectors are developed at the national level, implemented at the state and local levels, and enforced by local governments. As in Europe, some states strengthen the minimum national energy codes and standards to meet their more ambitious energy-performance levels.

With energy concerns growing daily both in the United States and other countries, the electrical contractor is in a position to use its expertise to design and implement high energy-performance buildings that will not only help the company to grow but will enable the contractor to improve the environmental conditions of our world.     EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or by e-mail at darbremer@comcast.net.