by Carl Salas and Alan Vanags
Clients across a wide variety of sectors have improved the sustainability of their buildings through green retrofits. But once the basics have been implemented, what needs to happen to achieve a deeper level of energy savings and sustainability?
What Exactly is a Deep Retrofit?
A deep retrofit is a comprehensive upgrade of a building’s systems and components, with the aim of dramatically improving energy efficiency, reducing maintenance issues, and reducing carbon emissions.
While a “green retrofit” might focus on a singular strategy – like a lighting upgrade – a deep retrofit involves a holistic look at the connections between energy, water, products, and operations. By applying multiple strategies together, the results become exponential.
How to Get Started with a Deep Retrofit
The process starts with a thorough assessment of the building’s energy use, identifying areas to reduce consumption. It looks at the intersections between water, mechanical systems, building envelope, and products used. It explores incentive programs to encourage policies that drive sustainable behavior.
Consider that people go annually for a checkup. The doctor will look at heart rate, blood pressure and weight, and will run basic blood tests. There will be questions designed to uncover symptoms of an underlying health issue. A similar approach works for buildings and facilities.
Simple tests and questions can uncover opportunities for substantial energy savings and more sustainable use of resources. Salas O’Brien finds that many times a minimal investment surprises owners with the capacity to simplify, save, and decrease carbon emissions.
Each building is unique, formed by details like orientation, piping, how equipment was installed – the variables are exponential. And while computer modeling can inform strategy, retrofits require “boots on the ground” going through the physical details of the building to form the assessment.
Strategies for Deep Retrofitting
Addressing multiple strategies together can generate efficiencies that lead to cost savings, carbon footprint reduction, decreased equipment requirements, and the ability to repurpose existing space.
For example, improving the building envelope by enhancing insulation and air tightness is a common strategy that can reduce heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer, thus decreasing energy consumption. Using next-generation climate control systems, such as low-temperature water systems, closed-loop hydronic systems, or geo-exchange systems, can also save energy and water usage, leading to significant cost savings.
Greywater reuse is another effective strategy that involves collecting and treating greywater from sinks, showers, and other sources for non-potable purposes like irrigation and toilet flushing. This reduces the amount of fresh water required and relieves the burden on local sewage treatment facilities.
Heat recovery systems are also an excellent way to reduce energy consumption by recovering wasted heat from cooling processes and sanitary systems. Combining renewable energy sources like wind and solar power with electrification through power purchase agreements and installing renewable local energy systems can significantly reduce carbon footprints and improve energy efficiency. Energy management systems and SCADA systems can monitor and control energy usage, helping to save energy and reduce costs.
Financial and Tax Incentives for Deep Retrofits
There are financial and tax incentives to help owners undertake deep retrofits. Grants, loans, rebates, and other programs are available. For example, some state and local governments offer grants and low-interest loans for energy efficiency upgrades. The federal government offers incentives through programs like the Energy Policy Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.
Tax incentives can also provide significant savings for building owners. For example, the Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Tax Deduction, also known as Section 179D, provides tax deductions of up to $1.80 per square foot for energy-efficient upgrades in commercial buildings. This includes deep retrofits that result in a 50% reduction in energy consumption compared to the building’s baseline energy use.
Deep retrofits return profits in the form of energy savings, resilience, rebates, and better environments for people, along with sustainable practices to protect our planet.
Carl Salas, PE is co-founder, and Alan Vanags, PE, LEED AP is principal, at Salas O’Brien.