Green Retrofits Make Older Buildings More Efficient

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 11:00 am

It is easier to make a new building "green" than to add environmentally friendly features to an existing building. However, commercial building owners can add green features to their buildings to save energy costs.

There are an estimated 4.5 million commercial and industrial buildings in the nation, with a total of 60 billion square feet of space. Those buildings use 30 percent more energy than they need to, according to Paul von Paumgartten, director of energy and environmental affairs for Glendale-based Johnson Controls Inc.

Johnson Controls helps clients improve the energy efficiency of

their buildings.

"We go to existing buildings and harness energy out of them, and we use the savings to pay for the upgrades," said von Paumgartten, who served on the U.S. Green Building Council board for six years.

From 1990 to 2000 Johnson Controls saved its customers $17 billion in energy costs and 2,500 mega watts of electricity, which is enough to power all of the homes in California for two years.

"If we just keep doing what we’re doing over the next 20 years, the savings is $95 billion," von Paumgartten said. "Energy efficiency is the gift that keeps on giving. When you sustain it, the benefits are profound."

Liberty Property Trust, a Malvern, Pa.-based real estate investment trust (REIT), owns 63 million square feet of real estate throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, including about 1.5 million square feet of office, industrial and flex space in Wisconsin. The company has made a commitment to make more of its buildings green. The reduced energy costs make the properties more attractive to tenants.

"Why not do it if you can?" said John DiVall, vice president for the Milwaukee office of Liberty Property Trust. "It’s the right thing to do. We’re doing it first of all because it’s the right thing to do as a good corporate citizen. But there is no question, for our customers, their costs are going to be less."

Some commercial building owners are adding green roofs to their facilities to make the roofs last longer, reduce energy costs and enhance the aesthetics of the buildings.

Existing buildings can be retrofitted with new plumbing systems that feature waterless urinals and low-flow toilets (see accompanying story).

The owners of existing commercial buildings can invest in other types of upgrades that reduce energy costs, according to Patrick Balistreri, co-owner of Total Energy Savers, a West Milwaukee-based company that finds and seals air leaks in buildings.

Many commercial buildings have cracks or openings near windows or where a roof meets a vertical wall. By finding these leaks and properly closing them, Balistreri said, owners of commercial buildings can easily save large amounts of energy and reduce their energy costs.

Other common sources of air leaks are around electrical outlets, light switches, pipes and air ducts that travel between floors in multi-story buildings.

When a building has air leaks, its heating, cooling and ventilation (HVAC) system has to work harder, adding wear and tear to the system and increased costs, Balistreri said.

Balistreri says he helps his clients save on their energy bills.

"It’s not a huge capital expenditure, but it involves a lot of educational training," he said. "Saving energy was not a big thing here."

However, with electricity and natural gas costs rising to unprecedented levels this winter, Balistreri believes more companies in southeastern Wisconsin will start looking for ways to reduce their energy bills.

"It’s a real simple science," he said. "You tighten up your building envelope and ventilate it correctly, and your building will work better."

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