Transforming Older Buildings with Energy Management Systems



While today’s new commercial buildings are designed to be energy efficient and sustainable, older buildings have legacy lighting, heating and air-conditioning systems that are inefficient and costly to operate. This has significant financial consequences — inefficient heating, ventilation, air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and lighting controls consume up to 30 percent more energy than modern systems, according to a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report.


HVAC systems account for 30 to 50 percent of a building’s energy consumption. The difference in levels of consumption between contemporary buildings and older buildings is striking. New buildings consume 5 to 12 times less heating oil than older buildings, which affects operational costs and, ultimately, profitability.

The Value of Using Energy Management Systems in Old Buildings

Owners and tenants of older commercial buildings generally take the view that it is not worthwhile to invest in energy-efficiency measures. Instead, they would rather buy, build or rent a new building. However, old buildings can be brought up to modern standards of energy saving and efficiency. Ongoing advances in innovative building-control systems can achieve energy savings of up to 25 percent, which can recoup the investment in less than two years. A noteworthy examples of what can be achieved is Union Pacific Railways’ 1.3 million square foot facility headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, where an integrated automation system was installed to provide precise indoor climate control of mechanical and electrical subsystems. This enabled the building systems to control a series of automatic shades based on whether solar radiant heat was required. In addition, an anti-glare sensing system was installed, designed to automatically adjust lighting to eliminate glare from computer monitors.


While retrofitting new heating, cooling and lighting systems to meet modern standards of energy performance is much harder than designing and incorporating such systems into a new building, there are several ways to improve older typical commercial buildings.
One way is to invest in installing intelligent building automation technology, which can achieve energy savings of up to 30 percent. There are many building automation systems available and some, can even be managed from a remote location by a mobile phone or tablet, including Siemens’s building automation system DESIGO, Cylon’s building energy management solutions and Honeywell’s Automation Systems. Introducing such systems can cause temporary disruption, but the gains of lower maintenance and energy costs are long term, , achieved by accurate control of temperatures, humidity, air-quality and lighting.


Once a building management system has been installed, it monitors, calculates and displays energy use within a building, so that building managers can understand and analyze how their building and its related equipment uses energy. The data can be displayed on a laptop or even a mobile phone.
Intelligent management systems offer real-time flexibility to adjust to the time of day, room occupancy and outside temperatures. For example, environmental conditions in an exhibition center may need to be adjusted when a concert is organized in the same building.
In addition to the installation of building management systems, there are other measures that can cut energy usage.

Energy audits

First, audit an older building’s existing energy use — until you measure how, what and where energy consumption occurs, you cannot reduce what you have not measured.
A building evaluation will provide not only comprehensive information on total energy consumption but also on the consumption of individual pieces of equipment (computers, air-conditioning, lighting, and so on), which informs tailored recommendations of energy-efficiency measures, helps identify opportunities to cut waste, and makes it possible to flag compliance issues.
For more information on evaluation and potential solutions, consult the websites of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star Program and the Green Building Certification Institute. These entities provide appropriate guidance for testing and benchmarking the performance of buildings, all in a secure online environment.
Energy Star benchmarking tools enable decision- makers to evaluate and select energy efficiency measures for factories, offices, shops and even stadiums. It also provides guidance on project planning, project execution and possible tune-up opportunities. Also useful is the Energy Star’s “Portfolio Manager,” which allows you to set your energy use target, and design and benchmark it against similar existing buildings across the country.

Upgrade lighting

Reduce night lighting by using settings that switch off lighting in unused areas and unoccupied areas, leaving only security and emergency lighting on.
Get occupants to participate in trimming energy costs. For a start, encourage all staff to switch everything off in a room before they leave.
Reduce solar heat gain with solar blinds or curtains.
Ensure refrigeration and air-conditioning units are set at the correct temperature.

Older Buildings Can Be Transformed

Building automation technology can deliver major improvements in energy efficiency. To successfully transform of old inefficient commercial buildings requires making use of proper industry standards, finding the right contractors, and investing in technology that enables real-time decision-making.

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