Implemented continuously, building tuning cuts energy bills by more than 30%, delivering a return on investment within two years. Yet the vast majority of buildings pass up this easy cost and environmental win – or get it wrong. Building Scientist, Shaan Cory explains what every property owner needs to know about building tuning.

Right now, your brand new, 5 Green Star building is suffering from ‘energy creep’. Yes, your building has a sophisticated management system. But it may not have been commissioned correctly for energy efficiency, and it’s operated by human beings and subject to entropy. Over time, people change control settings, temperature and air quality sensors drift or fail, building spaces change, with offices turning into meetings rooms.

Within a couple of years, your beautifully optimised, environmentally friendly property will be using a lot more energy than it needs. A US study found that, two year old brand new buildings were consuming an average of 13% more energy than necessary. You can imagine how much worse this issue becomes with older properties.

So, clever property owners have started investing in building tuning services. The magic stuff is installed. Energy use is optimised. In the first year, your bill plummets. Everyone celebrates…  

And 3-5 years later it goes right back up again.

Because building creep never stops. Your busy facility manager doesn’t have time to perform in-depth energy analyses once a month, let alone once a day. The second you take your eye off the ball your energy efficiency optimisation falls apart.

This is why you need continuous building tuning performed, not just by software, but by building scientists. You need people who can collect and analyse all the data and advise on the most cost effective ways to improve your building’s performance and sustain those original energy savings.

The business case is a no brainer.

The initial technology implementation typically pays for itself within one – and certainly two – years. Thereafter, the ongoing analytics service is a fraction of the sustained energy savings it delivers. For Victoria University of Wellington, payback came in 1.3 years. Between January 2016 and March 2018, Vic has saved $84,000 and a sustained annual energy reduction of 30%.

To put that in perspective, a solar PV installation to achieve the same savings would require more than a 20 times upfront capex – and take 10-15 years to recoup.

Don’t get me wrong. Solar absolutely has its place on buildings. But if you only look at energy efficiency from a supply perspective, you are – quite literally – missing half the equation. Which is crazy, given the demand side is the quickest and most cost effective way to reduce your carbon footprint and utility costs.

How does continuous building tuning work?

A (Beca’s) continuous building tuning service automatically collects and analyses millions of data points thrown out by your building management systems, utility bills, sensors and energy meters. The system continuously detects faults, diagnoses issues and identifies where you’re wasting energy and money, using algorithms and rule checks based on engineering principles.

Facility managers can view performance by logging into a simple online dashboard (see an example of this dashboard below). But, most importantly, engineers and building scientists monitor these findings in detail and provide prioritised action lists to make sure you get the expected performance improvement.  

“Beca assisted us every step of the way by identifying the large energy savings that were hidden in the detail.”

Jonny Parker, Energy Analyst, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

After the intensive first year of work to optimise the building, the service dials back to a maintenance level to sustain savings.

Other benefits include:

  • Easy environmental reporting – The system helps you and your tenants to demonstrate credible energy and emissions savings. It spits out the complicated reporting data required to comply with GRI or local environmental standards.
  • Happier tenants – Keeping building temperature controls optimised is good for the health and comfort of occupants and improves building usability. It also means facility managers have data to quickly answer tenant enquiries about temperature settings – and address the concerns of any constant complainers.
  • Preventative maintenance – The system also proactively identifies maintenance issues, allowing them to be fixed before they fail at great inconvenience and expense.
  • Benchmarking – You know with certainty that your building is performing well against industry best practice, and can monitor performance across your property portfolio.

Old, new, green or otherwise, every commercial building needs continuous tuning to maintain energy efficiency throughout its life. Otherwise, from a building’s one year anniversary, you will be paying more for energy than you need to.

Dashboard summary page

Image: Online building performance dashboard


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

About the Author
Shaan Cory

Associate - Building Science

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