Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Energy Savings vs. Productivity

I am on the Indoor Environmental TAG of the USGBC. We are working diligently to put together LEED 2012 and put the first draft out for public review in January. We discuss and debate Indoor Environmental issues in a weekly phone conference.

Included were a number of points for acoustics ventilation and daylighting. Some were proposed to be mandatory requirements, including the 40dBA requirement for schools. There was little pushback on many of these proposals, and we were feeling pretty good.

In the call yesterday, however, we learned that in the end, there will be a finite number of points, and weighting has been assigned to each of the proposed requirements. Sadly, while energy saving credits got a high priority, occupant issues, including comfort, ventilation, acoustics, and daylighting issues all got low scores.

The energy to run a commercial building costs a very rough average of $2/sq.ft./yr. Salaries typically run about $200/sq.ft./yr. Assuming we can achieve the desired 30% reduction in energy being mandated by the Federal Government, and both the USGBC and ASHRAE, that means we should expect to save $0.60 / sq.ft./yr. When compared to the $200/sq.ft./yr, it is easy to see that it wouldn’t take much of a drop in productivity due to reduced comfort, poor acoustics, or lousy lighting to wipe out any savings in energy.

It's also been shown that occupants will modify their environment to remain comfortable, using personal fans and heaters, which are incredibly inefficient. The old adage “follow the money” is apparently lost in the energy community. Let's hope that eventually, occupants of buildings will be found to be more important than a slight reduction in energy.

Authored by: Dan Int-Hout, Chief Engineer Krueger