Are You Experienced?
Often, when I meet people for the first time the topic of “what do you do for a living?” inevitably comes up, as I am sure is common with you. I used to dread the question because I do a lot of different things depending upon what the problem is, what tools are needed and what skills are required so it can be hard to condense into a single sentence. If you visit the Services page on our site, you can see specifically the kinds of services we offer and the customers we have helped to better manage their facilities.
Although we do other kinds of projects our mainstay is building energy audits, so now I just tell people that I perform energy audits on commercial buildings. That answer either evokes a glossy-eyed and regretful look on the face of the enquirer or it piques their interest which usually leads to a broader and deeper conversation. I have been thanked countless times by people who are grateful for what I do, it can be very gratifying.
Collectively my engineering partner and fellow blog contributor Karl Friesen and I have well over fifty years of involvement with energy efficiency improvements to buildings. I’m not telling you this to impress you but because you need to know that you can trust us as a source.
Helping Others Scratch Their Itch
We enjoy helping people find careers that align with their core values so the focus of this post is to give an overview of what’s entailed in a career as a building energy auditor. Those concerned about the environment can find a career as an auditor fulfilling, the work is meaningful, saves valuable resources, and makes a difference.
I will review the basic steps we take to perform a professional energy audit and the tasks involved in each step so you can get a feel for if it’s something that interests you. I will also provide you with some resources so you can take further action.
What it Is
An energy audit performed on commercial buildings is an assessment of a building's energy consumption and recommendations on how to improve its performance. However, as is the case with so many things, there are different methods and levels of detail but the goal is always to improve energy efficiency.
Methods can vary from a spreadsheet and a simple write-up to a full-blown model and technical report. It is easier to improve the performance of an old building with leaky windows and low levels of insulation than it would be to find ways to make a newer building with an efficient shell and equipment.
The older building would improve immediately with new windows and insulation. However, it may require its equipment upgraded or new building controls installed which requires a more granular approach. It is about gathering, evaluating, and interpreting data for general consumption.
How We Do It
Solo vs Team
Sometimes auditors work solo on projects but often on teams, as we do. One way isn’t necessarily better than the other, it's usually a preference of the auditor and the requirements of the project.
We like the team approach because we are a small group and utilize the bus factor. “The bus the factor is a measurement of the risk resulting from information and capabilities not being shared among team members, derived from the phrase ‘in case they get hit by a bus’.”
The bus factor keeps a project from stalling out because a key player can’t finish a project for whatever reason. Everyone is kept informed on the status/details of the project from start to competition via Trello, which is a collaboration tool that helps us organize and manage our projects. We do a virtual walk-through with all team members to discuss strategy which allows us better QC and throughput of projects.
The six main steps we typically take on an energy audit are:
1. Project Acquisition
2. Data Collection
4. Report Writing
5. QC Process
6. Report Submission & Follow Up
I want to emphasize is that the following steps are the steps we take to perform building energy audits. Not all audits and auditors are the same so keep that in mind as reading this article.
GETTING THE WORK
#1. PROJECT ACQUISITION
How firms get their projects of course varies from company to company. Big engineering firms may include energy analysis as part of their services and other firms may only perform audits and develop relationships with building owners, property managers, contractors, and government incentive programs in order to find work.
Energy is Money
We generate a significant amount of work as an Allied Technical Assistance Contract (ATAC) with the Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO). When we started, we applied for and were accepted as an ATAC with the ETO which allows us to perform funded energy audits for the ETO. We also work with the Department of Energy (DOE) in helping school districts secure existing state funding earmarked for schools (SB 1149) that have qualifying projects.
We of course also still take care of our existing relationships with owners, managers, and contractors as well as develop new relationships. Additionally, we try to keep our online presence as fresh as possible by being active on social and driving traffic to our website, blog, and newsletter.
We are always looking for projects by asking questions about the buildings we find ourselves in. We built our network by getting to know building owners and managers and by not being afraid to ask how they manage their building’s resources.
An important component to helping land projects is to understand what incentive programs exist how to help your customer obtain their maximum incentive. Speak with utility companies and research for all applicable incentive programs.
All property owners want to save money on energy costs so a solid understanding of applicable incentives programs encourages confident inquiry into if the owners would be interested in improving their building's energy efficiency. People like to save money, dollar, dollar bill y’all.
#2. DATA COLLECTION
Pre-Site Walk Through Data Collection
We try to obtain all the data we can about a project before we step foot on site. This keeps us organized and saves time, we usually do a Google orbit around the building and do a street view.
The kinds of data we are looking for are:
- Utility bills (At least 3 months)
- Building Drawings
- Equipment lists
We also at this time set up and calibrate our data loggers which we will place in the building for a two-week period to record environmental conditions.
Building Walk Through
We have found it works best for us to work in teams of two when making site visits. Usually, there is a lot of data to be recorded and it goes a lot smoother with two people recording architecture, equipment, building controls, and how the building is performing. Sometimes there is the double recording of information but more data is preferred than less.
Interview facility staff
Once onsite and before walking the building we have a discussion with the building representative who will be helping us access the building and answering questions about its construction materials and how they run it.
Place data loggers & record locations
We next place data loggers throughout the building based on trouble areas (too hot/cold), high traffic areas, and HVAC zoning.
Pictures and video
We record all the architecturally significant features, pertinent equipment & data tags, piping/ducting configuration, anything that will help us build an actuate model of the building. We also may take pictures with our infrared camera depending on what we are auditing but an infrared camera helps reveal information hard to detect otherwise.
Post Building Walk-Through
Organize & review data
Once back to the office, we make any edits or add additional thoughts to our notes, then take pictures of them, and upload them with all site-taken pictures to the projects Dropbox folder so all team members have immediate access.
We create simple spreadsheets to record the performance data of the equipment. The data may include kW, Hp, Btuh, tons (size), hot/cold water coils, Variable Frequency Drives (VFD), age, what it serves, and where its located. Anything that will help us understand how much energy the equipment is using and any energy conservation measures being utilized.
Retrieve & evaluate loggers
We develop a detailed list of data logger observations and results. The two weeks of data recorded include carbon dioxide, humidity, temperature, and light levels. This data will be interpreted to help tell the story of how the building is performing.
The logging can reveal things like a building’s nighttime temperature setback strategy isn’t working. We will be able to see that the temperatures programmed for daytime never change during unoccupied nighttime periods thus wasting energy to condition empty spaces at night.
Baseline & Energy Efficiency Measures (EEM) Ideas
Now we focus on what energy efficiency upgrades or energy conservation measures will best help the building performance. EEMs create a sustainable reduction in energy use because the solution is built into the equipment, rather than relying on results of human impact.
Energy Use Index (EUI)
We populate a spreadsheet w/ pertinent data to create a building initial Energy Use Index (EUI). Think of them as energy usage profiles for buildings. The EUI is the most common means of expressing the total energy consumption of a building and is equivalent to the "average gas mileage" of a car.
#3. Building the Model
We determine whether to either use floor-by-floor or area-by-area zoning and the number of building shell(s) to use. The building and how its conditioned will play a significant role in which approach to use. For example, it's typical to find floor-by-floor HVAC conditioning in office towers or find area zoning in a facility with a variety of spaces with specific uses.
There is a plethora of energy modeling software to choose but we primarily use eQuest by the U.S. Department of Energy. It's commonly used in our industry, it’s free and easy to learn. Although I use eQuest as my example in this post I still want to give you options to explore so I have listed some of the more commonly used programs for you to check out.
TRACE 700 now being replaced by TRACE® 3D Plus (Trane Corporation)
HAP (Carrier Corporation)
I recommend that you download the free trials to see which interface resonates with you, and best fits your work style. The free software, eQuest & EnergyPlus, both have downloadable documentation for training and reference. For more formal training, I check out Energy-Models courses which I can personally vouch for as an excellent source for training resources.
Create the Geometry of the Building
Building the geometry in eQuest, or any modeling software is always made easier by doing a thorough job of obtaining sufficient details from the site walk and off of the drawings.
eQuest has 26 screens that walk you through the specific data required to create the model's geometry. It provides a large library of common construction types, or you can create your own.
It starts with creating a building shell or footprint and goes on to include but is not limited to the construction material of the floors, walls, doors, windows, and roof.
Conduct Virtual Walkthrough of Building with the Team
Once the geometry is finished, we like to conduct a walkthrough of the project with everyone working on it to review geometry, equipment, EEMS, and project report.
We build into the model the facilities' heating and cooling systems, Internal loads, operating schedules, occupancy, and data logging feedback.
Perform calibration iterations
We use utility bills & logger data to continue to refine the performance of the model, so it meets the real-world performance of the building energy consumption thus giving us a baseline to test our EEMS against.
We perform an iterative testing process with model runs that measure the improvement in performance when we apply the EEMs against the baseline. We repeat this process until we are confident that an EEM or combination of EEM’s is the best energy improvement for the building under the scope of the contract.
#4. REPORT WRITING
The report writing process is straightforward as far as reports go. We describe what the building is, how its currently performing, what our findings are, what our recommendations are and how we came to them.
Below is a typical Table of Contents from one of our reports.
We include several charts and images to concisely explain our findings and take care to keep the writing as layman as possible so that it's easier for decision-makers to digest. The report write-ups can vary widely from project to project based on the type of building, its EUI, and the number of EEM’s being tested.
#5 QC PROCESS
After we have completed the report, we have the report proofread for spelling, grammar, clarity, and conciseness. We check the report ourselves one last time as a final review to ensure accuracy before submitting the report to the reviewing parties.
#6. REPORT SUBMISSION & FOLLOW UP
There are often questions and clarifications made by the reviewing organization or the building owners that must be addressed before the project is finalized. If so, we work with those entities to address all their concerns. Once all the changes and clarifications have been satisfied we re-submit the report and await/accept payment.
Tell the Story
As you can see an energy audit requires similar and overlapping skills from the energy auditor to properly interpret and tell the energy story of the building. Buildings are always aging and there is a need for individuals that understand how to apply tried and true solutions and when to test new ways to improve a building's performance. Perhaps you see yourself with an aptitude for performing energy audits and if so I encourage you to thoroughly check out the links in this post or feel free to contact us directly.