Upgrading a commercial building – what are the steps?

Many commercial agents suggest this will result in the tightening of office markets nationwide in the short term. This may present building owners with an opportunity to reposition their assets so that when construction restarts later this decade, they are not at such a risk of losing their tenants to the shiny, new assets in the market.

In Queensland, we do not expect any new CBD buildings to be completed before 2015. Then after this time, there could be a rush of new stock hitting the market from 2015-2017.

So today, we take a look at the four different steps a B or C grade building owner can take to uplift the energy efficiency of their asset and the cost and benefit of doing so.

Step 1 – Alignment with NABERS Protocol

Cost : Low

Impact : Typically 0.5-1.0 star improvement

The NABERS protocol is a very specific framework for assessing the performance of commercial buildings in operation. It covers different climate zones, size of building and types of operation. The rules have to be specific and as a result buildings can suffer in their rating for what appears to be a minor issue.

It therefore pays to invest in aligning a building to the protocol to ensure that the operation of your building is not penalised.

Items that should be considered to assist alignment include, metering systems and validation, energy stream exclusions, lease clauses, Building Management operation strategies, and logging and recording of out of hours air conditioning calls. Each of these items has the potential to adversely impact the actual NABERS rating achieved.

Step 2 – Energy Monitoring Program

Cost : Low

Impact : Typically 0.5 – 1.0 star improvement

You cannot manage what you do not measure. Putting in place an energy monitoring system allows owners and occupants to readily understand the “energy signature” of the building. When you understand the energy usage of the different components of your building, you can then identify issues and opportunities for improvement much more efficiently.

There are a couple of parts to the development of an energy-monitoring program. These include: stakeholder engagement, the setting of regular reporting intervals, establishing appropriate benchmarks, and presenting it in a clear concise and understandable format.

Step 3 – Retro Commissioning

Cost : Low

Impact : Typically 1.5 – 2.0 stars

Buildings over time can begin to run in a manner that is not optimised to the occupants’ requirements. Higher internal loads, population densities and part load operation are all items that change over the lifetime of a building. Building systems need to be modified for these items. In addition, new buildings may also be commissioned to notional operational parameters that may bear no resemblance to how a building will operate when fully tenanted.

Over time, issues may arise that result in quick fix solutions and mask the causes of the real issue. False set points and equipment placed in manual control are typical examples of this. Retro-commissioning allows you to overcome these issues, upgrading the building for the scale it now needs to perform at.

The re-commissioning process takes time, but it can be achieved with minimal disruption to tenants and involves recalibration of existing control infrastructure, set points and control strategies.

Studies have identified in the commercial sector energy savings of 15% on average that are achievable with a payback of less than two years. The commercial cost benefit is quite realistic when considering the risk of a declining building appeal.

Step 4 – Refurbishment

Cost : High

Impact : Typically 2.0 + stars

This is the final step that can be addressed once the others have been successfully implemented to improve your building.

Refurbishment has the potential to reduce energy consumption significantly but comes with a higher cost to the building owner and a longer lifecycle for recovery.

When refurbishing, it is important to understand the impact on your current tenant and plan around it. Many choose to develop a “shopping list” of opportunities and program these to respect cost constraints and tenant requirements.

For building owners with restricted cashflow, there are funding opportunities that can help finance a refurbishment program, but it is important to note that currently these do not offer too much of an incentive.

Mike Dagnall is the Principal of Building Services for ADG Engineers. For more information on building upgrades please contact us on > mdagnall@adgce.com.