Better Buildings With Deep Energy Retrofits: RMI’s RetroFit Depot

by ‐ Tags: building science

This post was written by our former intern, David Segan. He is currently studying economics at George Washington University.

Did you know that if the U.S. building stock was considered a separate nation, it would take third place for the most energy intensive country in the world? Or that reducing the fossil fuel energy consumed by these U.S. buildings has a $1.4 trillion profit opportunity by 2050?

That's right, 1.4 trillion dollars! I'm not used to seeing such a big number without the word deficit nearby either. These numbers are driving the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) to change the way buildings are viewed. RMI has been a leader in guiding the private sector towards a more prosperous and resource efficient future for over 30 years. They recently created the RetroFit Depot site as an in-depth guide to performing energy retrofits that go beyond simply installing new light bulbs. These "deep energy retrofits" are how liability buildings become asset buildings.

Not Your Average Energy Efficiency Retrofit

Switching to LED light bulbs and tuning up heating and cooling systems are great steps, but if extraordinary savings of energy and money is desired, more innovation is needed. In baseball terms, the difference between a deep energy retrofit and a simple one is the difference between the majors and the minors. By going deep, it shows leadership, raises revenue, benefits society, and commits to maintaining long-term success. Deep energy retrofits are those that address all energy loads; this includes heating, cooling, hot water, lighting, appliances, and plug loads. RMI's RetroFit Depot focuses on deep energy retrofits for commercial buildings for two reasons: there is no existing guide for them and they produce significantly better results. 

RMI defines deep energy retrofits as "a whole-building analysis and construction process that achieves much larger energy cost savings—sometimes over 50% reduction—than those of conventional, simple retrofits and fundamentally enhances the building value." This type of energy upgrade uses the concept of "systems thinking." All the parts of a building work together, thus they all must be looked at when making an energy efficiency upgrade. Common thought is that such retrofits are not only risky, but have high upfront costs. To get around these barriers, RetroFit Depot goes into solutions, like financing mechanisms and choosing the right time to execute. A list of case studies that includes the Empire State Building, exemplifies the potential for success.

Building Performance: From Poor to Great

A deep energy retrofit has the potential to be an exceptional business decision if implemented on those poor performing buildings. One reason that deep energy retrofits produce such higher cost savings is the increased reliability that the initial predicted savings will be achieved. When a bundle of complementing energy efficiency upgrades is accomplished together, risk is reduced. For example, after completing insulation and air sealing, the true value of an efficient HVAC system will be realized on your balance sheet. Furthermore, air sealing through upgraded windows would provide the ideal opportunity to consider passive solar design to reduce heating and lighting costs.

whole building analysis, energy cost savings

Using the RetroFit Depot Site

The RetroFit Depot site is a complete guide for the deep energy retrofit process. The audience is anyone with a stake in building energy performance. This includes building owners, occupants, service providers, landlords, lawyers, investors, engineers, and more. To meet the needs of all audience members, RMI has released three free downloadable guides titled: Building the Case, Managing Deep Energy Retrofits, and Identifying Design Opportunities. I encourage you to take a look at the RetroFit Depot site and even download one or all of the guides to gain a better understanding of the value of a deep energy retrofit.

If you have any questions or comments regarding retrofits or RetroFit Depot please share them in the comment section. 

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