A Guide to Building Energy Quotient

Aug. 27, 2013

Use ASHRAE’s bEQ tool to delve into energy performance.

To improve your building performance, you need to dig deeper than your utility bills and shine a light on areas of energy waste. But finding inefficiencies can be a challenge and requires time and resources you may not have on hand.

Enter the Building Energy Quotient (bEQ), an energy rating label that gives facility managers a detailed overview of their efficiency standing. Offered by ASHRAE, Building EQ is more than a performance score – the process also includes a Level 1 audit or energy modeling, plus a list of improvement recommendations.

Only by verifying where inefficiencies exist can you hone in and prioritize meaningful energy saving projects. Use bEQ to benchmark your energy use, disclose your rating to the public, and receive professional guidance on how to improve your operations.

Tool Features
Building EQ offers two rating labels that qualify energy performance: In Operation and As Designed.

“The In Operation rating focuses on your property’s actual energy use for the preceding 12 to 18 months and is based on concrete operating data supplied from utility bills,” explains Amy Musser, chair of the bEQ committee and partner at Vandemusser Design, which offers green building consulting.

It also requires an ASHRAE Level 1 Energy Audit, which includes a detailed list of efficiency recommendations and estimates of costs and paybacks for each measure. The audit must be conducted by an ASHRAE Building Energy Assessment Professional (BEAP).

“This helps owners and operators to see how their energy usage compares to the energy usage of a median baseline property and highlights their building’s potential for energy performance improvement,” Musser adds.

Using the As Designed rating, owners can evaluate a building’s performance potential by stripping away occupant and operational factors. Any property, including those in operation for 12 months or less, can apply for this label. Using a standardized model that is compared to the median energy usage intensity (measured as BTUs per square foot) of similar building types, an ASHRAE Building Energy Modeling Professional (BEMP) will simulate your as-built energy usage.

Because the process neutralizes operating conditions, it is useful for owners who want to determine if they’re maximizing the capability of their existing systems. This also allows FMs to compare performance potential among buildings in a portfolio irrespective of occupant factors, notes Musser.

Buildings that pursue both ratings can then draw comparisons between as-built and operational energy use. Scores can vary significantly between the two, revealing performance gaps that can be tightened with focused improvements.

Either rating supplies users with an assessment workbook that provides the complete building analysis. Owners can review a breakdown of their energy usage and costs, data from IEQ measurements, and suggestions for efficiency upgrades.

“These features precisely detail where and how energy is consumed and recommend solutions to increase building value and lower operating costs,” Musser says. “This guidance enables owners to make informed decisions about investments in equipment upgrades, recommissioning, and maintenance.”

Once your energy use model or audit has been performed, your facility is rated against similar building types. This is broken down into the bEQ dashboard, which outlines the various measurements taken in the audit. The building’s projected or measured EUI is multiplied by 100 to derive the bEQ score.

A low number translates to a high grade, with A+ reserved for net-zero energy buildings, B for efficient, C for average, and so on (see image at right). This is presented as the bEQ certificate, which can also be turned into a plaque for display. PageBreak

The Audit Process
For those in existing buildings and seeking the In Operation rating, one of the greatest benefits of bEQ is to have a third-party professional audit your building. Other performance programs will help you establish your benchmark, but if all you have to do is enter utility data, it may not be obvious where energy waste is occurring.

The Level 1 Energy Audit includes the following evaluations that must be completed:

  • Conduct a preliminary energy-use analysis (PEA).
  • Perform a walk-through survey to become familiar with building construction, equipment, operation, and maintenance.
  • Meet with the owner, operator, and occupants to learn about special problems, planned improvements, and operation or maintenance issues.
  • Complete a space function analysis and determine whether efficiency may be affected by functions that differ from the original functional intent of the building.
  • Identify low- or no-cost changes to the facility and approximate savings.
  • Provide a summary of specific problems or needs, including possible revisions to operations and maintenance procedures.
  • Recommend potential capital improvements and provide an estimate of costs and savings.

A unique component of the bEQ audit is the inclusion of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) measurements, which address occupant health and productivity in terms of ventilation, light levels, and thermal comfort.

“In my opinion, the bEQ process requires more of a Level 1 ‘plus’ audit with the air quality, thermal comfort, and light level screenings, which are not typically included in a regular Level 1,” explains Michael Conchilla, senior project development manager with Reynolds Energy Services and ASHRAE BEAP.

Another advantage of bEQ is how it forces consistency in the audit process. All auditors must complete the same evaluation steps and present their findings using the forms in the assessment workbook.

“We’ve seen in our research that audits can have a variety of results and recommendations depending on who completes them,” notes Timothy Wagner, deputy director of the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub. “The bEQ process, however, offers a more standardized approach to the audit process.”

The registration fee for bEQ, which includes the assessment workbook, certificate, and dashboard, is $500. The cost of the audit, however, is paid separately to the auditor and will vary depending on the size and complexity of your building.

A Path to Improvement
Once you have your baseline performance established, you can then prioritize which energy conservation measures to tackle. The Level 1 audit is meant to uncover low-cost and calibration opportunities, not large capital projects. Most facilities can focus their attention on lighting, HVAC, system controls, and minor envelope improvements, says Musser. You may even discover metering errors that can be rectified.

“The auditor is going to work with the FM team to make sure that the list of recommendations translates into viable projects,” explains Jim Kelsey, a professional engineer with kW Engineering. “Having rough estimates of initial costs and payback ranges for these upgrades can also help facility managers secure the funding needed to address inefficiencies.”

As with any audit, there’s always a gap between receiving recommendations and being able to act on them. Adopting energy conservation measures can be foiled by lack of staff resources, financial barriers, market influences, and grant or incentive availability. It’s important to have an implementation plan in place so your audit results don’t get shoved on a back burner and forgotten.

“Some owners may choose to implement several upgrades at the same time because it’s more economical to have them done all at once,” explains Richard Sweetser, an energy specialist on the EEB Hub team and member of the bEQ committee. “Others may need to stretch out measures over a period of time.”

As you make improvements to your facility, remember that your rating is only a snapshot of your performance at a given moment in time. Any number of changes from retrofitting lights and adjusting control sequences to a new tenant or added renewables will impact your operations. Time will also takes its toll.

“As the building ages, the operation, tenancy, and building systems are likely to change and the rating may become inaccurate or even obsolete,” Musser notes. “ASHRAE recommends reapplying for a rating every three years.”

You can then use your first bEQ assessment as your baseline and review how performance has changed after a second Level 1 has been completed. PageBreak

Other Tools for Consideration
So how does bEQ, a tool that’s been available for only a year, compare to other benchmarking programs? The difference boils down to scope.

Take ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager, for example, which ranks buildings from 1-100 using national survey data. The tool focuses on energy, but also includes water usage and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Portfolio Manager is more of a self-policed tool as it is responsibility of the owner or manager to enter all of the data,” says Conchilla. “Unless they seek the ENERGY STAR label, no third-party professionals is required to look at their building.”

“What separates bEQ from other labels is you have an ASHRAE-certified engineer evaluate your building – this adds a level of rigor to the process,” adds Sweetser.

Building EQ also focuses solely on energy and related IEQ. Outside assistance from the professional auditor is the basis for the evaluation and subsequent rating.

“Building EQ is more than analyzing utility bills – there are a number of qualitative measurements that need to be taken. You can’t achieve energy goals by cutting light levels or fresh air, or by not maintaining suitable space temperatures,” Conchilla stresses. “You may be saving energy for the wrong reasons by not providing a quality environment for your occupants or not meeting code requirements. Using a tool like Portfolio Manager on its own doesn’t paint a complete picture.”

Despite their differences, Portfolio Manager and bEQ can easily be used in harmony and are just two of many tools you can use to benchmark. IFMA offers the Benchmarks Exchange (BEX) if you’re curious about how your building rates on an international level. The DOE is in the pilot phase for its Energy Asset Rating Tool, a program that focuses specifically on your energy infrastructure assets instead of operations. In addition to the plethora of private enterprise tools you could purchase, many states or utilities have also begun to offer benchmarking support, such as EnergyIQ from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Whatever tool, program, rating, or dashboard you use, don’t forget that benchmarking a building will do nothing to improve its efficiency – only when you turn that data into actionable improvements will you impact your performance.

Photo Credit: KAT HINKEL

Philadelphia Navy Yard Building 101
Gross Floor Area: 75,157 square feet
Property Type: Office bEQ rating: C (Average)
Year Built: 1911, renovated in 1999 Awarded: February 2013

Located in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Building 101 is the temporary headquarters of the DOE’s Energy Efficient Building Hub (EEB Hub). The facility is a test bed for energy efficiency researchers working on the development, validation, and calibration of modeling and simulation tools, as well as assessing the impact of building technologies and systems on energy use.

Due to an ongoing research collaboration with ASHRAE, Building 101 volunteered to become the first property to earn a bEQ In Operation rating and provided technical research and feedback to refine the process.

Once military barracks, the property had undergone a renovation in 1999 when it received a new interior layout, lighting, HVAC, windows, and a building automation system.

Michael Conchilla, senior project development manager with Reynolds Energy Services and an ASHRAE BEAP, made a number of recommendations during the audit:

  • Seal air penetrations through exterior.
  • Apply weather-stripping and door sweeps.
  • Retrofit incandescent track/downlight lamps with CFL or LED equivalents, upgrade existing 32W T8s to 28- or 25W replacements, and install occupancy sensors.
  • Recommission the DDC system, including recalibrating sensors and optimizing existing sequences.
  • Implement advanced control strategies such as supply air temperature and static pressure reset.
  • Optimize building schedules and setpoints.
  • Implement demand control ventilation with CO2 control to reduce outdoor airflow.
  • Eliminate ventilation air during unoccupied and morning warm-up periods.

Conchilla also saw opportunities to save money by adding vending machine controls, smart power strips for plug loads, and replacing a small cooler with a regular refrigerator.

“Many of my recommendations are ubiquitous in a building of this age, but they are nonetheless problems that aren’t always obvious or easy to spot,” Conchilla explains. “The suggestions were also primarily low cost and aimed at the condition, maintenance, and improvement of the existing systems – these are basic energy efficiency strategies as opposed to major capital improvements.”

While Building 101 has an independent plan for energy conservation measures to maintain the integrity of its research methods, the EEB Hub found the bEQ recommendations were in line with already planned initiatives.

“This building is highly instrumented with upwards of 2,000 data points, so we have a good idea of how the building works and why,” explains Richard Sweetser, an energy specialist on the EEB Hub team and member of the bEQ committee. “Many of Michael’s findings were ones we had already anticipated and agreed were areas of improvement.”

For example, a complete controls upgrade of the HVAC system was implemented in April, including lighting scheduling. The retrofit provided research data and allowed for advanced controls and fault detection and diagnostic testing. This significant energy conservation measure also resolved several issues identified in the audit.

Philadelphia also recently enacted a benchmarking ordinance for commercial buildings greater than 50,000 square feet in size, notes Sweetser. While energy audits are not required for disclosure, owners with low ENERGY STAR ratings may well consider an energy audit to improve their scores.


Sutardja Dai Hall, UC Berkeley
Gross Floor Area: 126,000 square feet
Building Type: Mixed (office and lab) bEQ Rating: B (Efficient)
Year Built: 2009 Awarded: February 2013

Located on the University of California, Berkeley campus, Sutardja Dai Hall is a multi-disciplinary research center and headquarters for the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) @ Berkeley. Despite its new construction, the 141,000-square-foot building was ripe with opportunities to increase its energy efficiency.

“Sutardja Dai Hall was originally slated to earn ENERGY STAR and LEED, but these were eventually value engineered out of the design, so we knew from the onset of benchmarking that there was room for improvement,” explains Jolie Chan, sustainability coordinator for CITRIS @ Berkeley.

The hall includes a nanofabrication laboratory, research laboratories, distance learning classrooms, offices, a 149-seat auditorium, conference rooms, a technology museum, and a cybercafe. While this diverse mixture of spaces is beneficial to its educational mission, the variety also made the building difficult to benchmark.

Portfolio Manager was the initial tool of choice, but because the hall’s unique composition didn’t fit any of ENERGY STAR’s existing performance data, Chan turned to Building EQ.

The energy audit targeted the 126,000 square feet of office area because the nanofabrication lab uses industrial processes, even though some systems are shared between the spaces.

Jim Kelsey, a professional engineer with kW Engineering, found a number of HVAC and lighting opportunities.

In total, these recommendations could save $50,000 in energy costs annually:

  • Disable reheat coils in the nanofabrication lab air handlers, which had control sequences that were causing simultaneous heating and cooling. This switch could save an estimated 4 million pounds of steam each year.
  • Adjust supply air temperature and duct static pressure resets in the office area air handlers.
  • Reprogram daylight controls for perimeter daylighting.
  • Increase the humidity deadband for the communications facility.
  • Install high capacity, low-pressure drop filters on air handling equipment.

As any facility on a tight budget can appreciate, these recommendations are largely focused on the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. They also outline common retrofit opportunities or system adjustments.

“Even though the building is newer, we learned that there are several lighting areas we could target, such as delamping in open office spaces or using one instead of two CFL bulbs in hallway fixtures,” Chan says. “We could also take advantage of localized lighting by switching to LED task lighting with occupancy sensors.”

The audit process also uncovered a significant utility miscalculation that had gone unnoticed. “Part of the building’s energy consumption is steam usage from the campus steam loop,” Kelsey explains. “In doing our investigation, we were able to identify a meter reading error that made a difference of a factor of 12.”

Since February, the facility has seen several delamping initiatives come to fruition, as well as the addition of VFDs on condenser and chilled water pumps. The remaining recommendations will be phased in as funding becomes available.

Chan finds that the bEQ tool fills a gap left by other benchmarking programs, particularly for facilities with a complicated structure or nontraditional design.

“I appreciated bEQ’s emphasis on improvement opportunities and receiving action items from a certified energy auditor,” Chan says. “And having those recommendations consolidated into one place also adds a sense of legitimacy and urgency for getting them approved.”

Jennie Morton [email protected] is associate editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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