Is Your Facility Leaking Heat and Money in Winter?

Nov. 29, 2012
Discover what the experts have to say.

The windows are closed and sealed but our costs for heat are rising. What else should be checked?

You can’t overestimate the value of driving or walking around your building each morning when you come to work. It’s one of the best times to look for infiltration in the winter. Plumes of vapor or steam can indicate bad steam traps. After light snowfalls you can look for areas of melting that might be caused by poorly insulated pipes.

The single most neglected area that I see is the rooftop exhaust fans. One high school that I inspected had fans exhausting 30,000 cfm on a nonstop, 24/7 basis.

The school had been plagued for years by high energy costs and frozen perimeter pipes, yet no one had made the connection to the exhaust fans. Infiltration is your highest load factor, exceeding the heat loss through the envelope.

How could that volume of wasted energy go unnoticed?
It’s not as hard as you think. Budgeting is often a willing accomplice. If the line item for energy expense is not exceeding its budget, no one notices, but that doesn’t mean that your consumption is not way out of line. The only way you will know is by benchmarking. You need to calculate your BTUs per square foot and compare it to that of other similar facilities or EPA benchmarks. Otherwise you just keep paying for the waste hidden in the budget. In the case of the school, the budget for heating was established in the building’s early years and no one paid much attention to it after that.

I’ve noticed that in regions of the country where a lot of heating oil is used, owners are more aware of their consumption because it is more tangible – the fuel tank is top of mind because they get a bill when it’s filled. Natural gas just keeps streaming into the back of a building.

How often do you recommend that operators record gas and electric meter readings?
That’s easy – the answer is daily. Without daily information it’s too easy to miss things like a stuck damper that will drive up usage and costs. You don’t need to analyze the data in an in-depth way or correlate it with weather data for it to be valuable. If the operator is in the daily habit, then he’ll have a good gut-level feeling for the usage and will notice when there are changes that need further investigation.

Isn’t it asking a lot for a mechanic to keep track of daily readings?
I like to say that any baseball or NASCAR fan can keep track of dozens of players or cars at one time. He also knows the recent performance of each. All you need is a dedicated “fan” of your energy meters.

What checks do the HVAC controls require?
DDC controls are sensitive and their programming can be short-circuited by electrical disturbances that put the controls into a wasteful override condition. Programming can also be made useless by well-meaning mechanics who put the controls in hand to ensure that all occupants are happy all the time – even if no one is there.

Any closing winter tips?
Whenever you turn equipment off, you always save 100%!

Bernie Daily is the founder of Daily Operations Inc. (www.dailyoperationsinc.com), a facility consulting firm whose services include monitoring, preventive maintenance and training.

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