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How can a commercial building be energy efficient?

When you look at a commercial building from the outside, it’s easy to see and imagine the things that use energy. The lighting, cooling, heating, office equipment and other items that relentlessly draw on electricity and gas.

So it might surprise you to know that some commercial buildings use less energy than the average Australian home.

How is it possible for a commercial building to be so energy efficient?

Keeping a lid on commercial building energy consumption

For a commercial building to use less energy than the average home, it takes considerable effort. It starts in the design and planning phase and carries through the entire building process.

A commercial building with low energy consumption will generally have features such as:

  • Solar and/or wind harnessing.
  • Increased natural lighting.
  • LED lighting.
  • Energy efficient air conditioning and heating.
  • Air loss reduction systems and improved insulation, to reduce the need for heating and cooling.
  • The use of smart technology to help reduce energy consumption. For example, turning off lights, cooling and heating in vacant areas automatically.
  • Energy efficient computers and office equipment.
  • Double and even triple glazing.
  • Efficient water heating systems.

The orientation of the building on the site will have also been considered for passive solar design.

Even the use of landscaping will have likely been used to reduce energy consumption in the commercial building. For example, you can use shade from trees to reduce heat gain, a green roof can help insulate the top of the building and remove heat from the air, vines on outdoor structures near the building can provide shade and a comfortable place for staff to relax, or green walls can be utilised to protect the building from harsh sun.

Keeping a lid on commercial building energy consumption

Pushing for carbon neutral

Commercial buildings that are designed to use less energy are also likely to aim to be carbon neutral, or at least low carbon emitters.

As well as the above features, this can be achieved through initiatives such as rainwater capturing, water use reduction systems and the use of concrete that releases much less embodied carbon than conventional concrete.

Carbon neutral can also be achieved by a commercial building owners offsetting emissions.

Pushing for carbon neutral

Why be this consumed by energy consumption on your commercial building?

The main advantage of designing and building a commercial building with energy consumption in mind is of course running costs.

Lighting, appliances, office equipment and, in particular, heating and cooling systems, constantly drain energy and affect your bottom line. Therefore, anything you can do to reduce your energy output makes sense.

As an illustration of what energy management can achieve, it’s estimated that a 5000 square metre 5-Star Green Star-rated office would save over $18,000 annually in electricity alone.

Reducing energy consumption isn’t the only reason to adopt green measures, however. The same measures will make your commercial building more comfortable for staff and customers, and help increase the productivity and morale of your people.

If your building is a commercial premises for rental, you’ve got just as much incentive to adopt green principles. Because it’s been shown that green commercial buildings deliver higher returns than their counterparts.

There is also evidence to show that more and more tenants want to be in commercial buildings that have lower energy consumption and have green principles. This can make it easier to attract and retain tenants. It can also lead to higher occupancy rates and an increased rental rate.

Why be this consumed by energy consumption on your commercial building?

The big picture on energy consumption

Reducing energy usage and lowering your carbon footprint also helps address the goals of many businesses when it comes to corporate, social and environmental responsibility.  These days, there is a social obligation and a community expectation that businesses do more to reduce their energy consumption and in turn reduce their carbon emissions.

The commercial building sector is responsible for around 25 per cent of Australia’s overall electricity use and ten per cent of our carbon emissions. Reducing these figures will play a key part in helping the nation reach its greenhouse gas emission targets.

The big picture on energy consumption

Reducing energy consumption in existing commercial buildings

While you can’t do much about aspects such as the concrete and other materials used, or the orientation, there is still much that can be done to improve existing commercial buildings.

For example, your commercial building could:

  • Fit solar panels on the roof and install solar battery storage.
  • Retrofit your old high energy usage lighting with LED lighting.
  • Add skylights to increase natural lighting.
  • Replace your old air conditioning and heating system with energy efficient alternatives. This is particularly the case when these systems are getting near the end of their life.
  • Likewise, purchase energy efficient computer and office equipment when replacements are required.
  • Install smart technology where appropriate.
  • Planting deciduous trees on the north side of your building. These will shade your building in the hotter months and allow the sun in during winter. Planting shade trees on the western side of buildings will help block the hot western sun.

If you’re looking to retrofit your existing commercial building to lower energy consumption, a good starting point is an assessment. This will highlight inefficiencies and determine what needs to be done to turn your commercial building from a high energy user to an energy wowser.

Reducing energy consumption in existing commercial buildings

Cost worth the effort

Most of the energy consumption and carbon neutral measures mentioned above don’t come for free. You will pay a premium to include features such as renewables harnessing, smart technology, energy efficient glazing and other energy efficiencies in your commercial building.

However, over the building’s life, the investment will pay for itself many times over. For example:

  • Even a small investment of two percent of upfront costs in energy efficient initiatives can result in average life cycle savings of 20 per cent of total construction costs.
  • Retrofitting a commercial building, to lower energy consumption, can also pay dividends. It’s estimated that energy savings will be in the order of five to 15 per cent and money invested will be paid for in less than three years.

It certainly does pay to be green!

Cost worth the effort

Scott Traynor

Not one to be pigeon-holed, Scott is a commercial builder, mechanical engineer and a lawyer. He brings 15 years’ experience in large industrial, commercial and retail developments to the business, and is a specialist in development approvals, engineering and commercial building.

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