Deep Energy Retrofits

The Rocky Mountain Institute defines deep energy retrofits as a whole-building analysis and construction process that achieves much larger energy cost savings—sometimes more than 50 percent reduction—than those of simpler energy retrofits and fundamentally enhances the building value.

Upgrading existing buildings saves energy and money

By Marcy Marro
Therm-All’s banded liner system retrofit at WestWorld of Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Paul Poblocki, director of strategic marketing, performance infrastructure at Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc., explains that a deep energy retrofit reduces operating and capital costs, improves indoor environments and minimizes environmental impact. “It’s important for commercial buildings to be as energy efficient as possible—making deep energy retrofits crucial for commercial buildings to achieve sustainability,” he says.

Bill Beals, New England district manager for North Olmsted, Ohio-based Therm-All Inc., adds that many building owners are looking for more energy efficiency and a cleaner, brighter appearance. Especially in older buildings, many of which built in the 1970s and ‘80s include only a single layer of fiberglass in the roof and walls.

Before image of a Therm-All Optiliner retrofit project.


Before undertaking an energy retrofit, it is important for building owners to identify the facets of their operation that would benefit most. “This usually requires an evaluation of systems, equipment and processes to pinpoint opportunities that will improve overall facility performance,” Poblocki says.

David Warden, enerGfacade brand manager at YKK AP America Inc., Austell, Ga., suggests listing goals for energy savings and determining how the building is currently functioning. There are a variety of considerations that should be reviewed, including the age and functional condition of HVAC equipment and lighting fixtures, and building envelope components like fenestration.

It is also important to review the building codes that govern energy improvements before starting. “Most local energy companies can guide one through this process, but an independent energy consultant would be the best starting point,” Warden says. “Some of the most cost-effective strategies are fenestration upgrades using advanced thermally broken framing and roofing. These strategies tend to come with fewer expenses than a full HVAC replacement.”

Poblocki seconds the need to engage a trusted partner that will stand behind and guarantee the results after the initial retrofit. “That partner should be able to demonstrate experience on similar projects and the longevity to help keep the facility running at peak performance for years to come,” he adds.

After image of a Therm-All Optiliner retrofit project.


Deep energy retrofit improvements can include enhancements to HVAC systems, lighting and electrical systems, control systems, monitors and pumps, increased insulation, and eliminating leaks and waste.

“Upgrading fenestration to advanced thermal framing, and in some cases adding more fenestration, can reduce energy loads on the HVAC equipment by allowing more daylight into the space to reduce lighting loads,” Warden says. “Another tangible of upgrading the fenestration system is occupant comfort. Thermal comfort and access to natural daylight has proven to decrease absenteeism.”

Upgrading to advanced thermal performance windows are another way to create passive heating and cooling, as well as connect occupants to nature. “Provided the correct homework is performed upfront, replacing or upgrading the performance of the fenestration can be an effective deep energy retrofit,” Warden explains. “Additionally, fixed advanced thermal aluminum framing systems offer 18 percent thermal improvement over typical thermally broken products on the market. In some cases, advanced thermal aluminum window systems and doors are in some cases showing 30 percent or more improvements in thermal performance.”

Metal buildings can be challenging for an insulation retrofit because of existing sprinkler and electrical systems. “These systems are typically installed to the bottom of the exposed roof purlins and inside the wall girts, which means that to add insulation access to the bottom of the purlins and girts is crucial,” Beals explains. “An installer would need to qualify each job before beginning. If all the lighting is being changed and the sprinkler systems don’t interface with a new insulation system, it is very cost-effective to perform a retrofit.”

And, Beals says, it’s important to choose the right insulation system for a retrofit. “Selecting one that works is really dependent on the existing building,” he says. “For example, what is the desired finished interior appearance? Does the team want the purlins to be exposed? How many purlin attachment points are there? Some systems are better suited for applications with a large number of attachment points, etc. It’s all about the needs and end use of the building.”

Energy Management

The evolving demands and expectations create a growing need for buildings to have mobility and connectivity. “Specifically, the increased data in buildings makes the need for networked communication between buildings more important to overall operations,” Poblocki says. “These technology needs are pushing buildings toward energy retrofit projects to run more efficiently.”

And, it is important to remember that one size does not fit all. “The starting point depends on a buildings goals, its progress and where the building is in the life cycle,” Poblocki explains. “Buildings can tackle smaller, more immediate opportunities and work their way up to larger energy management strategies, or they can take a more comprehensive approach using larger-scale initiatives. However, no matter the size of a retrofit project, it’s vital that buildings look at energy as a means of infrastructure improvements.”

The Waterbury State Office Complex in Waterbury, Vt., was restored with YKK AP’s enerGfacade energy-efficient building solutions to help achieve LEED Gold certification.

Ensuring Efficiency

Once a deep energy retrofit is complete, Poblocki notes that building owners should work with trained experts, dedicated to reliable building operation and reduced costs, to provide on-going services as needed. “Typically, a measurement and verification contract is put in place to ensure that the estimated energy savings are realized,” he explains. “Retro-commissioning is also a great way to ensure a facility operates at peak performance.”

Educating owners and building occupants on how to use the new systems will create the biggest impacts. Warden notes that commissioning should be reviewed quarterly and adjustments made as necessary. “Education to the building user on proper control of the internal air is crucial to ensuring a building continues to remain energy efficient,” adds Rick Bachman, Arizona district manager for Therm-All.