Energy Savings Initiatives Owners Can Take Right Now

Improve Building Efficiency and Performance – Building Envelope Systems The term “building envelope” refers to all of the elements of the outer shell of a building that maintain a dry, heated, and cooled indoor environment and facilitate climate control. The following recommendations to improve overall energy efficiency can be implemented during capital replacement of older […]

Improve Building Efficiency and Performance – Building Envelope Systems

energy efficient buildings

The term “building envelope” refers to all of the elements of the outer shell of a building that maintain a dry, heated, and cooled indoor environment and facilitate climate control. The following recommendations to improve overall energy efficiency can be implemented during capital replacement of older building roofs, exterior finishes, windows, and doors, or incorporated into the design of new buildings based on updated codes and new building codes.

energy efficient roof

A replacement roof can improve energy efficiency

We are all well aware of the problems that leaky and outdated roofs present, but they can also be a major source of energy loss in buildings. Roof systems include not only the waterproofing membranes, but also thermal insulation for the building. Wet insulation and roofing materials due to leaks lose their insulating properties and actually become heat conductors rather than an insulator.

It’s tempting just to place a new roof over an existing membrane for price considerations, but evaluation of the condition and amount of roof or attic insulation should also be considered. A thermal infrared scan of your roof can highlight inadequate or wet insulation and areas of gaps in the individual insulation boards that are centers of heat loss. If the infrared scans reveal these problems, the re-roofing project scope can be expanded to include replacement of poor performing wet and/or missing insulation. By doing this, you will improve not only your building’s water tightness at the roof level, but upgrade and improve the building’s energy efficiency.

Energy Savings Initiatives

Focus on windows and doors

Replacement of older windows and exterior doors is also a normal capital replacement budget expense. Advances in window technology over the years has led to increased energy efficiency and performance of windows and glazing. Older single-pane windows can be replaced with newer windows that have energy efficient upgrades, such as insulated or double/triple-pane glass with inert gas or a vacuum between the panes of glass, which cuts down heat flow through the glazing. Replacement windows should also have low emissivity glass (low-E) that will reflect infrared radiation, which reduces heat transfer without affecting the natural lighting coming through the window. Thermal breaks, which are plastic or rubber separator materials that minimize heat transfer and conduction across inner and outer window frames, are also often included in high-quality windows.

If total window replacement is not a possibility or immediate need, then repairs of broken and failed window seals, gaskets, and thermal breaks will aid in reducing heat transfer across the window elements and save energy. Installation of solar films or tinting on existing windows will help keep rooms cooler in bright sunlight and heat, and will cut down glare. These repair and maintenance recommendations also apply to storefront and glass curtain wall systems as well as individual window units.

Other building elements to consider

Various elements of the exterior building façade make up the building envelope. These elements include batt wall insulation between the wall studs and cavity wall insulation for masonry, exterior sheathing, house wrap weather barrier membranes (e.g. DuPont Tyvek®), and/or building felts, which are behind the actual exterior wall finishes such as siding, brick, stucco, and stone. Windows and doors also form a part of the building envelope. All of these items – from the materials used to the quality of the installation – affect energy efficiency.

As buildings age, it is necessary to replace the exterior façade. This is an opportunity to incorporate some energy efficient items into these projects. Some older buildings may not have had any air or water barriers behind the siding or stucco/EIFS that is in need of replacement, and installing these items during siding replacement can yield significant energy savings.

There are a variety of weather barrier membranes on the market that are relatively easy to install and are not excessively costly. These membranes are breathable, allowing moisture vapor to pass through while blocking bulk water penetration into the wall system, which helps promote drying in wall systems to help prevent mold and water damage. DuPont also produces a weather barrier similar to the standard Tyvek® membranes, but now adds a layer of insulation equal to R-5. This new technology provides additional exterior wall insulation as a continuous barrier, which also serves to reduce thermal bridging that studs create.

Adding weather and air barriers in addition to replacement of wet and rotted sheathing and replacement and upgrade of interior wall insulation during these re-siding projects can greatly increase the energy efficiency of your building in addition to providing a new and attractive water resistant exterior finish.

Proper detailing and installation of the weather barriers along with installation of proper flashings and caulk around windows, doors, and other penetrations also helps keep water out of the wall system and building interiors. If total siding or exterior façade replacement is not in order at this time, re-caulking of the building exterior, including expansion and control joints, windows, doors, and other penetrations, with a high-quality polyurethane sealant (such as NP-1 by BASF) will not only provide enhanced protection against water penetration, but will increase energy efficiency by reducing the leakage of air from conditioned spaces through the building envelope.

It all adds up

Each of these focus areas will improve the overall energy efficiency of your building while enhancing its appearance as well. For older building, be sure to make improvements like the ones suggested part of the capital replacement plan.

About the Author:

Doug McMillan, P.E., is President of zumBrunnen, Inc. He began his engineering career in 1980, and he joined zumBrunnen, Inc. in 1998. McMillan received his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA. He is a former Resident Engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and he is a member of the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). McMillan is a licensed professional Civil Engineer in the state of California.

Doug McMillan