When it comes to energy upgrades for existing buildings, the first bottom line benefit that comes to mind is of course the energy savings. The experience of Fort Carson in Colorado offers another perspective, which is avoiding the cost of constructing a new building to the same specifications.
The case in point is the recently completed conversion of a 1950’s-era barracks into new office space with a range of energy saving features aiming for LEED Silver certification later this spring. The total cost of the renovations was just over $5.1 million and Fort Carson estimates that constructing a new building with the same features would cost about $20 million. Aside from serving as the template for future projects at military facilities throughout the U.S., it could also provide some useful guidance for industrial parks and other large scale commercial facilities.
Human energy deserves conservation, too
The first thing to note about the renovation project is the importance of location, which in this case translates into a more efficient use of human energy. The new project consolidated offices that were previously spread out in four different buildings. In an article about the renovation by Susan Galentine of Fort Carson, a planner for the division explains:
“We had an idea of a centralized customer service campus in this area to consolidate the functions. If the majority of garrison support activities are consolidated into a centralized area, we can offer better and more efficient services to our customers. The customer can interact with several agencies in one trip rather than needing to travel all over the installation.”
Simple solutions for energy conservation
Though new solar technologies and other high-tech advances make great headlines, sometimes the main savings can come from adjustments to existing technologies. This is especially true when upgrading older buildings, since the bar is set so low, as demonstrated by the Fort Carson renovation.
The installation of a flexible, modular layout, for example, is a giant step up from permanently walled spaces in older buildings. The new design contributes to more efficient air flow, facilitates future renovations, and makes it easier for the building’s staff to adopt energy saving teamwork strategies such as sharing printers and copiers.
Another main element of the renovation is a new gas-fired hot water heating system calibrated to 120 degrees instead of the standard 180 degrees, along with new insulation for the piping and a heat capture system. That achieved a 40 percent savings over the old system, which normally would account for about 70 percent of the building’s energy use. A new cooling system with a similar design achieved a 25 percent savings.
The renovation also includes solar panels for heating water used in sinks and showers, but compared to the savings achieved by the climate control systems, they will play a relatively minor role.
A test bed for future energy saving projects
Another feature of the renovation is a green roof covering part of the building. Though it many not necessarily contribute to a significant energy savings in that particular structure, Fort Carson intends to use it as a pilot for testing low maintenance native grasses and plants with the aim of installing green roofs elsewhere on the base.
The availability of a on-site building for testing suitable vegetation for green roofs is an especially important consideration for large facilities that may be located in a micro-climate area, where conditions may vary substantially from off site tests.
Better buildings for the Army and you, too
Fort Carson is a participant in the Army’s Net Zero program, so it’s no surprise that the new renovation is just the first in a series planned for the base. Aside from achieving energy independence at Department of Defense facilities the Net Zero program serves as an energy conservation showcase to encourage the adoption of similar actions in the civilian sector.
Also helping to bring new energy saving technologies to your doorstep is President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative, which launched last year.
Image: Fort Carson LEED silver renovation courtesy of Fort Carson.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.