267 Main Street
Florence, KY 41042
P: 859.282.6467 | F: 859.282.1107

Could Your Building Use Energy Solutions? 8 Things to Look for in Your Building.

Posted by Tama Wagner at Nov 24, 2014 3:23 pm

As energy prices continue to climb (with or without rate hikes), the costs to heat, cool, and light a building also increase. A good Energy Solution will help to lower those costs while also reducing equipment stress and run-times. Lowering energy costs is good business, and when done right, can be great business.

Should you look into Energy Solutions in your own building? Check out the list below for signs that your building may be in need of assistance.


1. Parking lot lights are on during the day.  

Parking lot lights do not need to be on during the day, and when they are, they’re using energy. Additionally, this can point to possible issues such as a faulty photocell, or the time clock could have the wrong time causing the lights to not turn off properly. Finding the solution to this issue could save you up to $120 per year, per lamp.


2. People in the office or facility are using space heaters to keep warm.

If the heat is working properly in a building, people in the building shouldn’t feel the need to use a space heater to keep warm. Granted, some people get cold easier than others, but if you notice a majority of the occupants are using heaters, or if several occupants are using heaters in a particular area, it is likely there is an issue that is costing you money.


3. Areas in the building seem very bright compared to other areas.

Have you ever walked into a room and feel like you’re squinting or getting a headache? Lighting could be the issue. Standards have been put in place to not only make sure occupants of a building are getting enough light, but also that they’re not getting too much light. Over-lit spaces can cause comfort issues in addition to using too much energy.


4. Incandescent lamps are installed in the building.

Incandescent lamps are old technology, which use more energy than the options available today. Rather than changing all lamps at once, you can work with an Energy Solutions Professional to replace lamps gradually in order to save on costs.


5. Thermostats read lower than 72°F in the summer and higher than 72°F in the winter.

Examine your thermostats to see if you can lower your set point by 1 degree in the winter and/or raise your set point by 1 degree in the summer. This small change can add up and help you save money throughout the course of the year.


6. Areas feel extremely cold or hot.

First, since hot/cold preferences can vary from one person to another, validate the claim by using a thermometer to determine the actual temperature in the space compared to other areas in the building. Extremely cold or hot areas within a building may indicate an issue with the HVAC system performance or building envelope.


7. Lights are on when no one is in a room.

Growing up, you’ve probably always been told to turn off the lights when you leave the room, so you’re probably already familiar with the fact that having the lights on when no one is in a room is just a waste of money.

For example, a typical conference room in a building has six four-lamp fixtures. If the lights in this room were used just one less hour per day, you’d save approximately $20 for the year.


8. Substantial air movement occurs when opening a door or walking through a building.

Substantial air movement in the space can point to an HVAC balance or control issue. Addressing the issue will not only save you money in the long run, but will help with comfort issues.



All of the above are great items to get you headed in the right direction, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve never found a facility that doesn’t have potential for more savings. Consider checking in with an Energy Solutions Professional who can help you save money on energy bills. The money you save can then be put back into your business.

Posted in , , , , , , , , , ,

Be the first to leave a comment

Is Ice Storage Right for K-12 Schools?

Posted by Ian Holten at Oct 21, 2014 7:30 pm


This may be one of our more technical blogs. Don’t be scared, this is all common sense.


Simple Explanation of Ice Storage Systems

For those of you “outside the biz,” let me quickly explain what ice storage systems are intended to do.

Typically, the main goal for these systems is to allow a facility to avoid higher electric charges during the day by using ice, stored in large containers, to cool the facility instead of running the A/C. In simple terms, a building will make ice overnight (when electricity is “cheaper”) and then use the ice for cooling during the day, allowing expensive-to-run cooling equipment to be shut off.

Here is why it’s important to shift loads from day to night:

  1. Customers are charged for how much electricity they use.
  2. Customers are also charged for how much electricity they use at any given time.

Ice storage systems usually increase usage slightly (#1 above) but decrease demand (#2 above). It’s usually cheaper to reduce #2 greatly while increasing #1 slightly.

Simple idea… not so simple systems


Would I Want Ice Storage Systems To Help Lower My Electric Bills?

I’ve had the opportunity to work on numerous cooling plants in the tri-state. Some have ice storage, but most do not. This made me wonder… if I was in charge of a school district or large facility, would I want ice storage systems to help lower my electric bills?

Ice storage systems, when working properly, can lower peak electricity demands by 25, 30, 35% or more. Those demand-savings can total tens of thousands of dollars per year in energy savings for our schools. Sounds like a good deal, and it can be.

However, the reality is that most of the ice storage systems I’ve been introduced to and worked on over the past years have NOT been operating properly. This poor operation often penalizes the district in terms of equipment life, occupant comfort, and higher energy costs.

Also, keep in mind that ice storage systems, in reality, should only be called up to operate during the hottest parts of the year with a fully occupied building. For most schools, this translates to only a few weeks in late May/June, and a few weeks in August/September.

The Achillesheel of any ice storage system is that the system MUST make ice the night prior so it can be used the next day. Murphy’s Law tells us that over the lifespan of an ice storage system, it WILL fail right when you need it most.


So The Questions For The District Become:

  1. What happens if we don’t have ice?
    1. Can we let the building temperatures suffer?
      1. This will usually cause very unhappy occupants!
    2. Do we turn on the cooling equipment to 100%?
      1. This will undermine the entire purpose of the entire system.
      2. Even if you run the cooling equipment full bore only one time during the summer, you will totally negate the benefits of the system.
  • If after reading the above 2 items you still turn on the cooling equipment, you will be at the mercy of the energy provider to “forgive” this occurrence. If they do not forgive this occurrence, you have increased #1 and #2, and will pay for the #2 increase throughout the year.

So, you see, there really aren’t many good options for schools if equipment fails to make ice. Furthermore, these systems notoriously have trouble even reliably communicating how much ice is actually in the tanks.


Long Blog Short

If your building operators and maintenance personnel have the ability, willingness, and expertise to keep an ice storage system properly functioning, then ice storage systems can save a lot of money.

If, like most districts, your maintenance and operational personnel are already stretched thin and do not have the time or energy to devote to a system like this, I’d pass on these systems, and instead, work to make what you have function at its best.

Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Be the first to leave a comment

DIY: Energy Modeling for Existing Buildings

Posted by Chris Zerhusen at Sep 25, 2014 5:23 pm

The Built-In Energy Tool for Existing Buildings

Whole Building Energy Modeling has become a household name in our industry, because, let’s face it, the model is a powerful tool for new construction. For existing buildings, however, I have a different perspective; a building in operation contains its own built-in energy tool, so you can do the energy modeling yourself.

The information is already there… you have monthly data on electric, gas and water consumption that is easily obtainable (if it is not, you need to find a new energy supplier). This is factual information, there are no assumptions, the facts are the facts… you get the point.

How Does it Work? Simple Version, First Step:

First, you need a degree in Nuclear Science (obviously a joke). Gather up your utility bills from the past one, two, and three years. Determine your baseline, using any metric of your choosing, such as Total Energy Cost, kWh Per Square Foot, Total Energy Cost Per Square Foot, Total Cost Per Occupant, etc. The point being, you are creating a metric to so you can compare data accurately over time. Keep in mind this is the simple version.


Use common sense (easier said than done sometimes)! Turn off lights that are normally left on all day. Turn up your thermostat a degree in cooling or down a degree in heating. Make one cup of coffee a day instead of two. Install a ceiling fan. Simply put; if it consumes energy, turn it off, or at least limit the time it is on. There is no mad science to this!

Track Your Success!

Now the fun part… you have to track your success. Each month, add your bill to your data collection, compare it to the previous month, and compare it to the same month a year before. Keep this information in front of you at all times. If your current month is higher than it was last year, try and determine why. If it is lower, enjoy your reductions! I know you are going to ask, “What about weather?” Check out our blog, “Whether Weather Affects Energy Use” that will answer that question for you. Regardless of the heating degree-days, cooling degree-days, humidity, wind speed, occupant loads, or the alignment of Jupiter with Mars, the point is you saved. Understanding why you save leads you to additional success.

Extra Credit: Click Here to Download an Excel template already set up to track your energy expenses.

Posted in , , , ,

Be the first to leave a comment

Whether Weather Affects Energy Use

Posted by Ian Holten at Aug 22, 2014 2:33 pm

Serving as Energy Manager for many of our local schools and businesses is truly an honor and a pleasure. Being a guy who is never short on puns, I can tell you that any successful energy management plan takes… well… energy! It takes a lot of time, thought, and effort to be able to systematically lower the amount of energy a building uses.

The most popular question I get, without fail, is, “Does weather affect energy use?” The short answer is yes.




Although the short answer is yes, that is not the answer I typically give to our clients. The answer I give is of course my opinion, based on experience I’ve gained from directly managing millions of square feet of commercial facilities, receiving their monthly energy costs, and then attempting to form an idea as to what is causing any fluctuations, good or bad.


Ambient Conditions… Not Ambient Temperatures

So, the answer I give to, “Does weather affect energy use?” is based off of real world scenarios. It usually consists of me speaking the word “yes” while shaking my head no!

Okay, so I don’t actually do that, but I should, because I feel it’s true. Of course ambient conditions affect how much heating or cooling is required on a daily basis. The key words here are “ambient conditions.” Notice I did not say, “ambient temperatures.” Most people associate temperature as the driving force behind energy use related to space comfort.  While my opinion places outdoor air temperature on the list of reasons why a facility may use more or less energy, the reality is that outdoor air temperature is probably more near the middle or bottom of the list. A few of the factors I feel are more near the top of the list include; operating hours, equipment optimization (or lack thereof), operating set points, wind speed, and even sunlight. All of these could be argued as more important factors. (Disclaimer: every facility is different; thus, how much each factor plays a role in energy use also varies.)

As humans, we are very sensitive to temperature changes, which may explain why the question is so popular. However, my opinion is that weather should never be used as a trump card over the other factors I mentioned, and those factors alone seem to have much larger impacts on a facility’s energy intensity.

Most energy managers spend a lot of time “normalizing” energy costs by attempting to factor in ambient temperatures. And yes, I have been down that road as well and use it from time to time. But, to me, normalizing energy costs while only looking at outdoor air temperature would be like reviewing a book after only reading one chapter. So many other factors play a bigger role in energy use, that it seems silly to only normalize to temperature.


Final Thoughts

In closing, even if there was a reliable way to compare a facility’s energy use while accounting for weather, every facility I’ve ever worked in is such a dynamic and evolving environment I think we’d see that it’s more about the way in which a facility is operated and less about outside air temperature. I’ve had months where a facility has actually used less energy during a record setting heat wave (I’m looking at you, July 2013 and January/February 2014), and then I’ve had months that set a new high water mark for energy use during relatively mild temperatures (June 2014) because equipment schedules were lost and HVAC equipment was running overnight.

Two phrases I use often are, “Don’t let the exception make the rule,” and, “Sometimes the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.” These relate very well to energy management. Of course, very extreme weather can cause excessive energy use. However, in my opinion, spending more than a few minutes trying to calculate a theoretical number is wasting energy in and of itself.  My opinion is that most of the time the answer you get isn’t worth the trouble of getting it. An Energy Manager’s time would be much better spent actually working on ways to reduce energy consumption.  I’d like to see folks focus more on the WAY they operate their buildings and worry less about the weather!


What ways do you manage energy use in your facility? Comment below!

Posted in , , , , , ,

1 Comment

What the Heck is Building Commissioning?

Posted by Tama Wagner at Jul 21, 2014 5:39 pm

I began working with ZH Commissioning in February, with a very slight understanding of Building Commissioning… just the knowledge I had gained from their website. All I knew was that these two guys who started their business 3 years ago were extremely passionate and excited about it. My first day here, Ian gave me a rundown of what Building Commissioning was by drawing a diagram and explaining how the process works, in a way that someone like me, who isn’t involved in the process every day, could understand. I knew right away why Ian and Chris were so passionate. It’s a much-needed process that not many people know is out there, and it must be done honestly and accurately in order to be effective.


So… What is Commissioning?

The Short Version:

According to ASHRAE Guideline 0, The Commissioning Process, defines commissioning as “a quality-oriented process for achieving, verifying, and documenting that the performance of facilities, systems, and assemblies meets defined objectives and criteria”.

My Version:

Let’s start by putting you in the shoes of a building owner. You are in charge of a building project, and you’re having a brand new library built in your town. You have a pretty good idea of what your needs are for this building. What would you do first? You’d most likely start by hiring an architect to design it… right? Then, after the architect has finished designing your building there’s going to be construction, with several different contractors bidding on the project. Then once the contractors are chosen, they’ll start building your building. It’s going to be exactly what you wanted, right? Most likely it will not.

Building a new building is a huge undertaking. A Commissioning Provider is there to ensure that your needs for your building are met. They will be there during the entire process. Ideally, Commissioning should be there before design has begun. Why? They start off by documenting your requirements for your building. This document is called Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). This is the basis for everything going forward on your project. This document is different for every building owner because every owner has their own wants and needs for their building. Additionally, this document may change as needed throughout the project at the owner’s approval.

The Commissioning Authority will be your third-party advocate, in other words, he or she will make sure to ask the questions you may not know to ask in the first place. By asking questions and documenting answers, the amount of issues that will arise during construction are minimized. The Commissioning Authority will also be there to help handle any problems that do arise.

Additionally, throughout each phase of your project, the Commissioning Authority will take the necessary steps to make sure your requirements are met. How? By keeping communication open, performing tests on your building’s systems, documenting these tests and questions along the way, and then attending systems training to ensure the training is thorough. Months later, when the project is finished, and the architects and construction workers are gone, the Commissioning Authority will come back to make sure the building systems are still working efficiently.


Why is Commissioning Important?

We could write an entire blog on why Commissioning is important… and we may do that later. But, basically, Commissioning is important because, as I mentioned earlier, the Commissioning Authority acts as a third set of eyes and your advocate throughout every phase of the project. Think if you were buying a used car… mostly likely, you wouldn’t buy a used car without having your trusted mechanic “approve” of the purchase. Why would you trust that your new multimillion dollar facility is going to be up to par without having someone on your side approve it? That someone is a Commissioning Agent.


Have more questions about Building Commissioning? Post your questions and comments below! We’d love to hear from you.

Be the first to leave a comment

LED and the Death of the Screw-in Light Bulb

Posted by Ian Holten at Jun 18, 2014 7:48 pm

Light Fair 2014, Las Vegas

Vegas Strip

Chris and I recently had the pleasure of attending “The New Language of Light,” a light fair held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Thank you to our host, Mark Bromley of Innovative Lighting Solutions for inviting us to this event.

After spending two days immersed in the lighting industry’s ideas of the future, I have taken away a few ideas of my own.


LED and the Death of the Screw-in Light Bulb

For those of us not born in the 21st century, we are stigmatized with the idea of the screw-in light bulb. We grew up in a time when lighting was, for lack of a better term, analog. The incandescent light, and other resistance-type lights, sufficed for the better part of 75 years. The switch to LED (which WILL be the standard for all future lighting) will be much easier for us old-schoolers to embrace once we approach the new technology with a new understanding. From what I understand, updating lighting will be similar to the cell phone industry’s method in that when LED fixtures reach their end-of-life, they will be upgraded entirely much the way cell phones are. The good news is that current LED technology will comfortably provide 10 years of service-life versus the maybe 2-4 years we get from our cell phones.


The Bell Curve

LEDs have been in the conversation for well over 10 years that I can remember, and have been improved upon continually during this time. After seeing the extravagant amount of time, effort, and money big manufacturers have put into this technology, I personally feel we are near the top of the innovation bell curve. The market is evolving extremely fast, which can be seen in the large number of patents being applied for and won. A result of this huge effort and investment means one thing; LED innovation will pay off in terms of lowering costs and pushing efficiencies higher, ultimately putting LEDs in the hands of the common consumer. When is this going to happen? It has already begun.



1500 watt LED Fixture

1500 watt LED Fixture… so bright, you nearly have to sign a waiver before it’s turned on.

Perhaps my biggest surprise of the experience was the flexible nature of the LED. Smaller sizes, lower power requirements, expansive color possibilities, and creativity from manufacturers are totally redefining what most would call a light fixture. I got first-hand experience with everything from stage lighting, in wall/ceiling applications, handrail illumination, grow lights, floodlights, and a spotlight so bright they nearly had me sign a waiver prior to turning it on. Basically, the possibilities for LED appear endless.


Final Thoughts

Whether the world is ready for the change or not, LED is here to stay. The billions of dollars in research and development mean we will not have a choice. What’s the good news? I do believe LED is the right answer. You just can’t fall into the trap of comparing LEDs to a .99-cent throwaway incandescent light bulb. The LED is a 10-15 year lighting solution and there is a cost premium associated with its benefits. If you’re thinking about making the investment, stick with a brand you know will be around long enough to honor its warranty in case something should fail. (I also heard standard LED warranties will be increased from 5 to 10 years at some point—a testament to the true durability of these little powerhouses.)



1 Comment

First Blog

Posted by ZH Commissioning at May 23, 2014 2:05 pm

Stay tuned for our first blog! We will be providing a monthly blog geared toward providing you with useful information from our industry. In the meantime, fill out the form on our Contact page or give us a call if you have any questions or blog suggestions.


Be the first to leave a comment