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Energy retrofits prove useful

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by John Leckie

Promoting potential savings from energy retrofits is often a mistake in the residential market but makes sense in the ICI sector, says Tony Woods, president of Mississauga-based Canam Building Envelope Specialists.

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Long-term cash savings pays for investment now

Promoting potential savings from energy retrofits is often a mistake in the residential market but makes sense in the ICI sector, says Tony Woods, president of Mississauga-based Canam Building Envelope Specialists.

Not that Woods is opposed to saving energy. He just wants it to be done the right way. Actually, his feelings are a little mixed. He makes a living fixing the mistakes that people have made in the name of energy efficiency.

The problem with government programs encouraging energy efficiency is that they are essentially bribing people to carry out energy retrofits with no effort made to ensure changes are done properly, Woods says.

The most common retrofit for homes is generally windows. New windows may look nice but the payback on the investment may be 30 to 50 years. Potential savings don’t justify the investment.

It is a little easier in larger buildings. There, economies of scale take over and there can be economic justification for energy retrofits.

“When you go into a high-rise building, the ground floor may be unique but for every floor above that, you are repeating the process. That sort of thing brings costs down to a level where you can get a good return.”

School boards are turning to performance contractors who retrofit a package of schools and guarantee the results, Woods says. The contractors earn their money from energy savings for the buildings. Often energy savings are used as justification for changes driven by a much different motivation.

Woods had one client who wanted to keep flies out of a huge manufacturing plant to prevent contamination of the firm’s product.

When the firm’s president heard it was going to cost $113,000 to seal the building, he got worried that his board might laugh off the request. So, he called Woods and asked if there would be any energy savings.

It turned out they would save about $10,000 a year.

“There was no talk about payback, which would have taken 13 years,” Woods said.

The president was happy with any return on investment to justify the project to the board. The project was approved and carried out.

Another project involved an apartment complex where a fire on the fifth floor of one building resulted in the deaths of five people trying to escape to the roof from the thirtieth floor.

Several years after the fire, the complex was retrofitted to seal the buildings more tightly. The stated justification was improved energy efficiency. Energy savings were, indeed, significant. They had been estimated at $200,000 and turned out to be $400,000. The real reason the project had gone ahead, however, was improved smoke control, to prevent a recurrence of the previous fatal fire.

Conservation programs can solve all kinds of problems, if they are done right, Woods says. They may not save money, however, and, if they are not done properly, they can wind up costing a great deal.

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