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Every business and homeowner knows that older buildings are generally more costly to run and that the key reason is energy efficiency. The inefficiencies of older commercial and residential buildings not only drive costs up for owners and tenants, the environment also pays a high price for their continued existence.

Buildings are the single biggest energy consuming element of our human world. US Green Building Council (USGBC) estimates that buildings account for an average of 41% of the world’s energy use, in a distant second and third you’ll find the industrial sector accounts with 30% and transportation with 29%. Building were even the focus of day 4 of the COP21 Climate Change Conference in 2015.

Better understanding the inefficiencies of an older building and retrofitting it with modern technology is one solution. Moving to a newer building is another option. While the best way to rid yourself of energy efficiency woes would be to move into a smart building, and despite their futuristic status, they might not be as expensive as people think.

Methods for retrofitting older buildings to improve energy efficiency have come along way in recent years, and the approach would be a practical and economical solution for our current building stock.

For older commercial buildings energy efficiency problems fall into three main categories; fabric, technology and people. Fabric may relate to insulation and structure, whereas people refers to the culture of efficiency among occupants, and technology covers key building systems.

“As buildings and their use change over time, one of the most common energy efficiency opportunities is to consider the operation of the main energy consuming assets: lighting and HVAC,” says Tom Montali, business development director at E.ON.

Installation of LED bulbs and lighting controls, for example, offer significant reductions in energy consumption at low cost and with minimal disruption. The Carbon Trust estimates that lighting controls make an average reduction in energy use of between 30% and 50%.

“There is a very large opportunity to develop the retrofit market that supplies lighting controls into existing installations. New construction projects account for, perhaps, 3-5% of non-domestic floor space each year; the existing building market offers up to 10 times more projects,” our Lighting Controls Business report identified. The accumulated size of that floor space also highlights the huge environmental value this market segment holds.

“Typically, we find these are rarely reviewed in detail and therefore will be operating inefficiently to deliver current requirements. But if we are to achieve our energy reduction goals as a society, we must consider how we operate and ultimately invest in old, inefficient buildings,” states Montali.

A great example of a building that is overcoming its age to thrive in the modern world is the story of 311 South Wacker Drive, Chicago, covered in our article Some Building Systems Are Born Smart, Others Have Smartness Thrust Upon Them. In the long run however, for cost savings and the environment, businesses are generally better off moving to new buildings instead of investing in the old.

Better still, at least for the environment, businesses should move into smarter buildings that provide the greatest efficiency gains. Globally, residential and commercial buildings account for 39% of CO2 emissions, according to The Energy and Resources Institute. Rather than just being the energy saving option, smart buildings could and should be regarded as central to the battle against climate change.

“In recent years, building owners are paying attention but smart buildings are still associated with ‘premium’ real estate projects,” writes Honeywell in an editorial for Business Insider India. “However, far from being a luxury for a privileged few, smart buildings can be an obvious and natural solution to the challenges faced by our crowded cities, where rampant construction is putting a strain on power and water delivery systems, and giving rise to environmental and public safety concerns.”

The environmental role of smart buildings in populus nations like India and China maybe where it is most profound but the per capita rates of electricity consumption in developed nations, along with the greater economic ability to upgrade, make them prime targets for these smart energy savings.

Be it for cost saving or the environment, greener buildings are at the center of the story looking forward. “With all their advantages, smart buildings will play a huge role in helping our towns and cities become sustainable, safer, and future-ready,” adds Honeywell.

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