High performance real estate is more common and its value is finally understood, but many people still believe that all of these efficient green buildings are new, shiny developments. Yes – it’s typical to apply the latest sustainability strategies and technologies to new construction, but it’s just as typical to retrofit and renovate existing buildings with new sustainable and efficient features and technologies.

We mentioned in an earlier blog post  that nearly three million more people will be enrolled in American colleges and universities in 2022 than were enrolled in 2011 –  a 14% increase –  and there’s a parallel spike in the need for space to host the influx. But universities are often cash-strapped, and with land use restrictions to boot, building new sustainable buildings is rarely an option.

How can an aging building be transformed into an energy efficient, purposeful building without the hefty investment involved in new construction? Here are our favorite options for universities on a budget.

Adapt What You Have

For smart, fast ways to make more space for incoming students, facility managers should start with their existing infrastructure. A building repurpose or reconfiguration can enhance space functionality and utilization, and amounts to considerable cost savings. In fact, this study indicates that college campuses can save between 23 percent and 108 percent by renovating an existing building, as compared to new construction.

How do you save money through the renovation of existing buildings? By updating the building systems and technology, and altering the use of space in smart, efficient ways.

  • Convert underused use space like gyms and storage spaces into flexible, multipurpose spaces;
  • Reconfigure interior walls to be more functional and right-sized for instructional needs;
  • Convert underused or outdated classrooms and offices into student housing;
  • Update classroom learning technologies and mechanical systems (i.e. hood systems);
  • Consolidate discipline-specific facilities, and group student services into activity hubs;
  • Use flexible spaces for alternative scheduling and out-of-classroom experiences.

Remember: an existing building has already absorbed most of the energy of the construction process, and therefore the lifecycle savings of older buildings lend to a holistic approach to sustainable construction. There’s less new waste produced through demolition, and less energy used throughout the process.

Tackle Operating Costs for Quick Savings

While the economy is stabilizing, operating costs are still on the rise, which puts pressure on facility managers to reduce maintenance and operating costs. We’re dealing with a prevalence of older buildings, aging infrastructure, and inefficient equipment – which all lead to high energy use and increased spending.

Deferred maintenance on facilities to save money today can actually cost more in the long run. Instead of deferring maintenance, consider reducing energy and water use to achieve long-term goals.

Quick fix strategies to achieve immediate energy and water use savings include:

  • Employ computer power management systems (sleep mode)
  • Apply smart power strips
  • Include occupancy sensors
  • Turn off lab vent hoods when not in use
  • Adjust temperatures through building automation systems
  • Reduce water heater temp set points
  • Check the economizer regularly and ensure it is functioning properly
  • Use window shade and blinds
  • Check and clean condenser coils regularly
  • Change air filters

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is a great resource to report sustainability progress on any of the measures taken above, including energy and water reduction milestones.

For more advanced and ongoing maintenance, retro-commissioning or continuous commissioning also ensures the building is operating as efficiently as possible. A commissioning agent can verify and fine-tune the internal performance of the building. This systematic process typically includes building HVAC, controls, lighting, hot water, security, fire, and life safety systems. Subtle changes identified in a sequence of operations or an installation can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of a building.

Bottom line: High Performance Achieved through TLC

Existing buildings (and therefore facilities managers, students, and teachers) can benefit from incorporating new high performance measures and systems, repurposing or renovation, with less capital costs involved. Upgrades tend to be less expensive and less disruptive than new systems.

Offer a little TLC to the existing buildings of a campus portfolio. It’s financially feasible, and will lead to operational savings. Start by looking at the abundance of resources available now, and find smart ways to work with what you have.







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