This Web Exclusive article was provided by Alan Kemp, national sales manager for Varco Pruden Retrofit Systems.
Your building is old. The roof leaks. Maintenance and utility costs continue to rise. Tenants and employees are uninspired. Visitors are unimpressed. You’re not alone. There are approximately two million non-residential buildings in the U.S. over 40 years old. With a building boom that spanned many decades, we’ve now reached a point in time where more facility managers (fms) are shifting their focus to retrofitting as opposed to building new. Reasons go beyond repairing an old building. They include: expansion, improving occupancy or usage, upgrading to better energy performance, and improving curb appeal. Before deciding which direction to turn for guidance, let’s look at some issues.
First to consider is the importance of the human environment. A key reason for the population shift toward Sunbelt states in the mid-1900s was the invention of air conditioning. The importance of having a quality environment for your organization cannot be overstated. If your facility looks and feels run down, it will have a negative impact on everyone who walks through the door. Customers, employees, and even potential investors, all consider the environment when developing an opinion of your organization.
Studies have shown simple improvements such as fresh paint, background music, and wall art improve productivity, enhance morale, and lower absenteeism — all of which increase profitability. The financial value of improving the work environment and enhancing the curb appeal of your facility should be a prime consideration when it’s time to invest in a building makeover.
Most facilities constructed more than 40 years ago would probably not meet current building codes in categories such as wind resistance and energy. New data on wind and its potential destructive damage has led to increased code requirements for sustainability. With regard to energy, before the mid-1970s, almost all low-slope commercial roofs were made from asphalt or coal-tar pitch. These materials, as well as many roofing and construction products today, originate from non-sustainable oil or petroleum-based byproducts. This sustainability factor has contributed to the increased use of metal roofing since steel originates from abundant iron ore and on average lasts much longer.
Roof assemblies designed in the past contained a limited amount of insulation. We now know better. The amount of energy wasted and the amount of money spent on inefficient HVAC units and energy bills since that time is astronomical. The problem continues today in old buildings that have leaks and hidden moisture, which lead to excessive energy use and accelerate facility aging. Whether building a new structure or retrofitting an old one, attention to modern energy design leads to financial benefits. For example, one fm changed the paint color of interior walls to a reflective white, which enabled a 20% reduction in the number of electric light fixtures required. Many fms today are installing prismatic skylights, which can lead to the elimination of daytime electric lighting altogether. In a building makeover, consider every energy conservation opportunity.
Where to Start?
Start with a building assessment by a certified professional. Knowing the true condition of your facility will save time and money and provide peace of mind. One fm was preparing to replace more than 100 windows in a mid-rise building believing they were the cause of abnormal heating and cooling near exterior walls. Diagnostics and testing of the wall revealed the windows were fine, but the walls between the windows contained insulation gaps, and that was causing the problem. On some buildings, an assessment can be as simple as a free, one hour walkthrough. On others, more extensive building diagnostics such as roof cores or infrared scans may be beneficial, possibly revealing information leading to better solutions. When considering a building makeover, start with a company that specializes in building envelope assessments.
There are building software programs that can track and evaluate energy usage inside buildings, but these rarely consider the exterior building envelope where huge energy losses in old structures often occur from air leakage, water infiltration, and especially inadequate roof and wall insulation.
There are tools available that can derive valuable data that give an accurate energy analysis of a building. For example, the latest high speed aerial infrared technology can scan a large manufacturing plant, medical complex, university campus, or even a city in one day, detecting hidden moisture in roofs to every three square inches. 3D laser modeling can locate stone and masonry cracks in high-rise buildings and disclose settlement issues to within a fraction of an inch. The advanced infrared data can provide energy loss calculations for an entire building envelope which can then be used to determine proper remedial work. The data can also support the need for financing a building makeover since future energy savings can offset the cost of retrofit construction in whole or in part.
Not every building needs sophisticated diagnostics, but in many cases, spending a few thousand dollars upfront can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in accurate solutions, as was the case with the fm who almost replaced good windows.
One of the more popular green sustainable options today is the installation of a white or light color roof to help with solar reflectivity and energy conservation in southern climates. While this is important, the focus should be on the entire building envelope, including the roof, skylights, walls, windows, doors, and especially the insulation contained therein.
A building makeover should incorporate a complete package of components offering energy saving solutions in all categories. For example, Ray Heisey, P.E., RRC, LEED AP with Varco Pruden Buildings says, “the latest data indicates roof insulation values should probably be doubled from the traditional R19 to as much as R38. This is going to introduce new technical challenges with traditional low-slope roofing since the thicker new layers will require very long fasteners, raising roof drains and more. Metal roofing offers a solution by building over the old flat roof with a sloped metal roof that contains new insulation.”
There are a lot of new products, new assemblies, and new technologies being introduced for retrofit construction. It is important that a provider of a building makeover understands the total building envelope, how to improve performance and lower energy use.
Making The Move
Once you’ve decided to look into a building makeover, start with a professional building assessment. Add building diagnostics if needed. Once you’ve received the results, you will have solid information to proceed to the next step. At this point, you must decide who you trust to assist you to work on your project. It could be an architect, a general contractor, a consultant, a roof or wall contractor, or others depending on the scope of work you desire.
Once you begin the process, it will seem like no time has passed before you will be enjoying a refreshed environment, increased profitability and energy efficiency, and compliments from all who enter the facility.