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Why Benchmarking Your Building is Crucial to Saving Energy Costs

<p>San Francisco is considering an ordinance that would require benchmarking and energy efficiency audits for commercial buildings of 10,000 square feet or more. As city's supervisors prepare to review the proposal, the director of engineering for InterContinental hotel looks at how the measure could help property owners save significant sums in energy costs.</p>

In the coming weeks, San Francisco city leaders face an important decision: Should the city allow buildings to continue draining more energy and money than needed from the local economy, or should San Francisco take steps to ensure that building owners get the help they need to stop energy waste and start saving?

Buildings consume more than 70 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. Much of that energy goes wasted due to building inefficiencies. It is well documented that improving building energy efficiency can reduce energy use and costs by up to 50 percent. So why don't more building owners take steps to improve building energy performance? Simply put, they don't know where to begin.

Most owners don't know how well or poorly their buildings use energy. This type of information is not typically included in a monthly energy bill. Consequently, many owners are spending hundreds and even thousands of dollars more than they need to on energy. In this economy, owners cannot afford to waste a single dollar on unnecessary expenses.

At the InterContinental San Francisco, we wanted to be as efficient with our energy use as possible. So two years ago, on the day before the opening of the hotel, I stood before a group of 250 staff and asked them to join me in making a pledge -- a promise to improve and sustain our world at work and reduce waste wherever possible.

We've come a long way and are making good on our pledge. We've learned that it pays to reduce waste -- in particular energy waste. We saved $200,000 on energy bills last year after making simple and low-cost improvements to the hotel, and the savings keep coming.

But we would not have known where to begin or understand the full potential for energy savings if we hadn't started regularly measuring and rating the hotel's energy use, a process known in the building industry as "benchmarking."

Now, San Francisco city officials want to make sure more owners have the information they need to reel in energy waste and spending. Next week, the city's Board of Supervisors will conduct its first reading of a proposed ordinance that would make benchmarking standard for commercial property owners.

Benchmarking gives owners a better understanding of how their buildings use energy, how their performance compares to similar structures and what are the most cost-effective steps owners can take to stop energy waste. Better still, owners can benchmark their buildings for free using the EPA's online benchmarking tool. Plus, PG&E has a free online system for owners to automatically upload energy information into the benchmarking tool so they don't have to enter it by hand. It couldn't be easier or cheaper.

Once benchmarking is done, you can then prioritize which energy-saving improvements make the most sense to undertake. Getting an energy audit done on your building also helps with this. At the InterContinental San Francisco, we replaced all the older, inefficient lights in our parking garage with compact fluorescent bulbs, installed motion-sensor lighting controls on stairways, and fine-tuned our heating and cooling systems so that they were in top working condition. Altogether, our investment in these improvements combined with rebates from PG&E and the San Francisco Department of the Environment paid themselves back in less than a year and a half and have saved the hotel $200,000 on energy last year alone.

You don't have to wait or waste another dollar on energy! Start benchmarking your building now, and encourage your peers to do the same. Taking control of energy use and costs is one of the best ways to stay competitive in this tight real estate market.

Top image CC licensed by Flickr user Inset image of the InterContinental San Francisco CC licensed by Trance addict via Wikimedia Commons.

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