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Aug 14, 2014

Lessons from the 102nd Floor

After the Empire State Building, deep energy retrofits gain momentum


Five years ago the term “deep energy retrofits” was virtually unknown. No magazine was devoted to them, conferences did not focus on the issue, there was very little discussion on the subject, and there were no service providers to provide them if you asked. There were also few built examples that one could see, just a glimmer of possibility.

Fast forward to 2014: Now there is a flourishing industry around deep energy retrofits, and energy service companies are in competition—each trying to outdo the other in demonstrating their ability to go deeper and save more energy more cost effectively. Conferences are organized around them, magazines are devoted to them, and the Internet is aflutter with the latest, greatest examples of every shape and scale.

Towering undeniably in the center of this cyclone is the Empire State Building. This iconic building is an unlikely hero, seemingly an immensely difficult candidate to show how to save energy. Yet eight simple energy saving measures, carefully coordinated, save over 38 percent of the energy use with only a three-year payback. The Empire State Building retrofit, launched in 2009, clearly makes the business case, showing deep energy retrofits can be done, demonstrating the practicality of an integrated design approach, and delivering enviable financial and energy performance.

But there is only one Empire State Building. And since it has very little in common with most buildings, it would be easy to think the lessons must be irrelevant. However, the project has shown other building owners the immense business opportunity deep energy retrofits provide. If this seemingly impossible amount of energy savings can be found in the Empire State Building, why not in other buildings as well?

A new idea had taken hold; the project became both a catalyst and a template for others. And now deep retrofits of every imaginable building type are happening in every location. Caltech’s Linde + Robinson Laboratory retrofit reduced energy consumption by 77 percent, the International Monetary Fund HQ1 office in Washington, D.C., saved 50 percent (over $2 million per year), and the retrofit of the historic Wayne N. Aspinall Federal building in Grand Junction, CO, is achieving net-zero energy use. Car dealerships, museums, banks, whole portfolios of buildings such as at Arizona State University, and more are jumping on board with deep energy retrofits saving more energy than they previously thought possible. And every day more new businesses are clamoring to meet the demand for this new business opportunity.

The Empire State Building’s performance continues to improve every year. To date the deep energy retrofit has saved an estimated $7.5 million and is projected over the next 15 years to keep over 105,000 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. It’s quite magnificent. But the story of the Empire State Building is not only one of a single building that saves energy and money. The story is of a building that spurred a thousand emulators, each cost effectively saving their share of energy and greening the world’s building stock. Five short years later we have changed the trajectory of energy use in buildings. We are building better buildings, creating more valuable assets, and a making a healthier world.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Join the Discussion

Showing 1-4 of 4 comments

August 19, 2014

Victor, all of the properties in the RMI case studies are office or institutional and I'm interested residential low-, medium- and high-rises. Do you have any stats on deep retrofits of multi-unit residential buildings? When it comes to industry news, what are the top web sites and conferences? I'm based in North America but am also interested in Europe and Asia. Best regards, -Geoff

August 20, 2014

Hi Geoff,

You are correct in that RMI has generally focused on commercial projects rather than residential. It's where we have the most impact.

For statistics and multifamily case studies, I would point you to New Buildings Institute (NBI) who have an awesome buildings database here: http://buildings.newbuildings.org/mtxview.cfm?CFID=22076231&CFTOKEN=44126147 Another useful resource is the AIA COTE top ten: http://www.aiatopten.org/taxonomy/term/9 for 18 years worth of exceptional buildings, both new and retrofit. Retrofit magazine http://retrofitmagazine.com/ is a good resource, as is RMI's retrofit depot http://www.rmi.org/retrofit_depot For conferences, there are too many to list, Greenbuild of course, the AIA Convention and ASHRAE often have strong building retrofit tracts, and if you are feeling like an adventure come to the Rebuild 2014 conference in Riva Del Garda, Italy in September where I will be keynoting on the subject of "Redefining the rules of deep retrofits". Hope this helps!

August 26, 2014

I would be interested in learning the recommended upgrades at The Empire State from an engineers perspective. Any more details available?

August 27, 2014

Greetings John,
Sure there are tons of details available. I would start at http://www.esbnyc.com/esb-sustainability, which is the Empire State Buildings official site on their deep energy retrofit. Also, you can check JCI's information http://www.johnsoncontrols.com/content/us/en/products/building_efficiency/connect-with-us/media-resources/publishing-arm/empire-state-building.html they are the engineers of record for the project. And of course RMI's "RetroFit depot" also has some detailed engineering information here; http://www.rmi.org/Content/Files/ESBCaseStudy.pdf and other detailed information here: http://www.rmi.org/Buildings Hope this helps! -Victor

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