Typically, when building owners invest in energy efficiency measures like energy retrofits, the main motive is to save on energy bills. Energy efficiency measures bring additional benefits like meeting climate laws and regulations, which has its own benefits. However, there is another benefit that is equally important and is often overlooked, making buildings safer.
This can be better understood when we consider the case where the energy efficiency measures do not accomplish its purpose. For instance, a damaged insulation can cause electric current to leak from a wire. Such leaks can lead to electrocution or start a fire. Typically, an increase in energy consumption of a building results in higher probability of potential damage that energy can cause.
Now, let’s discuss three examples of how energy efficiency can make building safer.
1Avoiding Potential Harm from Inefficient or Old Heating System
Most of the buildings have natural gas or fuel oil based combustion heating systems, since they have low operating costs. However, this also means that the fossil fuels are burning directly inside the building. If not controlled or regulated, the resulting heat and the combustion gases can endanger everyone in the building.
Old boilers and furnaces that don’t receive proper maintenance, consume high energy. This means the inefficiency results in production of large volumes of combustion gases. If these gases are not controlled, they can spread in indoor spaces. One such harmful gas is carbon monoxide, which can result in unconsciousness and death at concentrations as low as 1%.
An excellent alternative to this is electric resistance heaters. They do not rely on combustion gases for producing heat. However, their operating cost is high. The amount of gas savings will not offset the electricity bills. For optimum results and savings, using a combination of electric heat pumps and renewable energy will help you get rid of the combustion gases while keeping the operating costs at the minimum.
2Increasing Savings with an Efficient Building Envelope
Savings on HVAC costs can be achieved all year long when the building envelope has good insulation. This insulation acts as a barrier against the external temperature and can maintain the desired indoor temperature. Ensuring an efficient building envelope means that it has no air leaks, as air leaks result in massive heat exchange.
Building envelopes play a vital role in insulating the indoor spaces from the extreme temperature levels in winters and summers, especially when the HVAC systems are down. A well-insulated building with no air leaks is capable of providing a suitable indoor environment for the occupants even during heat waves or winter storms.
When a building is unable to maintain a suitable temperature by itself, the occupants are likely to use space heaters. If not used properly, these devices can be very dangerous. This was the catalyst in the deadly Bronx fire in January 2022.
3The Benefits of LED
Most of the LED upgrades achieve the intended goal of energy savings, and typically achieve a payback period of three years or less. Many of the recent LED products last more than 10 years, which means an LED upgrade can achieve excellent ROI. Apart from the monetary benefits, LEDs bring many safety advantages like –
- LED fixtures use less power and thus dissipate less heat. This means lower chances of starting a fire.
- LEDs can be designed without using fragile materials like glass, thus making them shatterproof and safe to use.
- LEDs can run on backup efficiently due to their low energy consumption.
Considering the energy benefits, quick payback period, and savings on energy bills, LED lighting is an excellent investment for buildings. In most of the energy audits, LED upgrade is one of the most recommended energy upgrades.