ENERGY STAR Checklist: Practical, Proactive Steps Toward Certification

high rise buildings and blue skyBy now, it’s well documented that ENERGY STAR certified buildings save energy, save money, and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. ENERGY STAR certification requires buildings to meet strict energy performance standards set by EPA, specifically a score of at least 75 on EPA’s 1 to 100 scale. Scores are based on the actual, measured energy use of a building and calculated within EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool. The score accounts for differences in operating conditions, regional weather data, and other important considerations.

Given the importance of this certification, Schneider Electric’s client managers and operations professionals are often engaged to assist clients in improving their facilities’ ENERGY STAR scores. And, while there’s no substitute for the expertise of a long-time advisor like Schneider Electric throughout the process, there are a number of fundamental, proactive steps facility managers can undertake prior to engaging our team.   

To help our clients prepare for 2023, we created an easy-to-follow checklist to assist building owners in beginning the process internally. The list is divided into two categories:

  1. Validating your current information in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager
  2. Improving future building operations

Begin by validating your current information in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager with these guidelines:

  • Review the instructions at energystar.gov/benchmark to verify your team has followed EPA rules for data input.
    • Confirm you used gross square footage for each category.
    • Confirm you broke out office use that is “extended hours.” 
      (Example: If you have 30,000 sq.ft. that operates longer hours than the rest of the building, enter that data as a separate use.)
  • Verify proper data for garage and/or surface parking.
  • Submeter data centers (except for the HVAC).
    • Break out “IT closets” separately and list as office space, 24/7 use and 0 people with the number of computers. (Note: These computers are compared to the number of horizontal computers in your IT racks.)
  • Verify the number of people and computers in the building.
  • Leverage a fully integrated technology platform like EcoStruxure™ Resource Advisor to manage all your energy data in one place and track of all your sites or buildings and their ENERGY STAR certification statuses. Your team lead for certification programs can proactively collaborate with site-level team members.

Now, as you begin to shift efforts to improve your future building operations, review these common problem areas our team often encounters during energy audits in many commercial buildings:

  • Review systems start/stop programming in the Energy Management System (EMS).
    • Buildings should be checked at night/on weekends to verify systems are not in operation. (Note: Some systems may be operating even if your EMS programs the system to be inoperable.)
    • Optimum start should be used to start building systems. (Note: Many buildings still use a set time to start up regardless of weather-related factors.)
  • Review ventilation settings as overventilation is a common problem for commercial buildings. Questions to consider/confirm:
    • Where appropriate, do outside air fans and toilet exhaust fans deactivate at night?
    • Is the outside air system too large for the building’s needs?
    • Are your C02 levels appropriate? (Note: 1,100 ppm is allowed by most codes.)
  • Review minimum settings for the dampers in variable volume (VAV) boxes. Questions to consider/confirm:
    • What is the minimum setting for the dampers? (Note: We see many buildings with 10 to 30% minimum opening where 5% would be adequate.)
  • Maintain ongoing training for building engineers as primary concerns — energy conservation and tenant comfort — require their expertise.
    • (Example: The building’s third floor is difficult to cool, and the building must start up at 3 a.m. as a result. Resolving the third floor HVAC issues would allow the building start-up to be delayed.) 
  • Evaluate your “night setback” strategy. (Note: Change the setback to 85 in the summer and 55 in the winter or eliminate setback temperatures entirely, if appropriate.)
  • Pursue building settings that optimize savings: dark, no HVAC running.

Consider the common misconception among some building engineers, facility managers, building tenants, etc. that HVAC must operate in some capacity at night and over weekends to make sure the building is suitable for occupancy during the week. In fact, 99% of our energy audits dispel this fallacy. But, in many ways this fallacy underscores the missing — and most important — piece in the building certification process, ENERGY STAR and otherwise: data is critical. Without access to complete, accurate building data, most efforts to initiate or improve ENERGY STAR scoring simply won’t get off the ground floor.

For more information on our ENERGY STAR checklist or to pursue other building certifications, please contact us and we’ll connect you to one of our energy and sustainability experts.

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