When it comes to sustainability, most buildings in the U.S. over-consume resources. At The Jordan Institute, a New Hampshire-based non-profit organization, the primary mission is reducing the consumption of energy in commercial buildings. It sees that by addressing energy usage in buildings, building owners soon realize a cascade of other benefits. The Institute works to make the buildings across New England energy efficient, environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing for the surrounding community. Historic, multi-family, commercial, industrial, warehouse, mixed use, office buildings, dormitories—it doesn’t matter what the building is designed for—The Jordan Institute and its new for-profit subsidiary, Resilient Buildings Group, Inc., have the expertise to reduce their energy consumption. This work in turn leads to myriad other benefits including improved operations and maintenance costs, durability, comfort, occupancy rates, indoor air quality and aesthetics.
The Back Story
The not-for-profit Jordan Institute was founded in 1995 with an initial gift from Doyle E. and Lenore M. Jordan. Its initial objective was to conduct research and engage in policy initiatives that connect environment, public health and the economy. Since its early days the organization has grown to include consulting services, energy audits, building modifications and energy savings verification.
As the Institute’s successes multiplied, and demand for its building retrofitting services increased, it came to recognize a pressing need for a sister organization capable of providing in-the-field project management services. The company introduced the for-profit Resilience Buildings Group, Inc. in July 2013.
Making Buildings Energy Efficient
New England buildings use local materials, clay bricks for construction and oil-based boilers with steam radiators for heating. From the founding of the country through the middle of the 20th century that model was practical. However, today those buildings are energy sieves, losing heating and cooling faster than the HVAC units can operate. It is highly impractical to tear the structures down, especially so when many of them are treasured historical jewels. The work of the Jordan Institute leads to market-driven improvements in individual buildings, spurring greater community improvements.
How the Process Works
After a building owner contacts Jordan Institute for a preliminary audit, the Institute sends a team out to conduct a complete energy audit that includes building structure, windows, HVAC, lighting and air exchange. They develop a short report with recommendations on where the owner can maximize investments in improvements and what the impacts of the improvements will be in terms of reducing heating, cooling, maintenance, lighting and electric costs. By making the changes a building operator can reduce and stabilize the building’s operations costs.
An Historic Building Example:
Take for example the historic district of Claremont, New Hampshire. With stimulus funding, Gary Trottier borrowed funds at a low interest rate and combined other grants and his own savings to make a $1.2 million upgrade to this 1890s mixed-use, three-story, 32,365 square-foot building, the Union Block. With seven retail spaces on the ground floor and 34 low-income apartments upstairs, the building is very attractive from the outside. However, its energy use was abysmal and the building was very uncomfortable. Trottier only leased one retail space, and rented apartments on a week-to-week basis; the building was never fully occupied. One thermostat “controlled” the heat for the entire building, meaning that the retail spaces were bitter cold in the winter, while occupants on the third floor had their windows open, wearing tee-shirts even in January.
After an energy audit and lengthy discussions with the local and State historic preservation leaders, building operators developed a plan to improve the building. After addressing strategic air sealing in the basement, attic, and other glaring voids, 12 inches of cellulose now insulates the attic. Renovators enclosed a large stairwell to reduce the “stack effect” where warm air rises up and out, and replaced the antiquated oil-fired steam heating distribution system with a high-efficiency, bulk-stored, wood-pellet hot-water system. A solar hot water system provides a portion of domestic hot water to the residential units. Each unit now has a thermostat to control temperatures in individual units and each is properly ventilated.
- Energy costs reduced: 30 percent - BTU savings: 53 percent - Occupancy: nearly 100 percent with 6-month and 1-year leases
Community benefit: Preservation of a beautiful historic building, comfort and dignity for the residents and tenants, and a business model which allows the building owner to remain solvent. Across the street, friend and former college roommate, Andy Dauphin exclaimed “I want what he got!” And so began the quest to improve the Moody Building, another beautiful brick historic building. These projects led to other creative ideas, including the launch of a small district-heating system using waste heat from local industrial sources like the paper mill. And without much ado, an urban revitalization was underway.
The Money Side of Building Efficiencies
The Jordan team has worked on hundreds of buildings in New Hampshire and across New England—energy audits, energy monitoring and verification, building commissioning, LEED consulting and certification, and owner advocacy—and by launching subsidiary Resilient Buildings Group, it can now scale-up the impact by adding energy-centric construction management services to its offerings.
Since Jordan’s start, public policy initiatives have been at the core of its work. Projects in the field have informed the Institute’s work so that it can address legislative and regulatory barriers to market solutions. With the bulk of projects now being handled by Resilient Buildings Group, Jordan can return its attention to public policy and developing programs to liberate the market into making good decisions without public dollars.
Current legislative efforts are centering on solutions to finance these projects. New Hampshire is notorious for its state motto, Live Free or Die, and for investing few public funds into energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. When public funds become available they must be leveraged to the hilt.
Says Laura Richardson, Jordan’s new executive director, “We think we can make some legislative and policy tweaks which will allow the private market to finance these projects over longer terms so that they are more comprehensive. Ultimately, that is the biggest challenge we now face —financing. With stimulus funds, we built the know-how in the state and there is interest to make these improvements. But public funds will never be enough to cover these costs; the private market needs to help us solve this problem. Most of New Hampshire’s buildings are heated with oil, and our electricity rates are among the highest in the nation. Finding solutions to reduce energy use in buildings is critical for us.”
The Bottom Line
Energy-efficient buildings are more value than simple operational cost reductions. An efficient building reduces energy demands, enabling utilities to support more structures with the existing power infrastructure. Efficient buildings improve occupancy comfort levels increasing lease retention. And the ability to improve historic buildings adds value to the surrounding community by retaining its heritage.