Six Steps to a More Efficient Building

By Laura Barnes

Libraries are expensive to operate and there is never enough money to go around. By looking for opportunities to make your building more energy efficient, you can make changes that will continue to save you money for years. These six steps will help you start to improve the energy performance of your building, as well as save money that you can use in other operational areas.

  1. Establish a baseline and assess your current energy use. Before you make changes, you need to understand where you are. Become familiar with your electricity and natural gas bills. Understand how much energy you use each year and how much it costs you. Quantify specific energy uses and costs. Some areas to look at include:
    1. Lighting – Are you lighting areas that people don’t use? Are there places where you can replace less efficient lighting with LEDs or compact fluorescent bulbs? Do you have decorative lighting? Are your exit signs LED? Are lights too bright for the space?
    1. HVAC – Do you have programmable thermostats? Are they programmed appropriately for your hours of operation? How old is your HVAC system? Has it ever been recommissioned/retro commissioned?
    1. Building envelope – Does your building have leaks around windows and doors? Is your building’s insulation adequate for the climate? Are your walls uninsulated brick or block?
  2. Get technical assistance. Ameren and ComEd offer free energy assessments for public sector agencies. The University of Illinois’ Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC) offers free public sector energy assessments, assistance with retro commissioning, and information on how to save energy.
  3. Make a list of changes you want to make, then prioritize it. Some examples of first priority changes include: installing motion sensors, turning off lights when not in use, eliminating decorative only lighting, installing LED exit signs, adjusting your programmable thermostat to align with building occupancy, installing weather stripping and sealing cracks, and checking your building’s hot water temperature and resetting, if appropriate.
  4. Plan for more expensive changes and look for incentives to help you pay for them. These include installing dimmable switches and occupancy sensors, addressing over-illumination, converting to more energy efficient lighting, recommissioning or retro commissioning your HVAC system, upgrading to high efficiency equipment (boilers, fan motors, furnace), replace broken or malfunctioning windows and doors with those of higher performance, replace your roof and install more insulation, find creative solutions for uninsulated brick or block walls, and install a high efficiency water heater.
    1. Ameren and ComEd offer public sector energy efficiency incentives. SEDAC will also help you find qualifying incentives.
  5. Continue tracking your building’s energy use and making changes to ensure continuous improvement.
  6. Tell your patrons. Let them know how much of their money you’re saving with the changes you make and how you’re using those funds to benefit them.

Building remodels or new construction are usually when libraries look at energy efficiency options. Why wait when you can start saving money now?


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