This Energy Audit and Building Retrofit Blueprint includes a high-level overview of the process and benefits of energy audits and building retrofits, showcases important tools and online resources, and outlines Key Activities to help guide EECBG Program entities to success. A Blueprint Summary PDF is also available for download (below), which provides a concise summary of the Blueprint Key Activities. DOE plans to make technical assistance available to support all entities interested in energy audits and building retrofits, which may include, one-on-one support from national lab or DOE experts, webinars, and peer learning opportunities.
What are Energy Audits and Building Upgrades?
Justice and Equity: The Justice40 Initiative is a U.S. government effort to deliver at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from certain federal investments to disadvantaged communities. Building assessments and upgrades can help reduced exposure to pollutions prevalent in low-income communities (LIC) and communities of color (COC), which experience pollution at a higher rate than wealthier and whiter communities. Increasing energy efficiency programs and projects, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and decreasing harmful environmental exposers among disadvantaged communities are key pillars of Justice40. State and Local governments can play a vital role in upgrading buildings that serve these communities, demonstrating leadership in safety, energy efficiency, and environmental justice.
Energy assessments and audits are key activities to identify potential energy saving opportunities in buildings and provide the technical and financial information (e.g., upfront costs, ongoing costs, projected energy savings, return on investment, etc.) that decision makers need to evaluate and approve energy efficiency, electrification, and grid interactivity retrofits. Retrofitting existing buildings presents an opportunity to improve the energy performance and operational costs of building assets including heating, cooling and ventilation (HVAC) systems and equipment, lighting and control systems, and the building envelope, while improving occupant control (such as with grid-interactive technologies). Retrofits also offer a chance to invest in energy burdened and underinvested areas.
Why Conduct Audits and Upgrades?
Investing in energy-efficiency retrofits offers significant opportunities and benefits, including energy, water, and cost savings, a shorter deferred-maintenance backlog, improved occupant comfort, and progress toward overarching energy- and greenhouse gas (GHG)- reduction goals. A carefully designed, targeted energy retrofit can pay for itself through energy savings and, depending on how the project is financed, can incur no debt and result in minimal disruption to an organization’s operating and capital budgets. Proactive building analysis afford decision makers with time to design more comprehensive projects that maximize energy and cost savings. These evaluations can also identify aging or faulty equipment (reducing the occurrence of urgent upgrades motivated by equipment failures) and electrification opportunities (improving indoor air quality and reducing onsite-generated GHG emissions). In many buildings, energy costs can be reduced by 20 percent or more through the identification and implementation of energy conservation measures (ECMs). These savings can be leveraged to save taxpayer dollars, supplement limited operating budgets, and pay for other public priorities.
Who Should Consider This Blueprint Topic?
State, local, and tribal governments with significant building-related energy expenditures or those who have not recently performed an energy assessment should consider this blueprint topic. It is a good starting point for those who wish to track building operations and maintenance, reduce energy costs, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and plan for capital improvements. Governments can lead by example to encourage other community stakeholders and businesses to evaluate their own buildings.
Who/What Will You Need?
Leadership, facility managers, utilities, operations and maintenance staff, and procurement, legal and financial officials all have a role to play in supporting organizational energy efficiency objectives, beginning with an energy assessment. Identifying an internal project manager to oversee the project and identifying clear roles and responsibilities for all relevant stakeholders will help to ensure success.
These selected Key Activities are suggestions of important steps a government could take to begin or make progress on their energy audit and building upgrade journey. EECBG Program awardees that utilize a Blueprint will receive expedited application review from DOE. Applicants must execute at least one of the key activities listed under each selected Blueprint but should avoid going beyond the recommended activities. Going beyond these key activities may trigger additional reviews of your EECBG Program project to ensure you’re meeting NEPA, historic preservation, and/or other federal regulations. While each step is important, they should be seen as a guide. Awardees should determine their own priority activities based on their local context.
Building Energy Assessments
Understanding how much energy your buildings are using and how that compares to similar types of buildings is an important first step to understanding where energy efficiency improvements could be made and how much opportunity for savings they could offer.
Gather Data and Establish a Baseline
Improving the energy performance of a building begins with understanding how that building is performing today. This starts with a simple, yet thorough assessment to measure performance and identify potential improvements. Establishing an energy performance baseline will help you understand how your buildings are performing. This activity includes gathering historic energy usage and costs (e.g., reviewing past energy bills); tabulating building information such as size and age; and capturing other relevant context including weather, building-use patterns (e.g., hours of operation), and known age of energy consuming building equipment (e.g., HVAC systems).
- Key Resources: ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® and DOE’s Building Energy Asset Score are online platforms to collect and organize these datapoints.
Benchmark Your Building
Once building and equipment characteristics and energy consumption data have been collected and a baseline established, the building’s energy performance can be compared, or benchmarked, to similar buildings or established norms (e.g., a reference building built to a standard energy code), with the goal of providing analysis that can inform performance improvement. Buildings that are underperforming compared to similar buildings are good candidates for an energy audit and upgrades.
- Key Resource: ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® converts inputted data into actionable metrics, such as energy use intensity (EUI). For a single building, ENERGY STAR provides U.S. national median reference values for EUI across common building types. Within a portfolio of buildings, a high building EUI signals an opportunity for energy savings relative to other buildings. Decision makers can reference these values to identify buildings that are good candidates for building audits and upgrades.
- Key Resource: DOE’s Building Energy Asset Score assesses the energy efficiency of the physical structure and major equipment of a building using information inputted by the user and identifies opportunities to invest in energy efficiency upgrades.
- Key Resource: PNNL’s Facility Energy Decision System (FEDS) can also help identify good energy audit candidates from a building portfolio. FEDS is an easy-to-use tool to evaluate building energy use and identify cost-effective savings opportunities.
Energy Audits – Onsite energy audits provide a deeper analysis of a building’s energy performance and energy savings opportunities and typically involve an onsite, whole-building evaluation of current energy usage relative to prospective energy usage that could be achieved through improved operations and maintenance procedures and upgrades to building systems, such as lighting, HVAC, and the building envelope.
Energy audits range in rigor and complexity, ranging from low-cost or limited-detail analyses to high-cost, highly detailed analyses known as investment grade audits (IGAs). The most common and standardized audit approach is offered by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which has developed three levels of audits that increase in detail, depth of analysis, and cost.
Hire an Energy Auditor
As a starting point, many utilities offer no- or low-cost energy assessments. Energy audit services are also offered by energy services companies (ESCOs), energy consultants, and engineering firms. Firms may also provide insights on systems most beneficial to electrify, as well as make recommendations on appropriate grid-interactive technologies to install. The process for competitive selection of an energy auditor includes identifying potential individuals or firms, defining the scope-of-work and requesting bids, reviewing qualifications, considering Justice40 and inclusion goals, and contracting with the chosen person or firm. Portions of these procedures may also be adopted for a sole-source approach.
Most energy audits, regardless of cost or sophistication, result in recommended low- or no-cost energy-conservation measures that can quickly pay back the cost of the audit and are therefore a worthwhile investment. Any audit report should also provide enough information to make informed decisions about energy efficiency investments and next steps.
- Key Resource: DOE’s Guide to Energy Audits explains the types and levels of energy audits available, the process, and provides information and sample procurement documents to support the selection of an energy auditor.
Determine Funding Source(s)
To help your project go even further, there are also a variety of other funding sources available to provide even greater impact. For example, capital improvement and operation and maintenance budgets are key funding sources for energy assessments. Your local electric and gas utilities and some governments may also offer technical and/or financial assistance for completing an energy audit. For many government facilities, Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) (see Blueprint 2B) is a preferred option for funding an audit and the identified energy upgrades.
Many funding and financing options are available to complete building energy upgrades.
- Key Resource: Use Financing Navigator (DOE) to explore and compare financing options.
- Key Resource: Achieving Energy Savings in Small- and Medium-Sized Public Facilities: A Strategic Approach to Prioritizing and Financing (DOE) outlines project financing best practices and the advantages and disadvantages of financing options.
- Key Resource: Energy Savings Performance Contracting: Improving Infrastructure & Turning Waste into Wins (DOE).
- Key Resources: Insert your region or zip code at these ENERGY STAR® webpages to find available utility incentives:
- Energy Efficiency Rebates for Commercial Buildings (ENERGY STAR)
- Special Offers and Rebates from ENERGY STAR Partners (ENERGY STAR)
- Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency® (DSIRE)
Building Upgrades including Energy Efficiency, Grid-Interactivity, and Electrification Upgrades
Based on the energy audit results, implement energy improvements. Plan to hold a final meeting with the energy auditor and key building staff to review the analysis, results, and recommended energy efficiency, electrification, and/or grid-interactive measures. Identify which measures can be implemented immediately, the ideal sequence of upgrades, and which upgrades may need further study or should be incorporated into longer-term plans.
With the information provided by the audit, consider the present and future uses for the building. Determining whether a building is a candidate for rehab, onsite renewables, resilience projects, electrification and grid-interactivity or if the property is in an energy burdened or disadvantaged community can affect the direction of the upgrade pursued. Comprehensive upgrades can achieve 2.5 to 7 times more savings than typical single-measure retrofits and enable more advanced improvements.1
1. Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Moving the Needle on Comprehensive Commercial Retrofits, May 2022. https://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/b2203.pdf.
Next Steps to Get Started
Additional Federal Funds to Leverage and Braid with Your EECBG Program Award
Inflation Reduction Act Funding
The Inflation Reduction Act provides funding for a variety of grants, loans, rebates, incentives, and other provisions to support the implementation of building energy efficiency improvements and upgrades.
- Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (EPA): Funding to support the financing of and technical assistance for projects that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air pollution, with a particular emphasis on projects in low-income and disadvantaged communities.
- Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 Loan Programs Office (DOE): The IRA allocated significant new funding to the LPO to support issuing new loans. This page summarizes all of the impacts to the LPO from the IRA, including a new loan, the Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment (EIR) Program, that can support efficiency upgrades.
- States operate Revolving Loan Funds, Energy Savings Performance Contract Programs, and other programs that local governments can leverage to achieve building upgrades.
Potential Activity Costs
Energy Assessments and Benchmarking
Can often be done at no- to low-cost, utilizing existing staff without specialized skills or knowledge and publicly available tools (such as the ones identified in this blueprint).
Costs vary depending on the scope of the audit, broadly ranging from $0.12 to $0.50 per square foot.2 Consider bundling many measures and/or buildings into an audit to spread out fixed costs (e.g., vendor travel, report preparation, etc.). It is industry best practice that the cost of an energy audit should not exceed 10% of the annual utility bill. Check your local energy utilities and state programs for technical and/or financial incentives or assistance.
2. Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Achieving Energy Savings in Small- and Medium-Sized Public Facilities: A Strategic Approach to Prioritizing and Financing, 2021.
Building retrofit costs are highly variable based on the facility - size, vintage, use, etc. - and the scope of the project - type and number of energy conservation measures (ECMs) implemented. ECMs can range from small hundred-dollar or less installations of weather stripping and light bulb replacement to hundreds of thousands of dollars for large capital improvements, like HVAC systems and building envelope measures. Bundled together, total retrofit costs can be sizable, but fluctuate widely. Many states and utilities can support local governments and tribes with building audits and upgrades through existing efficiency programs and incentives.
The City of Colombia, Missouri completed energy assessments for all City-owned facilities in 2010 as part of their EECBG Program grant. The energy audit of the City’s Health and Human Services building identified lighting and HVAC energy conservation measures (ECMs) with a quick return on investment that would save the City money on utility costs, while also improving the comfort of employees and visitors to the Health department. Implementing the identified ECMs in the Health and Human Services building reduced the building’s annual energy consumption by 33% and saved the City $15,000 in annual cost savings, with a simple payback period of 3.3 years. Read more about the project here: City of Columbia: Sanford-Kimpton Building | Better Buildings Initiative (DOE)
2010 City Showcase: Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant, Colorado Springs, Colorado - YouTube: This video showcases what the City of Colorado Springs aimed to achieve with their Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) from the DOE, including five activities: energy efficiency retrofits of municipal facilities, an LED streetlight project, energy efficiency windows and doors for affordable housing, a greenhouse gas inventory, and a pilot project that partnered with higher education institutions to perform commercial audit & retrofits.
Guidance, Tools, and Links
- General Guidance for Justice40 Implementation (DOE): This guidance document is designed to help states, municipal governments, private sector funding recipients, and other interested parties plan to incorporate Justice40 Initiative goals into DOE-funded projects.
- Energy Data Management Guide (DOE): A step-by-step approach to establish a robust and sustainable energy data management program in your government, or K-12 school district.
- Building Energy Use Benchmarking (DOE): Benchmarking facilitates energy accounting, comparing a facility's energy use to similar facilities to assess opportunities for improvement, and quantifying/verifying energy savings.
- Advanced Energy Retrofit Guide: Office Buildings (PNNL): Provides a practical roadmap for effectively planning and implementing performance improvements for existing office buildings. This guide is one of five related building retrofit guides that focus on office, retail, K-12 schools, grocery, and healthcare buildings.
- Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Resources for State and Local Leaders (DOE): An overview of funding resources and programs available to State and Local Leaders.
- MUSH Market Building Financing Options for Energy Efficiency Improvements: A Primer for State Energy Officials (NASEO): Provides information on financing mechanisms buildings owned by municipal and state governments, universities, schools, and hospitals, otherwise known as the MUSH market, can leverage when seeking to finance energy retrofits.
- Building Efficiency Targeting Tool for Energy Retrofits (BETTER) Tool: Identifies cost-saving energy and emissions reductions in buildings and portfolios, without site visits or complex modeling.
- Moving the Needle on Comprehensive Commercial Retrofits (ACEEE): Identifies program approaches that encourage comprehensive retrofits while offering varying levels of energy savings.
- 50001 Ready Navigator (LBL): This online application provides step-by-step guidance and a wealth of resources to assist in implementing and maintaining a robust energy management system consistent to the ISO 50001 standard.
- Achieving Energy Savings in Small- and Medium-Sized Public Facilities: A Strategic Approach to Prioritizing and Financing (DOE): Identifies and addresses challenges unique to smaller-scale energy-saving projects common for state, local, and K-12 school buildings.
- A Guide to Energy Audits (PNNL): Provides a comprehensive overview from the definition of an energy audit, engaging a qualified auditor, and the audit itself.
- Energy Service Companies (DOE): Guidance and DOE qualified list of ESCOs.