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Green Building Retrofits

How Can Laser Scanning Impact a Deep Energy Retrofit?

Reality capture provides a sophisticated system of 3D documentation that delivers critical building systems information. When a structure undergoes a green building retrofit, terrestrial laser scanning creates a shorter timeline and better budget for designers, contractors, and building owners. Typically projects consist of large healthcare, education, and office buildings that are in desperate need of energy upgrades to ultimately save money in the future. These energy upgrades may refer to any of the following; installation of a double glass façade, flashing and air sealing of windows, R-value insulation systems, high efficiency heating and cooling system, controlled ventilation, and solar panels.1 The work required to complete a truly effective deep energy retrofit can be extensive; however, with the assistance of laser scanning technology, building owners will notice a significant decrease in time and money used during the project.

The primary step in beginning a deep energy retrofit is to analyze the overall energy performance of a building, acquiring “Building Energy Data.” The objective of this step is to obtain the three major forms of energy data throughout a building.2

1) Energy use data: Energy use data measures the total energy usage within a building such as electricity and natural gas.

2) HVAC systems data: Since HVAC systems contribute to a large portion of energy usage in a building, these systems must be closely examined to determine how effectively they function

3) Environmental data: Environmental data analyzes air temperatures and humidity both indoors and outdoors, as well as luminance and noise levels that provide insight as to the overall service of a building.

Financially, deep energy retrofits are difficult to justify, before even taking a costly energy analysis into account. For most buildings, only a general monthly electric/gas bill is accessible since only one electric/natural gas meter is typically installed. This information is not sufficient to determine the detailed patterns of energy consumption throughout a building. Gathering the right information can an exhausting and expensive task; hence the difficulty in funding most green building projects. Implementing a Scan-to-BIM workflow, or even just importing the point cloud, helps design teams come up with sustainability analysis quickly and more accurately. This provides a better understanding of the “energy hog” systems within the building in order to quickly estimate energy cost projections to assist with design decisions and financial analysis. Simply importing a point cloud into Autodesk Green Building Studio allows designers to achieve whole building energy analysis and generate detailed weather data, Energy Star/LEED support, and carbon emissions reporting.3 Using energy-analysis software such as the Autodesk Green Building Studio allows architects to take advantage of the building as a whole and focus on carbon-neutral design approaches.

One of the most crucial steps for laser scanning in creating a green building retrofit is the “Energy Identification and Analysis” based on the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) levels of energy audits.4 The three major steps within this process consist of the following:

1) Walk-through of a building: Involves a general walk-through of a building, evaluation of previous utility bills, and meetings with site-operating staff members to develop a better knowledge of how a building has functioned over the past few years.  

2) Energy survey and analysis: Determines overall building performance in terms of systems and operations to highlight possible energy-efficiency developments for a building.

3) Detailed long-term analysis: Provides a building owner with a thorough understanding of long term building expenses, overall benefits, and energy-saving potential.

Of these steps, the energy survey and analysis reveals the most information and evaluates each energy system throughout the building in order to provide insight as to where energy savings can be applied. Implementing reality capture during this step quickly provides information about systems within the building such as the building envelope, lighting and HVAC systems, domestic hot water, and plug loads in a fraction of the time it takes for traditional building documentation techniques.4

Laser scanning is also essential for further investigating interior building systems, layout, and maintenance processes. This “Design and Planning” stage is the final step in the retrofitting process before approval and design related decisions are settled upon. After marketing to potential investors, an overall design team gathers detailed analysis regarding a building’s energy consumption. The team then assesses a building for its use of space and program efficiency to complete a forensic report into the materials that exist within the systems of a building.5 During the deep energy retrofit that was completed in the Empire State Building in 2003, the design team decided to upgrade all 6,514 windows within the structure to not only create a load reduction but a cost reduction as well.  After completing the retrofit to the Empire State Building, the building owners, the Malkin family, saw a dramatic energy use reduction of 38% and total savings of $4.4 million.6 Even for so simple a task, the use of a laser scanner would have lowered design and manufacture costs, as well as providing a considerable amount of additional data that could easily have led to further improvements, and thus further savings.

Laser scanning technology is a growing market possible applications than most professionals realize. The type of information that can be achieved within minutes of scanning is incomparable to hand measuring or walking through a building. Green building deep energy retrofits are becoming an economic and cultural necessity, especially for building owner/operators that are in dire need to update outdated MEP systems and building materials. By incorporating laser scanning into the deep energy retrofit process, building owners will notice a vast savings of time and money accurate cost estimates and a higher ROI on the retrofit itself.

Think you have a project that may benefit from laser scanning? Want to learn more, or become familiar with the technology? We offer Service for Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas, as well as rental options and training. Email our service department or call 412.871.3220 for more details.