Energy Efficiency for Construction

America’s construction industry consumes massive amounts of energy. Both commercial and residential builders consider energy costs one of their highest expenses. For some construction projects, energy accounts for 5.7% of the budget. It is difficult to measure exact energy costs in construction projects, but one thing is for sure – when diesel prices go up, so do construction costs. Energy consumption is always on a contractor’s mind.

From start to finish, every construction project needs continuous energy sources. Whether contractors wish to reduce heavy equipment fuel costs or build energy-efficient homes, there are plenty of ways to incorporate energy-saving strategies into a business plan.

Some construction companies also face environmental challenges. Energy consumption from non-renewable fossil fuels like oil and gas leave their carbon mark on the planet, and regulatory bodies continually tighten restrictions on emissions. Smaller construction companies might struggle to invest in energy-efficient equipment, so they need to focus on other methods of satisfying environmental regulations.

Companies of all sizes can benefit from implementing energy best practices for construction. In this guide, we’ll explore the ways a construction company can use energy efficiency to their advantage. We will not only look at energy-saving tips but also factors to consider when building energy-efficient properties.

When a construction company shows they care about the environment, they strengthen their reputation with regulators, suppliers, workers and valuable customers. They improve their business overall and open up additional opportunities for doing business.

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Energy Efficiency in the Construction Process

Energy efficiency for construction applies to every part of the process, from the equipment used to the appliances installed in a new building. Contractors need to consider many factors when building energy-efficient homes or commercial buildings every step of the way. Energy-efficiency can apply to:

  • Building materials
  • Transporting materials
  • Site preparation
  • Tools
  • Heavy equipment
  • Fuel requirements
  • Location of the new home or commercial building
  • Landscaping
  • Insulation
  • Windows
  • Appliances
  • Lighting
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems

As a result of rising energy costs and tighter environmental regulations, builders are developing energy-efficient designs. Likewise, material suppliers are seeking ways to improve energy efficiency in their materials.

For example, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have gained popularity and are six to seven times more energy-efficient than conventional light bulbs. LEDs can cut energy use by more than 80%. They also last 25 times longer than regular light bulbs. Builders can use LEDs in new homes to attract buyers who want long-lasting, energy-efficient lights. They can also use LEDs in their own homes or offices.

However, that’s just one small aspect of energy efficiency in construction. Heavy equipment and construction vehicles consume far more energy than light fixtures. Construction vehicles burn fuel to transport materials, prepare sites and build structures. Excavators, haul trucks, concrete mixers and construction cranes require plenty of power to operate. They can also waste fuel if they are not well-maintained.

Fortunately, many contractors and equipment manufacturers are embracing energy-efficiency to boost profits and attract customers. For example, more than 100,000 ENERGY STAR-qualified homes were built in 2017. ENERGY STAR homes are at least 10% more efficient than other homes.

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Why Energy-Efficiency for Construction Is Important

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), commercial and residential buildings consume about one-third of the world’s energy. Most of a building’s energy is used for heating, cooling, ventilating, lighting, water heating and cooking. That’s a tremendous amount of energy and a massive opportunity for energy-consumption savings. The IEA reports that buildings could potentially account for 41% of global energy savings by 2035 if energy-efficient construction practices are followed.

To achieve energy efficiency in buildings, the IEA identified three important ways to approach construction practices. Each factor has its own return, but it’s the combination of all three that really pays back in energy efficiency. The three primary ways that building construction professionals can improve energy efficiency are by:

  • Using advanced designs and construction techniques that reduce heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting energy consumption
  • Upgrading buildings and replacing equipment with energy-saving devices
  • Managing energy consumption with active and ongoing methods

The IEA also addresses how important it is to operate energy-efficient equipment during the construction process. Contractors can upgrade old equipment and manage fuel consumption by tracking and monitoring fuel use to maximize fuel efficiency.

The Challenges of Energy Efficiency for Construction

The IEA also reports the following challenges to implementing energy efficiency:

  • High costs of converting to energy-efficient methods
  • Problems with gathering reliable energy efficiency information
  • Lack of technological expertise to design, construct and maintain buildings and equipment
  • Poor incentives to invest in energy efficiency programs
  • Limited access to energy efficiency financing
  • Difficulty in coordinating construction industry stakeholders

For energy-efficient construction practices to flourish, these barriers must be identified and removed. According to the IEA, it will take strong leadership and complete commitment within the construction industry to improve overall energy efficiency practices.

Current Climate of Construction Energy Efficiency

Fortunately, the current climate values energy efficiency more than ever before. Almost all builders and construction companies using fuel-consuming equipment are aware of how important energy efficiency has become. For many construction companies, energy efficiency is a core business principle. They realize that energy efficiency is an investment with long-term benefits for their company and their customers. Today’s consumers gravitate toward companies that practice good energy efficiency. If contractors want to meet their business goals, they need to focus on energy-saving strategies.

The biggest advancements in construction energy efficiency are taking place within buildings. Residential and commercial building buyers demand energy-efficient, environmentally-responsible designs and products. Consumers are willing to pay to have projects constructed with energy efficiency in mind.

At the same time, builders and equipment operators are seeking ways to cut fuel costs wherever they can. More builders are considering fuel-efficient machines, even if their initial purchase price is higher than less expensive models. Contractors know that energy-saving equipment has an excellent return on investment. With diesel prices on the rise, there’s a tremendous incentive to lower fuel costs by operating fuel-efficient machinery and vehicles.

Long-term savings through energy efficiency is important to builders, construction equipment operators and building owners. Also, many individuals recognize how crucial it is to reduce emissions and lower pollutants.

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Energy Efficiency in Commercial Construction

Commercial buildings consume a lot of energy. They include multi-family residential buildings, offices, and industrial or retail properties. Energy use is the largest operating expense in office buildings and accounts for nearly 20% of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emission. Whether it’s an apartment block or a shopping mall, the energy bill is going to be big unless it’s designed and built to energy-efficient standards. To help reduce energy consumption, builders need to consider energy efficiency in the planning and construction stages.

Experienced builders and architects realize that every building component affects other parts of the structure. Here are the elements of a commercial building that can be made energy efficient:

  • Building orientation: Architects now take full advantage of their building’s position. They design buildings to work with the sun and wind patterns rather than against them, so buildings stay warm in the winter without overheating in the summer. Energy-efficient designs purposely incorporate natural climate features.
  • Building envelope: A building’s envelope is its skeleton and cladding. The cladding is an extra layer on the outside of a building or its “skin.” These components keep heat either in or out, depending on the climate. Envelope components include the exterior cladding, air barrier, vapor barrier and the insulation, which have energy-efficient properties.
  • Windows and doors: High-tech windows and doors are some of the best energy-saving advancements. Glass technology alone provides insulation. Modern doors are nearly draft-free and have excellent insulation ratings, which means that consumers have more control over the temperature inside a structure.
  • Mechanical systems: Technology touches every component in a commercial building, including its HVAC system. Energy-saving furnaces and air-conditioning units use computerized controls to precisely regulate temperatures. Combined, these new mechanical systems reduce heating and cooling costs.

Energy Efficiency in Residential Construction

Residential construction also benefits from the same energy-efficient techniques and technologies that commercial construction uses. Residential projects are smaller-scale, but there are still plenty of opportunities to save on energy costs and consumption.

Like commercial buildings, many of the nation’s residential buildings use fossil fuels for heating and electricity for other systems like air conditioning and lighting. Current construction techniques aim to make fuel consumption as low as possible. Often, those savings come from installing ENERGY STAR appliances that use far less energy than older ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers. Contractors should also consider the following factors when building energy-efficient homes:

  • Landscaping: Landscape designers can plant trees to shade a home from the sun and help keep it cool during the summer.
  • Solar power: Homes can be designed to use solar power for electricity and water heating.
  • House framing: Builders can use advanced house framing, also known as optimum value engineering, which is a technique to reduce lumber use and waste and improve energy efficiency by replacing lumber with insulation material.
  • Cool roofs: Cool roofs keep homes cooler during the summer by reflecting more light and absorbing less heat.
  • LEDs: Builders can install LEDs throughout a home to give their clients long-lasting, energy-saving light.

Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings

Nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEBs) is a recent term, but it’s a concept that’s really catching on. The NZEB movement started in Europe and recently entered the American marketplace. It’s likely that NZEBs are here to stay.

The nearly-zero concept involves designing and constructing a building where its total annual energy cost is nearly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. These advanced structures aren’t only economical to operate, but they also leave a far smaller carbon footprint than conventional buildings, helping everybody involved to remain more energy-efficient.

Most NZEBs get approximately half their energy from the electrical grid or fossil fuel supply chain. They get the other half from self-production. Popular energy sources for this kind of construction are solar, wind and geothermal. Some NZEBs produce even more electricity than consumed, and they sell the surplus back to the grid, which increases the return on investments. Contractors might consider ways to incorporate NZEB design in their projects for greater energy efficiency.

Ways to Save on Equipment Fuel Costs

Diesel is still the king of fuels when it comes to powering construction equipment. It’s a proven commodity for delivering reliable power while still being somewhat low-cost. Diesel engines are safer than gasoline ones, and they tend to last a lot longer. Still, it is an area we can improve on as far as costs.

There are only two ways to cut construction fuel costs. One is to use less fuel. The other is to use it more efficiently. Fortunately, many modern machines use less fuel through burning it more efficiently. Hybrid machines are a good example, as they use a combination of electric motors with diesel engines.

However, managing fuel costs takes more than an awareness of energy consumption. Construction managers can benefit from partnering with a fuel supplier who offers energy pricing plans and other perks. Here are some ways to save money on fuel:

  • Use a fleet fueling service, so trucks never have to leave the worksite to get fuel.
  • Purchase fuel at wholesale prices.
  • Take advantage of seasonal fuel adjustments.
  • Use mobile fuel services for heavy equipment.
  • Negotiate prices.
  • Go with a service which offers a fixed price and protection against unexpected rate increases.

Contractors can also follow these tips to make their heavy equipment more fuel-efficient:

  • Use fuel monitoring technology: Fuel tracking can help the builder identify equipment issues or problems with driver behavior. From there, they can decide if it’s time to repair the equipment. They might also use the data to determine if they need to train employees about fuel economy.
  • Use the right equipment: Contractors should make sure equipment like excavators or wheel loaders are not carrying too-large buckets. A bucket that is too big for the equipment will cause the vehicle to drag and burn fuel.
  • Set goals with equipment operators: Builders should make sure that equipment operators understand fuel efficiency and how it affects company profits. They should be told to avoid aggressive driving, idling and excessive traveling to burn less fuel. Managers can establish fuel-efficiency goals with their workers, and reward those who use less fuel.

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The Impact of Construction Energy Efficiency

Current and future technologies offer hope for greater energy-efficiency across America. Not only will new technology and techniques lower costs and make construction more efficient, but they’ll also provide a positive environmental impact. However, there’s still no end in sight for needing a fossil fuel supply. The trick is using fossil fuels responsibly and working with a supplier who does the same.

Partner with Shipley Energy Today

For eight decades, Shipley Energy has responsibly supplied heating oil, natural gas and propane to commercial and residential buildings throughout the Northeast region and beyond.

We also provide several construction solutions including direct-to-equipment fueling, bulk delivery to on-site tanks, as well as monitoring and data reporting to help to track and improve your consumption. The end result is more cost-effective, reliable, and consistent fueling to help grow your business.

For more information on Shipley Energy, contact us today or visit our Shipley Energy Industry Guides.

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