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U.S. Coast Guard's Energy-Efficient HVAC Overhaul

At a Glance

Environmental Attributes:
The Coast Guard required its contractor to maximize the energy efficiency of a new HVAC system.

Contract Language:
Not available online.

Key players:

Environmental Information Sources:

Although the project is in its initial stages, the Coast Guard expects to achieve a total cost-savings of $260,756 in 20 years.

Contact Information:
Listed at the end of the case study.

While a complete heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system overhaul might seem expensive, federal officials at the U.S. Coast Guard's Administrative Office Building (AOB) in Portsmouth, Virginia, have turned it into a potentially money saving solution. This 141,300-square-foot building serves approximately 425 U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Postal Service, and Naval Hospital employees. In 1991, the U.S. Coast Guard used Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) recommendations to implement a complete lighting retrofit and motor replacement project. This project achieved a great deal of success, so when the Coast Guard determined that the building needed a complete HVAC overhaul, they saw a new opportunity to incorporate Executive Order 13123 [PDF], which mandates energy-efficient systems, and save money at the same time.

Purchasing Process

The Coast Guard's goals for the HVAC project were to reduce the cost of the existing cooling system, rebalance the air system, and implement a new cooling load. Because of the size and cost, the Coast Guard relied on the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to find a contractor. GSA awarded an architectural firm with a 2-year design-build contract that directs the contractor to develop the most cost-effective HVAC energy management system.

The AOB contract does not specify particular equipment or products, but it contains environmental criteria from EO 12902, EO 13101, and FEMP guidelines for energy-efficient products that the contractor must follow when making selections. The contractor, aware of EO requirements from previous work with other government agencies, makes the selections based on cost and environmental characteristics. The contractor's engineers then must meet with a team composed of members from GSA, the Coast Guard, subcontractors, and the air-conditioning firm to approve the contractor's selections and ensure they meet the cost savings and energy management goals of a 15 to 20 percent reduction in heating and cooling costs per year. Roger Olsen, AOB building manager, says it's important to collaborate with the contractor and be clear about the agency's needs. "We tell them, ‘Here's what we need. How do we do it?'"

Use of Energy-Efficient Products

The Coast Guard and the contractor have been working together since the spring of 1999 on the HVAC overhaul, which will take several years to complete. As a first step, the contractor surveyed the existing HVAC system and the overall AOB facility and came up with immediate and future recommendations to improve energy efficiency and save money. They started by shutting down the coolers on the weekends and after normal working hours to reduce further wear and tear on the current system. The contractor also took calibrations to maximize the effectiveness of newly installed dampers and controls. Replacing the air handlers, pumps, motors, induction units, and controls for the HVAC system will be the next step. Once completed, the plan developed by the contractor will result in a heating load reduction of 807,000 British thermal units per hour (Btu) and a reduction in cooling load of 49.6 tons (588,000 Btu).

Cost Considerations

In years past, the Coast Guard excluded environmental and energy-efficient products from purchasing decisions because it found that these products were more expensive, installation costs were high, and the systems were not dependable. Now, encouraged by the EOs and the trend toward energy efficiency, technology is better and more dependable. Also, cost concerns are alleviated—the Coast Guard expects to realize significant savings in the long run as a result of the HVAC system overhaul. The Coast Guard estimates it will receive a total savings of $260,756 in energy costs within 20 years. Reducing the size of the equipment alone will save $71,536. When the original HVAC system was installed, "the machines were the size of Cadillacs; people weren't worried about energy costs," Olsen said. "Now we're paying more attention to energy management, and smaller machines are more efficient. They do the same thing with less [energy]."

Lessons Learned

The Coast Guard recommends that purchasers familiarize themselves with the types of environmental and energy-efficient products that are available and communicate this knowledge to contractors. "Contractors often will try to sell you what they make the most money from. It's simply the nature of their business," Olsen explained. "We stood firm with the type of equipment we were looking for and the results we expected and demonstrated that we knew about what was out there. Now they are getting us what we want for a decent price."

Because each project's needs are different, and because of the rate at which technology improves, the Coast Guard suggests looking at generic specifications and building on them to suit individual project needs. Olsen recommends keeping abreast of current products and technologies by reading periodicals such as Energy Users News and Maintenance Technology,Exit Disclaimer as well as supplier and vendor brochures and catalogs. He also recommends looking at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) book, Buying Energy Efficient Products and contacting vendors directly for product specifications.

Relying on GSA to select the contractor greatly simplified the procurement process for the Coast Guard. Because maintenance staff must approve the equipment and products selected by the contractor, however, the Coast Guard still maintains control over the selections and is able to ensure the facility's energy management needs are met and expected cost savings are achieved.

Future Projects

The Coast Guard also is in the beginning stages of renovating the lobby of the Portsmouth administrative building in collaboration with GSA and an architectural firm. Although the project is mostly cosmetic, in keeping with its commitment to comply with the EOs, the Coast Guard will again specify that the contractor select environmental products such as low volatile organic compound paints and energy-efficient lighting.

For more information, contact Roger Olsen at 757 398-6359.

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