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Sustainability in Existing Federal Buildings

The General Services Administration renovated this historic building to meet zero energy goals. Read the <a href="/node/978261">case study</a>.

The General Services Administration renovated this historic building to meet zero energy goals. Read the case study.

The Guiding Principles require existing federal buildings to be sustainable. To help agencies meet these requirements, the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) encourages energy managers to follow these steps.

Step 1: Conduct a Sustainability Assessment

The first step is to conduct an assessment to understand the sustainability of a building. Sustainability assessments allow agencies to determine which buildings are consuming more energy than they should and identify opportunities for improvement.

ENERGY STAR's Portfolio Manager Sustainable Buildings Checklist can be used to evaluate sustainability in existing federal buildings. This checklist provides points to consider during building sustainability assessments and a system for tracking progress made toward each Guiding Principle. Portfolio Manager can also be used to track building energy performance. It measures building performance on a scale from 0 to 100.

Step 2: Conduct an Energy and Water Evaluation

Once the sustainability assessment is complete, buildings can be selected for comprehensive energy and water evaluations. Covered facilities must be evaluated for energy improvements each year. At least 25% of facilities covered by Energy Independence and Security Act 2007 requirements need to be audited each year, so every facility is evaluated once every four years.

Energy and water evaluations should be ASHRAE Level II types of evaluations, and the agency needs to identify and implement the energy-efficiency measures. Bundling individual measures into one project for financial and timing purposes is allowed. Audits may be conducted by subcontracting services or by training on-site staff. Common energy-efficiency and water-conservation measures include:

  • Program occupancy settings and adjusting controls on HVAC equipment
  • Recommission or retro-commission HVAC equipment
  • Replace older, inefficient equipment that needs to be replaced with more efficient models
  • Upgrade lighting fixtures and ballasts
  • Install daylighting controls and/or occupancy sensors
  • Maintain and operate equipment to its highest efficiency levels
  • Replace older, less efficient water fixtures with more efficient models
  • Use native vegetation in landscaping to reduce irrigation
  • Where allowable, use gray-water systems or rainwater harvesting for irrigation.
Step 3: Create an Action Plan

Once an evaluation is complete, an action plan should be developed to make certain there is a scheduled approach to integrating conservation measures. An action plan is an organized compilation of the energy- and water-conservation measures identified in an audit that allow an agency to implement such measures. The action planning process creates an integrated approach to prioritizing and planning for future improvements. Where buildings are being upgraded or new construction is occurring, the measures that have been identified should be integrated at the time of the planned work.

Example of a Federal Agency Action Plan
Activity Location Implementation Date Responsible Party Status Funding Allocation Savings Identified
Replace boilers with high-efficiency, ENERGY STAR-rated boilers Bldg 2,7,16 April 2013 D. Peterson Identifying vendor and boiler models $1.2 Million ~1,5 million kWh/year
Install variable frequency drives (VFDs) in boiler house and on pumps Bldg 2,7,16 and wastewater treatment station June 2013 D. Peterson Identifying vendor and VFD models $250,000 ~27 million kWh/year
Upgrade ballasts and install T-5 fluorescent lamps Bldg 3,9,16, wastewater treatment station and guard station June 2013 H. Smith In progress $570,000 ~10,000 kWh/year
Install WaterSense-labeled toilets, urinals, and low-flow faucets Bathrooms on floors 3-7 in Bldg 2; Bathrooms on all floors in Bldg 4 and 5 January 2013 J. Stephens On hold $500,000 ~50,000 gallons/year


An action plan should be reviewed by a dedicated team of facilities managers and staff from financial departments. The plan should be approved by senior management, such as a senior sustainability officer or site sustainability manager to provide a stamp of commitment to the projects identified.

Step 4: Monitor Progress

Once an action plan has been developed and approved and implementation has begun, an agency should plan to monitor the progress and savings associated with each measure. Collecting data each month is ideal for energy and water savings; however, an annual assessment should be conducted at the very least. Equipment is commonly installed and some adjustments are usually needed to achieve optimal savings. However, without performance monitoring the need for adjustments may go unnoticed and the maximum savings are not achieved. A monitoring program should be implemented to collect data, track energy and water consumption, and modify equipment settings or behaviors as needed within buildings or a campus.