Green building retrofits.

Free Money for Schools

Did your school miss out on the Prop 39 gravy train? Here’s the next best thing. 3fficient has secured access to federally backed, ZERO interest loans for energy saving upgrades engineered and implemented by 3fficient. Each district is eligible for a cap of $3 million dollars for energy projects. Here’s the catch:

  1. Applications must be submitted by May 31, 2019. Late or incomplete applications will not be considered.
  2. Half of the ranking is based on % of students on free and reduced meals. The higher the better. That’s where you shine!
  3. The other half of the ranking is based on total energy savings as provided by a professional energy audit* originated or peer reviewed by 3fficient. The higher the cost savings, the better. That’s where we shine!

*An energy audit requires review and compilation of utility meter data, engineering site visits to verify existing conditions and then professional calculations to accurately calculate energy and cost savings.

Eligible energy upgrades are as follows:

  • Interior and exterior lighting systems.
  • Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R) equipment.
  • Energy management systems and equipment controls.
  • Pumps and motors.
  • Building envelope and insulation.
  • Energy generation including renewable energy (e.g., photovoltaic systems (PV)), ground-source heat pumps, and combined heat and power projects (co-generation) with renewable fuel.
  • Load shifting projects, such as thermal energy storage or batteries.

This is a great opportunity for schools to upgrade their district risk free. At 3fficient, we specialize in engineering energy efficiency projects that are specific to winning such competitive loans through our SmartZero Program. By crafting a project for highly qualified school’s we can help apply, win and implement the renovations and upgrades your school buildings need at zero cost and zero risk to the district with potential for zero net energy.

Application deadline is May 31st, 2019. So don’t delay? Let us do the heavy lifting! We’ll conduct the audit, complete the paperwork, and work diligently to ensure you are implementing quality solutions that will help make your district more efficient, resilient, and competitive amongst its peers. All paid from savings.

Are micro grids the answer to climate change?

Wildfires in California are tragic and incredibly expensive.  Many lives lost.  Property and homes lost.  Livelihoods lost.  Sensitive habitat and wildlife lost. At well over $9 Billion, damages from the 2018 wildfires in Northern California were financially devastating. The cause for many, as it turns out, traces directly to the largest utility in the country, PG&E.  Lawsuits held PG&E fully liable which then caused an almost immediate bankruptcy filing to avoid billions in payouts, more than the company was worth.  As in 2001, the utility may come back even stronger and more profitable for shareholders.  As utility solar prices have plummeted, the bankruptcy will allow PG&E to renegotiate their (now) overpriced early stage large solar supply contracts.  Certainly a prudent financial move for PG&E to take advantage of.

Meanwhile, towns like Paradise, CA were literally wiped off the map from fast moving wildfires sparked by PG&E’s power lines running through densely wooded communities.  Will those livelihoods come back stronger?  Doubtful.  As most disasters go, many will simply leave as they have no jobs or income to return to.  Others will rebuild with insurance funds.  But, is that even a good idea?

Environmental, weather and fire experts are quick to point out that forest fires will continue to increase in frequency and ferocity as climate change continues to warm the planet and dry out many of earth’s forests.  So what can be done to avoid future calamity? There are 3 obvious choices:

  1. Build fire resistant homes and buildings.  When you light a match and hold on long enough, you will certainly get burned since the match stick is flammable.  So how can we not expect a wood frame home to burn down from a nearby forest fire.  Most of the trees are left standing after a fast moving fire since the wood is wet and protected by bark.  Meanwhile, nearby dry wood structures almost always burn to the ground.  In reality, wood stick construction really has no business in any alpine forest.  The easy solution lies with the Counties to only permit fire resistant construction in forests.  Insurance companies will likely catch on and assign more equitable risk (and cost) to fire prone properties as well.  While that may sting (a lot) for homeowners who want to rebuild, it’s more equitable for all as having ANY grid lines running through the forest is likely to cause future fires.
  2. Hold counties accountable for lax enforcement of fire protection codes around buildings.  The results from the fires going through Paradise and other towns seem to illustrate lax code enforcement.
  3. Require utilities to reroute transmission lines around forests and new buildings or communities in forests to be off grid with 100% self generation.  Until transmission lines are removed from forests, it is simply a matter of time before the next horrific and incredibly expensive fire will happen.  For the $9 billion price tag, there would be an army of developers lining up to build off grid communities for Paradise and many other towns.  Policy makers and insurance companies should come together to assign risk to the grid, instead of looking for a bailout that so often happens.

In the likely event that status quo utility power is restored and towns like Paradise are rebuilt like before, who will be responsible for the next destructive fire?  The utility for providing power or the county for allowing it or the residents for using (and paying for) that electricity?  In brutally honest terms, the drug pusher, the cop who looked the other way or the addict?

Is the risk worth the reward?  When nuclear power or any generation source is developed, the development is never 100% risk free.  When parents let their kids drive a car, they always know there is risk – and accept that.  So, why do we mandate near 100% reliability for electrical power?  In the future, utilities will be compelled to shut off power at the distribution level during high risk wind events.  Larger transmission lines will likely stay energized.  Will that eliminate all the risk?  Not at all.  The Camp Fire that roared through Paradise was caused by a transmission line (not local distribution lines). With that in mind, perhaps the electric grid could be de-risked by allowing even lower reliability or accessibility?  Transmission lines get shut off during wind events, or power lines are removed entirely from alpine forests.  That would certainly make way for more reliance on standalone distributed energy like many in Joshua Tree, CA or smart micro grids in larger communities like Borrego Springs after the Southern California wildfires of 2007?

With massive and deadly wildfires becoming an annual event in California, will PG&E simply cut down a bunch of trees and reinstall utility poles like before, or will the local governments demand better energy architecture going forward?  As of the writing of this post, the former seems to be playing out.  PG&E crews are (understandably) busily restoring power so homeowners and business owners have electricity to rebuild with and move on.  I believe a potentially faster and more resilient solution would be for builders to be required to build off grid homes or building-integrated microgrids while requisitioning developers to build community-scale microgrids that backup or augment distributed rooftop solar and wind on the buildings and carports.  This would simply be accelerating upcoming building codes in California.  Smart energy storage would be included in all new, energy efficient homes and buildings just like an appliance is today.  That energy storage could then be interconnected as the key component of a resilient community micro-grid.  Imagine that.  A town without unsightly and dangerous power lines that has long lasting, clean, self sufficient and resilient power!  What a simple and SAFE concept.

Author’s note:  When I introduced this concept just ten years ago it was commented as heresy in online blogs.  Today, probably “meh” or “wow, why aren’t we doing that?”

Tax Depreciation

The printed IRS tax manual is literally more than 73,000 pages.  IRS agents and their teams can’t even keep up with tax changes let alone the volumes of code.  That’s why CPAs are more like general practitioners and need to rely on specialists to help maximize savings.

One such opportunity for maximizing savings is with depreciation for your buildings.  When purchasing, refinancing or remodeling a building, your depreciation schedule is affected – or should be.  Even though buildings have a typical 39 year depreciation basis, all the materials, wiring, insulation, fans lights and other components affixed to the structure need not have that looooong basis.  As you can imagine, there are a lot of materials in a building that can (and should) have a much shorter depreciation period. Segregating or quantifying and adjusting those costs can result in substantial and immediate tax savings.

How much is this worth?
Say you remodeled or refinanced your half million dollar building 5 years ago, you might be eligible for a refund of $30k – $40k right now!  Let’s say your building’s book value was $10M, you might expect to save $600k – $800k.  Would that pay off debt?  Fuel your next expansion?  Buy a competitor?  Kick start your retirment?

Is that it?
For many of our customers, we find 5x those amounts by combining other tax and utility savings!  What if your profit margins went up 30% or 50% or doubled, sustainably?  Would it change the valuation of your company?  For most, that helps vault them to “top dog” status.

What if I delay?
Unfortunately, the ability to reclassify costs from past renovations will end with the 2018 tax year.  While this method will not go way anytime soon, the ability to reach back in time will.  So, if you remodeled or even had a small upgrade in the past, you must act now BEFORE filing your 2018 returns.  Miss that window and you’ll throw away thousands in potential savings.

What if I do nothing?
If you get an email and don’t read it now or don’t reply right away, what are the chances you ever will?  In the competitive business world, delaying and doing nothing are the same thing.  Competitors are always looking for advantages to eliminate competition.  This happens every day.  One competitor quietly grows profits while others who don’t simply fade away into the sunset, never to be heard of again.

So don’t seal up the entrance to your “gold mine”.  Let our engineering and construction experts find your hidden tax savings.  For a free, no cost assessment that could change your business dramatically,

Click here to see if you qualify.

Section 179D

Do you own or plan to build or remodel 50,000 or more square feet of real estate? Are you looking for additional tax deductions? If so, you could likely benefit from energy efficiency deductions available under IRS Section 179D. Here are some common questions about the deduction.

What is the 179D energy efficiency deduction?
In an effort to reduce the energy consumption by buildings within the United States, Congress passed legislation allowing for a tax deduction for building owners who have either increased their building’s energy efficiency or have constructed energy efficient facilities. This provision is commonly referred to as 179D.

How much is the deduction worth? 
The maximum deduction allowable under 179D is $1.80 per square foot of building space. As an example, a 100,000 square foot building may qualify for up to a $180,000 deduction under 179D. The deduction is most beneficial for projects of 50,000 square feet or more.

Who is eligible to receive the deduction? 
For privately owned buildings, the building owner is generally eligible for the deduction.

For government-owned property, the governmental entity may assign the deduction to a qualifying party, typically the architect, contractor, engineer or consultant with significant involvement in the design or construction of the property. The assignment of the deduction is made on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Which buildings qualify? 
Commercial and residential buildings taller than three stories that are located in the U.S. and placed in service after Dec. 31, 2005, and prior to Dec. 31, 2017, potentially qualify.  The deduction is taken the year the building was placed into service.

How is the deduction obtained? 
To claim the 179D deduction, energy savings must be certified by an unrelated “qualified individual” who is a contractor or engineer licensed in the same jurisdiction as the building. A site visit of the property is generally required, followed by energy modeling using engineering software approved by the IRS.

Click here to see if you qualify.

Grid (un)reliability

US utilities have traditionally been known for high reliability, but all that is changing.  Fast.

With power lines causing some of the biggest fires in US history, utilities are learning to cope with the risk by simply switching power off to large areas when it gets windy.  With wildfires consistently getting bigger and more frequent, that means grid power is already becoming less reliable.  But what if you run a business or a city or hospital or even a school is supposed to be an emergency shelter for the community?  This new variable will change your plans whether you like it or not.

Most organizations simply can’t just send people home or work in the dark or without air conditioning.  Building codes and safety regulations have a variety of requirements for occupant safety and comfort.  During natural disasters schools, hospitals and other critical infrastructure is heavily relied upon to avoid serious calamity. So, what are your options?

You actually have several options, but they all have pros and cons:

  1. Install diesel backup generators.  That’s good, except two problems.  Diesel is a very dirty and smelly fossil fuel, and is often limited to emergencies only.  For some districts, an intentional outage may not qualify.  Also, if you have a serious emergency like a wildfire or earthquake, getting a refill of diesel fuel may be impossible for quite awhile after.
  2. Install solar.  Unfortunately, many customer are finding out that their solar was required to be installed with anti-islanding features and simply will not work when the grid is down.  Those need to be retrofitted with new inverters and switches to enable “safe islanding”.  Unfortunately, solar only works during the day, so if an outage happens when it’s cloudy or at night, you’ll be out of luck.
  3. Install wind.  Small wind helps provide power for smaller loads or buildings, even when it’s dark, but it’s intermittent.  Meaning it can go off suddenly and back on, but it often works at night when the sun doesn’t.
  4. Add battery storage.  Batteries can provide backup power reliably. With time of use electric rates and demand charges, batteries make solar and wind much more economical, except the added first cost and safety.  Most chemical batteries like lithium are pretty rare elements, toxic and hazardous.  Historically, they have been relegated to small computer backup systems and mobile devices, but with demand ramping up exponentially, research and improvements in materials, capacity and manufacturing are pushing prices down really fast and safety up. But there are other storage solutions too.
  5. Add thermal storage.  Ice storage, as in frozen water, has been around for hundreds of years and is very economical for special applications where cooling or refrigeration is needed.  Since most buildings have air conditioning and many in the food sector have large refrigerators and freezers, there’s a lot of opportunities for ice storage.  Perhaps the best part of ice storage is the storage medium itself. In many cases it’s one of the most abundant and sustainable chemicals on earth – good ole’ H2O.
  6. Finally, there’s the “do nothing” alternative and hope it doesn’t affect you.  Good luck with that. Since we live in a competitive world, others will solve the problem leaving you losing business or revenue you need to pay all those fixed costs and retirement checks.  Again, that may work once or even twice, but with a prolonged outage or frequency of outages, you’ll be out of business.

So, how do you decide what is best?  It depends…

It depends on a lot of variables like your campus or building’s design, the age of your systems, your operations, safety or risk factors, utility costs, future costs, location risks (e.g. likelihood of interruptions and outages), code requirements and more.  Fortunately, 3fficient has done this analysis many times and knows how to help you decide on the best options for your business or organization.  More importantly, we can help you avoid getting “analysis paralysis” or getting wrong inputs that cost you a lot.

For a free assessment of your buildings, Click here

For a free assessment of your infrastructure’s resiliency and security, contact us >.

How to Make Your Multi Tenant Buildings More Valuable

Most apartment complex owners are very limited in what they can do to stay competitive with newer properties. Lower rents, remodel or tear down and replace?  But, what if there was a better option?  An option that actually reduced the tenant’s monthly expenses while increasing rental revenues AND property values for the owner?

Well now there is.  3fficient’s Smart Zero program is now available for multi-family building owners, like apartment communities.  This comprehensive green building program provides the capital and turnkey EPC contracting for efficient holistic modernizations coupled with on-site renewable energy generation and storage.  Owners get smart energy upgrades and substantially improved property values while tenants get more comfortable and modern spaces with really low utility bills.  A true win-win!

Here’s how it works:

Step 1.  Analyze

  • Property Owner completes the Quicklook survey to see if they qualify for this unique upgrade program.
  • 3fficient Customer specialist will contact the Owner to confirm their online application and compile some additional property details, e.g. number of apartments and SF for each (typically size per floor plan and qty of each).
  • 3fficient will provide a preliminary energy assessment of indicative savings and property value impacts.

Step 2. Engineer

  • Upon engagement, 3fficient will provide engineering and a detailed, bankable engineering estimate of costs and savings.
  • Owner can use that to decide on desired rent adjustments in advance – based on projected savings per metered dwelling unit.

Step 3.  Integrate

  • Upon funding approval, 3fficient will procure necessary permits and materials, then manage implementation and commissioning of desired upgrades.

Step 4.  Enjoy

  • Tenants will enjoy lower monthly expenses and tell their friends how sustainable and great their community is.
  • Owner will enjoy the many low and zero carbon accolades, the increased rental demand, the increased revenues, profits and property values that effectively cost the owner nothing.

Energy Efficiency Upgrades Get Even Sweeter

On December 15, 2017, the unified version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was put into law. Among other goals, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was designed to simplify tax codes, reduce the tax on wages and lower tax on business income. Section 179 of the new IRS tax code allows businesses to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying equipment from gross income.

What Is Section 179?
Section 179 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 allows for qualifying products to be expensed immediately, including “heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.” This means that a system can be expensed in its first year rather than depreciated over a 39-year period.  As a proponent of Section 179, 3fficient is ready to help building owners better benefit from the opportunities this bill creates.

What Equipment Qualifies?
Virtually every solution we offer qualifies.  3fficient can help you explore options for updating, upgrading and retrofitting your building’s systems that result in immediate and often long term tax benefits. So, if you are contemplating or have already upgraded any of the following systems, contact us right away:

  • HVAC Equipment
  • Roofing Upgrades
  • Skylights and Daylighting
  • Window improvements
  • Connected Lighting
  • Building Controls and Automation Systems
  • Security and Access Control

Businesses that purchase, finance or lease less than $2.5 million in the above business equipment during the 2018 tax year typically qualify for deductions through Section 179. Since the deduction begins to phase out if more than $2.5 million of equipment is purchased, it is most useful for small- to medium-size businesses. The markets that 3fficient specializes in!

Act Now!
Section 179 can change each year without notice (Section 179 has even changed mid-year), so it benefits you to take advantage of this generous tax code while it’s available.  Take advantage now before congress changes their mind.

How to Apply
Contact 3fficient for a free green building assessment to see if you qualify to take advantage of these hidden gems.  Our experts can help with strategies to properly segregate costs and maximize tax savings for these qualifying improvements.

To learn more about how 3fficient can help, contact us.

Managing Energy Costs in Grocery Stores

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1507823430100{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]Energy costs can account for up to 15 percent of a grocery store’s operating budget.  The US average was roughly $4/SF in 2015.  For example, a 40,000 square foot store might spend $160,000 a year just for electricity.  Because grocery stores’ profit margins are so thin—on the order of 1 percent—every dollar in energy savings is equivalent to increasing sales by around $59.  In this example, let’s say energy costs are cut 20%, that would equal $32,000 in savings the first year.  That’s equivalent to ($32,000/.01) $3.2M in sales.  Kind of a BIG deal!

Grocery stores in the US use an average of 52.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 38,000 Btu of natural gas per square foot annually. In a typical grocery, refrigeration and lighting represent about 65 percent of total use (Figure 1), making these systems the best targets for energy savings.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1507823360409{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”][/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1507823336638{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”][/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1507912524423{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]

Figure 1: Energy consumption by end use
In grocery stores, refrigeration and lighting are the bulk end uses for electricity; space heating and cooking dominate natural gas use, albeit a much smaller pie than electricity.

 

You’ll be better able to manage your store’s energy costs if you understand how you’re charged for energy. Most utilities charge commercial buildings for their natural gas based on the amount of energy (therms) delivered. Electricity, on the other hand, can be charged based on two measures—consumption (kWh) and demand (kW). The consumption component of the bill is based on how much electricity, in kWh, the building consumes during a month. The demand component is the peak demand, in kilowatts (kW), occurring within the month or, for some utilities, during the previous 12 months. Monthly demand charges can range from a few dollars per kW to upwards of $20/kW. Peak demand can be a considerable percentage of your bill, so care should be taken to reduce it whenever possible. As you read these energy cost management recommendations, keep in mind how each one will affect both your consumption and your demand.

Here are some fixes you can do:

Read more

How to plug those (energy) holes in your building

Taking an infrared thermograph of an air conditioned building in the daytime, can be quite alarming. Infrared thermography is the same technology in night vision goggles used by military special forces. It reveals the infrared light spectrum or “heat signature” of objects. On buildings, it reveals variations in heat flow.  The more heat flow the brighter the image.  Windows and skylights, being the least insulated are usually the biggest culprits of energy waste.  For the last 100+ years, heating and air conditioning systems have compensated or covered up the wasted energy flowing through windows and skylights.  But with high energy costs and power plant pollution, that veil is starting to be removed.

Over the last 30 years of my career, I’ve assessed energy efficiency at hundreds of buildings – schools, offices, hospitals, industrials, you name it.  The one thing they all have in common – “energy holes”.   Heat pouring into or out of “closed” windows and skylights.  That heat flow, seen through infrared thermography, translates to wasted energy and unnecessarily BIG electric bills for cooling and increased gas bills for heating.   It also means wasted capital on oversized air conditioning units.  With energy costs the first or second largest expense in most every organization’s budget, why is this still so?  Here’s the typical answers:

  1. “My windows are too expensive to replace.”
  2. “Window tint darkens the room so I’m forced to turn the lights on during the day.”
  3. “Adding tint makes my “window” a mirror at night – I can’t see out but everyone else can see in.”

Before responding, let’s first take stock in what a window is supposed to do:

  1. Let visible light through, so “free” natural light can come in and people can see outside.
  2. Insulate the building, i.e. block heat flow in or out.
  3. Block outside noise.
  4. Block UV rays to protect your carpet, furnishings and skin.
  5. Minimize glare from direct sunlight.

So, again, why are windows not more efficient?

New buildings are usually designed to meet minimum code requirements to keeps costs down.  So, “expensive” products like triple pane, low-emissivity, gas filled windows are rarely considered.  And until construction techniques change dramatically, window replacement will remain costly due to the time and labor required to replace them.  As a result, the energy savings payback for window replacements is usually way too long compared to other options or priorities.

Fortunately, repairs and upgrades of existing windows is very cost effective.  Air infiltration and to a lesser extent noise infiltration can be reduced with simple caulking and weatherstripping repairs.  But, if your window frame is in poor shape or your building is next to a noisy airport or street,  heavy shutters, blinds, double or triple pane windows may be your only option.  When it comes to the main part of the fenestration, the glass or plastic (in the case of skylights), recent material breakthroughs in nanotechnology are revealing some very promising results to reduce solar heat gains.

Before explaining, it’s helpful to understand some physics.

The first law of thermodynamics states, “energy is neither created nor destroyed, it simply changes form”, e.g. heat, light, sound.  In simple terms, the sun is a hot ball that radiates energy (in the form of light) to the earth which then heats up the earth.  After being filtered through the atmosphere, sunlight reaches the earth’s surface as ultraviolet light, visible light and infrared light.  See image below.  Ultraviolet (UV) light is invisible but we see the damaging effects in faded carpets and furnishings or worse – skin cancer.  Visible light (daylight) is the rainbow of colors we see with our eyes.  Infrared light is the intense heat we feel when directly exposed to the sun, e.g. when we come out of the shade or a cloud suddenly moves away.

When it comes to windows, the goal is to block all the UV light, let most or all of the visible light through and block or selectively control the infrared light.  Here’s why.

When the sun’s light hits a window, some is reflected off and some is absorbed by the glass (which can then be directed into, or away from, the interior space) and some passes directly through.  For plastic windows and skylights, much of the UV is blocked, little is absorbed by the material, but most of the infrared light passes right through into the space as heat.

Heat is transferred in three ways: conduction, convection and radiation:

  • Conduction is heat transferred between two objects when they touch – such as when you touch a hot skillet or a warm window.
  • Convection is the flow of a fluid like warm or hot air rising as it is heated up, e.g. when you lean down and open the door of a hot oven and feel the rush of hot air hit your face or sit next to a hot window and feel the heat. Likewise, a large window or door can feel “drafty” as air rises up even though it’s not “leaking from outside.  So, take this into consideration if this is causing you to consider replacement windows.
  • Radiation is light energy heating up an object.  For example, when you step into the sunlight you can feel the sun’s radiant energy on your skin as your skin cells absorb the sun’s radiance.

For cooler climates (i.e. far northern or far southern hemisphere), it is ideal to allow the infrared heat in during the winter, but block as much as possible the rest of the year to reduce cooling loads.   For warmer climates, where most buildings are located, cooling costs usually dominate, so reducing solar heat gain usually dominates decision making.  But, maximizing natural light (without glare) is almost always desired.

So, how do we better manage or reduce solar heat gain?

Overhangs, awnings, light shelves and best of all, deciduous shade trees can help let in the winter sun and block the summer sun.  Unfortunately, they aren’t always practical and were not considered in the vast majority of buildings in existence today.  Clerestories are usually better than traditional skylights, but they are significantly more expensive and rarely used as well.  Then, there are interior window treatments and window coatings.  Interior treatments like shade screens and blinds can help stop the heat, but isn’t the whole purpose of a window to be able to see through it or let the natural light in?  That leaves coatings and tints.

Aftermarket coatings.

  • If your goal is to block out the visible light, then any dark tint will do.
  • If your goal is to block out the light and the heat, then a broad spectrum dark tint will help.  But even that is limited.  Dark curtains, shades or even plywood will actually work better.
  • However, If your goal is to block out just the UV light and the most or all of the infrared heat while letting the VISIBLE light come through, then new nano technologies, are your best bet.

A couple notable options:

Traditional glue-on window films.  Eastman V-Kool 70, Enerlogic 70 and Hi-Lite 70 are high quality plastic films that preform very well. They each block 99% of UV rays and up to 94% of infrared heat while only allowing about 60% of visible light in.  Unfortunately, blocking 30-40% of light still means the interior lights will need to be turned on to compensate.  The materials are relatively expensive and worse yet, they all tend to crack, chip or peel over time.  If applied poorly they will bubble.

Now the game changer…

Liquid window insulation is a spectrally selective paint-on, high performance nanotechnology coating. Nano coatings are a breakthrough because the particles are so small they are invisible to the human eye while adding the desired properties to the coating.  With the small size, the molecules won’t change the optics of the visible light, but are arranged to selectively block out other desired wavelengths.  Due to its application method, it is virtually impossible for liquid nano-tech coatings to bubble, chip, crack or peel.

Available “tints” are 4%, 10% and 16% opacities.  The 4% version is virtually invisible and so clear that it can legally be used on automotive windshields*.  The 16% version has better thermal properties and a slight visible tint to help reduce glare.  The new 10% opacity is a popular “blend of the two which helps cut glare a bit, although not as much as traditional plastic window films. Like the expensive films above, liquid window insulation can block 99% of UV radiation.  But unlike the (now) old tech, liquid window insulation allows 84% – 96% of visible light in while blocking 85% – 97% of infrared heat.  The more opaque, the more infrared heat is blocked.

Liquid window insulation has outstanding performance for most applications.  Perhaps the most important metric for window films in modern “green” building design is the light to solar heat gain ratio (LSG), the LSG ratio provides a gauge of the relative efficiency of different glazing systems in transmitting daylight while blocking solar heat gains.  The higher the ratio, the brighter the room is without adding excessive amounts of heat.

The following chart is a compilation of (lab and NFRC) spectrometer test data. For a spectrally selective solar control film or coating, the LSG ratio will typically be higher than 1.2, while for other films, the LSG ratio will be smaller than 1.0.  The LSG ratio for liquid window insulation is superior to other high end films.

How to read the chart above:

  • Tint.  The opacity or percentage of natural (visible) daylight being blocked.  The lower the percentage the better, unless your goal is to darken the space. Keep in mind, dark plastic films tend to be reflective at night, blocking the view out at night.
  • Visible light Transmission is directly related to tint.  The higher the percentage the better.
  • UV rejection is the % of damaging UltraViolet rays being blocked.  The higher the percentage the better.
  • IR rejection is the % of infrared heat from the sun being blocked.  For warmer climates that need cooling, the higher the percentage better.
  • SHGC is the % of solar heat entering the space. For warmer climates that need cooling, the lower the percentage better.
  • LSG is the ratio of Visible Light Transmission over Solar Heat Gain (VT/SHGC) which measure overall efficiency of a window or skylight coating.  The higher the percentage the better.

The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (solar efficiency) of new (dual pane low-e) assemblies ranges from 0.41 – 0.60.  However, with daily thermal and UV aging, the soft rubber seals harden and decay, allowing the inert gas between the panes to leak out over time.  As a result, the thermal efficiency is dramatically reduced, leaving the SHGC higher (less efficient) than the even the single pane NanoTint coated alternative.

To take this analysis a step further, we made up our own field test boxes with the front face all glass and faced them directly into the sun.  The results below show the mostly transparent (16%) coating matching dark “limo” tint with solar incidence at 90 degrees, but as time passed and the sun angle became less direct, the nano coating far outperformed even the darkest of traditional tints.  Since the sun is rarely at a right angle to any glass surface, one would expect the liquid window insulation to lead the pack in cumulative energy savings and comfort, such as in a vehicle or next to a window.

I think one of the most compelling applications for liquid window insulation is on skylights.  Skylights are great at bringing in natural light deep inside a building, but the side effect is a lot of unwanted solar heat gain.  Most are plastic, curved and very difficult to apply plastic films to.  This is where liquid window insulation really shines (pun intended).  Getting traditional film on an overhead skylight is very challenging.  If it’s curved plastic, it’s almost impossible.  Liquid window insulation, on the other hand, just rolls on with a special paint roller.  For opaque skylights, it can even be sprayed on.  UV rays will be blocked out and direct infrared heat dramatically reduced.

With better durability, longevity and costs at or below cheaper dark films, the liquid window insulation is a far superior value in comfort, durability, aesthetics, thermal performance, first cost and lifecycle cost.  In terms of  window “upgrades” any of the above films are good, but the liquid window insulation seems to be a consistently better in all areas.

For a more information on installation, click here.

References:

  1. LBNL Fenestration Heat Transfer Basics
  2. DOE Energy Performance Ratings for Windows, Doors and Skylights
  3. Nano particle coatings and applications in window film, DeMeyer

*Note.  Always confirm with local vehicle code and/or enforcement authorities to ensure code compliance.

Making a better battery – CBS News

Commercial buildings use more electricity than any other building type in the US.  Roughly 65% according to DOE statistics.  But, the problem is WHEN they use energy – daytime and early evenings.  That creates a problem for the power grid which falls short throughout the day and has too much at night.  Energy storage solves that problem.

So, in the race for better batteries, scientists are re-discovering…  basic science still holds true.  The KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid).  Instead of hunting for exotic new materials that are hard to find or unsafe, building experts like 3fficient are relying on one of the most plentiful, sustainable materials on planet Earth.  Good ole’ H2O.  Ice Energy, has been making ice storage for utilities for several years now, but recently, they have partnered with 3fficient to design and install pre-packaged ice storage units that bolt directly to commercial a/c units.  After a little engineering and mechanical connections, these “ice batteries” create ice at night with their super efficient compressors and then the melted, ice cold water runs through the a/c unit coil to blow perfect cool air into the space below.  Since it’s a closed loop, no additional water is needed so the storage medium lasts and lasts and lasts.  The initial water comes straight out of the spigot.  The compressors are commercial grade and have a life at least 200% – 300% longer than Tesla and other Lithium batteries.

Daytime a/c energy use gets cut by 90 – 95% which saves a lot of costs for the customer.  More importantly, it reduces the need for more expensive solar power or (in comparison) short-lived electric batteries.  For utility customers on a time of use rate (most commercial customers and soon everyone in CA), the short term peak demand (kW) charges are a huge portion of the bill.  Most buildings have a daily power spike when everything is on, especially all the a/c units.  That 15 or 30 minute spike can cost dearly. as it sets the bill for the month or even the year. So, when you have a plug n play tool that reliably levelizes your daily power curve, you’ll save a lot of money.  Utilities will love you for it and so will your bottom line!

While exotic “invented by Nasa engineers” tech may seem cool, sometimes “old school” is even cooler!  Check out this Nova Video about it called, Making a better battery, featuring David Pogue – the gadget guy.

Simple Spring Tune-ups

At the start of the new year, many of us set resolutions for things we would like to improve.  For some, trimming our waist is a recurring item on our list.  How do we do that for our buildings?  Experts agree that we start by taking a look at what we are consuming.

Trimming the waste at our business is also a resolution we should consider.  That doesn’t mean laying off people either.  For many businesses, utility expenses are rising and many have no idea why.  Here are a couple easy ways to trim your wasteline and make more profit for your company.

1.) Get a fitness coach

Take a close look at how your company operates. Are the lights always on?  Is the heat always on in the winter and air conditioning always on in the summer?  Are employees constantly changing the temperature?  Are there space heaters running under some desks while the air conditioner is blowing everywhere else?

Making simple changes to turn off lights when not being used or reducing the use of furnaces or air conditioners during peak times will hardly be noticed by your employees and will save big when your utility bill is opened next month.  Keeping your office temperature one degree down in the winter and one degree up during summer can reduce the power it utilizes by 10%.

Beyond the obvious tips, what other equipment or spaces are using the most energy?  A free fitness check from 3fficient can review your utility bills and help you know where additional savings can be found.  A simple and affordable management solution is now available to help you know exactly where your energy is being utilized.  Just like hiring a security company to watch business when you aren’t around, 3fficient’s Fácil service constantly monitors your energy utilization and will warn you when energy is being wasted so that you can make adjustments right away or automate the process.

2.) Stop throwing money out the windows

When you look at your windows are they covered with blinds while the lights are on?  Feel the glass.  Is it cold or hot?  Regular glass allows 70% of heat or cold to pass through.  Tinting or blinds darkens the room and require interior lights to be used.  Wait.  Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of even having windows?  Why close the blinds and turn on the lights?  Regular tinting might block the glaring light but does little to block the heat or cold air.

First, check the framing and insulation around the windows to ensure it is tight and is not allowing air to pass. If the windows are sealed ok, it may still feel drafty near the windows.  That’s often just thermal convection caused by the cold windows.  If your windows are in good shape, but require blinds or heavy tinting, 3fficient has a remarkable new clear window insulation that blocks over 95% of infrared heat transfer while allowing in 96% of the natural visible light and blocking 100% of the harmful UV rays.  So, use the outside light, it’s free!  Your spaces will be more comfortable, a/c and lighting loads will drop considerably and you’ll trim the fat off your utility bills without breaking a sweat.

 

Fortune telling… Predict failure before it happens

Do things ever break when it’s a good time?  I’ve never had my car break down when I had no where in particular to go.  The projector never stops working until the client is getting ready to arrive for a presentation.  If only we had a crystal ball, we’d all use it to take care of office issues BEFORE they occur.

Crystal balls might be the devices of legends but we now have more data available than ever before that, when analyzed proactively, tell us that doom is on the horizon.  Here’s how you can tell the future by understanding how your company is using electricity.

You can’t understand what you don’t measure.

You don’t need to be an electrician to understand the basics of how your office is powered.  The utility company provides power to your building, it connects to a circuit breaker that then connects the many different locations within your company.  You see a statement each month that shows how much total energy you are using.  Simple enough.  But which devices or locations in your building are using the most, or too much, energy?

Now there’s a simple device you can plug into your circuit breaker that measure how much each circuit is utilizing.  The E2 Submeter provides up to the minute voltage and current measurement enabling highly accurate power and energy monitoring all the way down to the device level.

Ok, so now you know where your energy is being used.  Now what?

The next step is monitoring and analyzing all the information gathered. Fácil by 3fficient, is a cloud based service that receives the data provided from the E2 Submeter.  Baselines and trends are established and alerts are available whenever energy is utilized that exceeds what is normally used.  Equipment that is not operating properly tends to draw more power before it stops completely.   By detecting these subtle shifts in energy usage, you can understand which devices in your location are getting ready to fail.  Fixing equipment before it breaks will often be cheaper than replacing it completely.  Plus, avoiding the hassle of equipment failure will keep your business running smoothly.  And, by avoiding excessive energy usage, your utility bill will remain predictable and low.

This sounds expensive, right?  It isn’t.  In fact, the energy bill savings alone should far exceed the monthly subscription cost.  Then there’s other cost savings from preventing equipment failures, continuous commissioning and ongoing energy savings recommendations.  Still not sure?   Get a free QuickLook energy assessment to see how your building performance compares to others and see what can be done to improve performance.  You may not be a wizard and there may be no such thing as a crystal ball, but with Fácil, you’ll see the future…and right now, it’s looking pretty green.

Hackers Infect Cameras, DVRs to Pull off Massive Internet Breach

With the internet becoming integral to just about everything in our lives, building owners are connecting their buildings and machines – the Internet of Things (IoT).  With this, is a mad rush by vendors, big and small to launch wireless products.  Unfortunately, almost all of them are doing it wrong. Google’s Nest, EcoBee, enOcean and Daintree offer wireless thermostats and lighting controls.  But, they are utilizing the customer’s own WiFi network which opens up significant risk for both the customer and the installer.

How much risk?  A lot….  On September 30th, hackers took control of WiFi connected security cameras and video recorders to launch one of the biggest Internet attacks in history. The unprecedented attack raised serious questions about how the Internet will cope with a flood of connected and vulnerable devices expected to come online in the next few years.  Read more…

As if the privacy risk alone wasn’t bad enough, using the customer’s WiFi can even be in direct violation of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) laws.

Enter Fácil.  At the backbone of its deep energy savings capabilities is the inherently secure wireless controls platform.  Like others, it uses wireless switches and thermostats to connect to control relays wired to light fixtures and a/c units.  It then mashes up data points like usage trends, occupancy, external environmental data and more to learn and make management really easy (fácil).  But the big difference is in the security and cost.  The communications and internals are vastly more secure than others.  Communications are completely separate and do not conflict with the crowded and vulnerable 802.11 WiFi band.  The communications chipsets have patented security unlike others.  Without getting extremely technical, it’s kind of like comparing modern smart chip credit cards (that initiate a new dynamic ID every transaction) to old static magnetic strips (that can easily be duplicated and spoofed again and again).

One of the best parts is that being wireless (and highly secure) actually has many advantages over even wired solutions.  First and foremost,  install (cap-ex) costs are cut by 70% compared to wired and 30% – 50% compared to semi-wireless offerings flooding the market.  Second, Renovation costs are almost insignificant.  With the rise of flexible office space, it’s becoming a necessity to have wireless in order to compete.  Third, If your wired system is connected to WiFi such as at EcoBee of other big box thermostats – think again.  Your network security is only as good as your weakest link.

So, whatever you do, just make darn sure your IT manager is up to speed on compliance and signs off on your controls upgrades, confirming they meet the highest security standards”.  Just ask the giant retailer, “Target” how hard that lesson was to learn…

 

Is cleaning solar panels worth the cost?

Many solar power owners ask, is cleaning panels worth the cost?  Until now – no.

Let’s face it, all panels get dirty. They’re outdoors.  All you have to do is drive around any neighborhood and look at rooftop panels to see the dirt buildup, especially around the bottom third of each panel.  Studies by UC San Diego and Atonometrics have proven annual production to diminish 6% – 11% depending on dust and air borne pollutants like smog and soot.  For residential customers, this may not be a big deal.  But for a business or utility?  A 6% – 11% drop in revenue is (and should be) a big deal!

While most residential owners would like higher production, getting a water hose extension long enough is too unwieldy and climbing up on a ladder or sloped roof trying to reach the high spots is too unsafe.  Commercial owners would also like higher production, but the production savings is usually negated by the cleaning costs or halted by environmental runoff regulations.  Besides, do you really want a lot of foot traffic on your roof, creating potential leaks?  For utility-scale owners who monitor production like a hawk, a truck spraying de-ionized water or a chemical solution does the trick.  But that cost erodes the savings too.

There just hasn’t been a workable solution – until now.

3fficient’s clean-tech incubator has launched a modern nano-technology that keeps panels super clean, thus increasing solar yields 6 – 11%.  It’s a “coat it and forget it” solution.  This nano-coating is applied to solar panels and keeps them clean and spot free for up to ten (10) years.  The nano-coating can be applied to panels at the factory or job site prior to install, or afterwards on the rooftop.  It can be re-applied in the future to add another decade of high productivity.   The clear liquid solution is literally painted onto the clean glass surface and dries in 2 minutes. The anti-static properties repel most dust and dirt.  The super hydrophylic properties repel water drops so any heavy debris like bird droppings are carried off with the morning dew or next rain.  3fficient offers a similar product for skylights, glass windows, windshields and doors.

To request a quote for PermaClean, click here.