Generally, when building owners invest in energy retrofits, the main goal is saving on utility bills. Energy efficiency can also help landlords meet climate laws and regulations, such as Local Law 97 of 2019 in NYC. However, there is a less-known benefit of energy efficiency that is equally important: making buildings safer.
When the energy used by a building does not accomplish its intended purpose, it can cause accidents. For example, electrical current can leak from a wire with damaged insulation, and this can cause electrocution or start a fire. In general, as the energy consumption of a building increases, the potential damage that energy can cause is also higher. Here we will discuss three examples of how energy efficiency makes buildings safer.
Get a professional energy audit: save on utility bills, cut emissions & make your building safer.
Old and Inefficient Heating Systems Can Be Dangerous for Building Occupants
Many buildings rely on combustion heating systems that use natural gas or fuel oil, since they have a lower running cost than resistance heaters. However, this means you must burn fossil fuels directly inside your building. If the resulting heat output and combustion gases are not controlled, they can endanger everyone in the building.
Older boilers and furnaces have a higher energy consumption, especially when they haven’t received proper maintenance. We must not forget that combustion also produces many harmful gases, which must be extracted from the heating system before they can spread indoors. This includes carbon monoxide, a highly dangerous gas that can cause loss of consciousness and death at an air concentration of only 1%.
- Inefficient space heaters consume more energy, which means they also produce a larger volume of combustion gases.
- As the components of boilers and furnaces wear down over time, the risk of flue gas leaks also increases.
Electric resistance heaters can keep indoor spaces warm without burning heating oil and natural gas, but their operating cost is very high. In this case, the increase in electricity bills will most exceed your gas savings. By using a combination of electric heat pumps and renewable energy, you can remove combustion from your building while keeping your costs low.
An Efficient Building Envelope Protects Occupants from Extreme Heat and Cold
When your building has good insulation, you save on HVAC costs all year long. Insulation acts as a barrier against outdoor heat gain during summer, and against indoor heat loss during winter. You must also make sure your building envelope is free of air leaks, since they can cause massive heat gain and heat loss. An insulation upgrade is much less effective unless you also fix air leakage issues.
An efficient building envelope not only lowers your heating and cooling costs. When outdoor temperatures reach extreme levels, the thermal envelope also works as a protective barrier for occupants. This is especially helpful when HVAC systems are disabled by a blackout:
- An airtight and well-insulated building can keep a suitable indoor temperature for a longer time, providing an effective shelter for occupants.
- A building with defective insulation and leaky windows suffers a rapid temperature change when HVAC systems stop, and this can be dangerous during a heat wave or winter storm.
An efficient building envelope also gives your occupants more control over indoor temperatures, and a properly-sized heating system is enough to keep them comfortable. On the other hand, when a building cannot reach suitable temperatures by itself, occupants are more likely to use portable space heaters for additional warming. These devices can be dangerous, especially when not used properly, and one of them started the deadly Bronx fire in January 2022.
The Safety Benefits of LED Lighting
Many LED upgrade projects are completed with the goal of saving electricity, and they often achieve a payback period of less than three years. When you consider that many LED products last more than 10 years, the upgrade is an excellent investment. However, LED lighting also brings many safety advantages, and the following are some examples:
- Since LED fixtures have a lower power consumption, they also dissipate less heat. This means they are less likely to cause a burn or start a fire.
- Unlike conventional lamps, LEDs can be designed without using glass and other fragile materials. This makes them shatterproof and safer to use.
- Thanks to their low consumption, LEDs can also run on backup power for a longer time, which is a major advantage during a long blackout.
LED lighting is an excellent investment in most buildings, considering its benefits and quick payback period. When building owners get energy audits, the list of recommendations will almost always include an LED upgrade.