From 1979 to 1986, the average square foot of a commercial building cut its energy use by about a third, according to the Energy Information Administration. But from 1986 to 1999, the last year of published data, the number stayed flat.
Policies play a role, too. Freihaut cites a 1913 Pennsylvania law, for example, that requires all public construction to offer separate bids for electrical, heating, ventilation and plumbing systems. At the time, the goal was to keep politicians from shunting all contracts to a few, well-connected firms and allow greater participation from the many small businesses that make up the construction industry.
Today, however, that law makes it hard to design a building whose pieces work together, rather than against each other. Engineers distrust architects; plumbers doubt construction teams. Each player overdesigns her part of the building, and the spiral continues.
Today, thousands of buildings in the Philadelphia area have been constructed according to this model. It's Freihaut's, and GPIC's, goal to point out a huge retrofit opportunity -- and to convince the building industry it can be lucrative to change the old way of doing business.
That's where Building 661 comes in: to do the convincing.
The new mission of Building 661
A crumbling, clammy reminder of the Philadelphia Navy Yard's past, Building 661 languishes a few blocks from GPIC's current offices. Once, it was where sailors and mechanics shot hoops, swam with their families, played locker-room hijinks.
Today, vandals have had their way with parts of it, dashing the walls with graffiti. The air sits utterly still, unperturbed by any humming machines or distant voices that would suggest human life. Upstairs, in what used to be the weight room, ceiling panels have been blown out by the cycle of winter chills and summer swoons. They droop; they gather in unkempt piles.
A ghost-hunting squad, or a demolition team, might salivate for a shot at Building 661. But first dibs go to GPIC, which has until 2015 to convert it into a tip-top green building -- and its headquarters.
The hope: If Building 661 can do it, anyone can.
At 30,000 square feet, it's the Joe Blow of commercial buildings. According to the EIA, 98 percent of America's commercial buildings are 100,000 square feet or smaller -- everything from fast-food joints to warehouses to office towers.
Building owners upbeat
Together, they account for about 10 percent of all energy consumed in the United States, representing one of the most distributed and toughest to crack sources of energy savings in the country.
If GPIC can crack the code in Philadelphia, the private sector is watching.
"This type of stuff is huge on our radar, as an organization," said Don Haas, who recently chaired the Philadelphia chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association, or BOMA. "Their mission and how they're approaching it, I don't know, personally I'd be optimistic."
Historically, he said, energy efficiency has been pushed by salesmen -- by companies that stand to make money from the retrofit -- but GPIC could play the role of honest broker.
"I would be extremely hopeful that we would end up with something that was useful in a generic fashion, and not a manufacturer-specific type of product," Haas said.
Tomorrow: the makeover of Building 661.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500