Cut costs and create jobs by retrofitting schools

The Empire State Building has a projected energy savings of about 40 percent. What if schools across the United States had the same green treatment? We ask a building expert to find out.

We talk so much about energy savings: From changing habits like turning off the lights to upgrading equipment like changing the light bulbs to full on construction projects like building more sustainable buildings. But David Myers, president of Building Efficiency at Johnson Controls, thinks existing buildings in the United States represent an untapped energy reserve, one that we should tap to not only cut costs on our energy bills but to create jobs.

In the United States, 46 billion square feet belong to buildings over twenty years old, which represents prime real estate for green retrofits. Despite the initial cost, each year the building's energy cost are reduced.

In many ways, the Empire State Building is the poster child for retrofitting projects around the world. Myers thinks this retrofitting road map should be applied to the school system, to not only help schools save money on energy bills, but will give them more money to spend on education. SmartPlanet talks to Myers about how retrofitting schools will cut costs on energy and help create jobs.

SmartPlanet: How many jobs can be created with retrofitting? How does it compare overall to startups and manufacturing?

DM: Industry reports identify that for every $1M of incremental market for energy efficiency invested results in approximately 10 jobs are created or preserved. This is for any type of building – private or public.

These jobs range from architects, engineers, electricians and maintenance workers. The market for private sector retrofits is estimated to be $12 billion per year times 10 direct jobs, which equals 120,000 new or preserved jobs per year.

Importantly, these jobs have a payback because after the work is finished the buildings use less energy (and these funds can be used to support education).

SmartPlanet: What are some notable retrofitting jobs?

DM: One of Johnson Controls – and arguably the world’s – most notable retrofitting jobs is with the Empire State Building. When fully completed, the project will save 38 percent of the building’s energy and $4.4 million in annual utility bills. In addition, the project overall created more than 250 direct and indirect jobs throughout the construction.

With schools, typical projects involve high efficiency HVAC equipment and control systems, updated lighting, new windows, insulation and renewable energy solutions.

For example, our work with the Buffalo Public Schools district in New York resulted in lower energy costs and an improved the learning environment for the students. The entire renovation project involved approximately 250 businesses, and has added or preserved 1,000 jobs to the local economy.

Johnson Controls has worked with 60 of the 125 school districts on Long Island and has proven energy savings as a result

SmartPlanet: How does retrofitting buildings save energy? How much energy on average does it save?

DM: On average, Johnson Controls' energy efficiency projects result in annual energy savings of 20 to 40 percent.

The Empire State Building is a noteworthy example with projected energy savings of approximately 38 percent.

SmartPlanet: Why is it worth it to retrofit schools?

DM: Since many of the schools across the country were built long before energy efficiency was a concern, they have dated facilities and technology and consume a great deal of energy.

Schools’ biggest expense is energy and they are spending about 25-30% more on energy than they should, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s money that could and should be redirected for educational purposes.

SP: Why is retrofitting existing buildings so important for our economy?

DM: Making buildings more energy efficient can help lower the unemployment rate.

Photo via flickr/ Ami

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