Back in January 2017, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) published the first version of the Los Angeles Existing Buildings Energy and Water Efficiency Ordinance (LA EBEWE). Besides being a mouthful to say, it kicked off a discussion around improving energy and water efficiency in the Los Angeles existing building stock that has lasted the past three years. After all that time, you’d think we’d be nearing the end of if the conversation, but we’re just getting started.
From 2017-2020, LA EBEWE focused on benchmarking the current energy and water usage of buildings inside the city limits. Benchmarking has allowed building owners and energy professionals to establish a starting line for improving energy and water efficiency. Now that we know where we currently stand, it’s time to look to the future and improve.
2021 marks the first year in which buildings will be required to undergo an Energy and Water Audit and Retro-Commissioning (A/RCx). If a building’s LADBS Building ID ends in 0 or 1, that building will be required to undergo A/RCx by December 31, 2021. What exactly does that mean?
It means two things:
1) A professional engineer or architect will need to visit the building and conduct an analysis to identify projects that would save energy and/or water if implemented.
2) A professional engineer or architect will need to inspect and test the existing building systems to identify operational or maintenance items that will improve the energy and/or water efficiency when addressed.
While the audit recommendations are not required to be implemented, it’s certainly a good idea to look at the cost savings analysis and consider the items that will pay themselves back through utility savings. As for the RCx items, building owners will need to address these. While this might sound scary, RCx identifies fixes to issues that drain energy and water silently in the background, including:
- Lighting or equipment that is left on when not in use
- HVAC systems that are trying to heat and cool a building at the same time
- Controls (such as lighting and thermostats) that are out of calibration or triggering systems to turn on and off out of sequence
- Filters that need cleaning/replacing.
Many if not all these fixes will cost little or nothing to implement and still result in energy and water savings. For this reason, the city is requiring building owners to complete these RCx fixes. Even better, RCx can diagnose building issues that have been plaguing occupants and building operations staff for years, such as rooms that are inexplicitly frigid when the neighboring room feels like a sauna, or that whining noise in the pipes every time your neighbor brushes their teeth. These phantom problems are often the result of building systems slowly becoming imbalanced over years or decades of normal adjustments and use. Under the guidance of a properly trained RCx professional, the root of the problem can be identified and fixed, resulting in happier and healthier occupants.
You might be thinking, “But I have a really efficient building, I just did retrofits and we keep it in tip-top condition!” If that’s the case, you might not have to do any of this. Los Angeles established some exemption options for both water and energy compliance with the A/RCx. These exemptions are available to buildings that can prove they are already energy and water efficient through historical energy and water performance metrics or meeting building code requirements for energy and water.
As you can see, there are a few moving pieces to this puzzle, but overall, it’s a pretty straightforward process. If your building ID ends in 0 or 1, you’ll want to secure yourself a professional engineer or registered architect to see if you qualify for an exemption. And if you don’t qualify, get started on the A/RCx now so you won’t be in a rush later. The process can take a few months or longer for complex buildings. With that in mind, if your A/RCx is due in 2022 or later, it probably behooves you to get started this year, since A/RCx studies completed in the 5 years prior to the compliance deadline will be accepted.