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City of Chicago Implements Energy Rating System

In 2017, the City of Chicago created the Chicago Energy Rating System to improve the visibility and transparency of information required to be reported by building owners under the City’s 2013 Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance.  As most of Elara’s clients already know, the Energy Benchmarking Ordinance requires large buildings located in Chicago (≥50,000 SF) to report energy use once per year, with additional data verification required every 3 years.

Under the new Chicago Energy Rating System, the first ratings were assigned between late August and mid-September 2019 for energy benchmarking reports that were due on June 1, 2019.  Now that the first ratings have been assigned, building owners will receive an initial six-month period within which they are required to post their Chicago Energy Rating Placard on site in a prominent location and begin sharing the rating at the time of listing for sale or lease.

How Chicago Energy Ratings are Assigned

Under the four-star rating system, four stars will indicate the highest energy performance while a one-star rating will indicate a poor energy performer.  Properties that have not submitted energy benchmarking information will receive zero stars.

Approximately 85% of buildings that report their data receive a 1-100 ENERGY STAR score from the Portfolio Manager energy benchmarking software.  These buildings will, based on their 1-100 ENERGY STAR score, receive between one and four stars on the four-star Chicago Energy Rating System.  Buildings with one, two, or three stars will be able to earn an additional star if they have improved by at least 10 points in the past two reporting years.

Approximately 15% of the reporting properties that are not eligible to receive a 1-100 ENERGY STAR score.  These properties will receive an energy rating based on the building’s source energy use intensity (EUI), which is energy use per square foot, in comparison to national medians for properties of similar size and type. The lower the percentile for Source EUI, the better, as a lower EUI indicates less energy use per square foot.  In these cases, the Chicago Energy Rating will be based on the following scale:

  • 1st to 25th percentile for Source EUI: 4 Stars
  • 25th to 50th percentile for Source EUI: 3 Stars
  • 50th to 75th percentile for Source EUI: 2 Stars
  • Above the 75th percentile for Source EUI: 1 Star
  • Any building with one, two, or three stars with a 10% improvement in the past 2 years earns an extra star

What Building Owners Need to Do

  • Ensure compliance with the reporting requirements under the City of Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance.
  • Make sure you have received your Chicago Energy Rating Placard which were to be mailed by mid-September 2019.
  • Post your Chicago Energy Rating Placard and begin sharing – on an ongoing basis — your rating at the time of listing for sale or lease within the initial six-month grace period.

Additional information about the Chicago Energy Rating System can be found here.

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Navigating Chicago’s New Construction Codes

Elara Engineering is pleased to initiate an ongoing series to inform building developers, owners and managers of the changes, deadlines, and potentially significant impacts from the City of Chicago’s new construction codes.  In this first installment, we provide background information on the new construction codes, identify important dates and highlight recent and upcoming code changes.

Background and Goals

According to a May 2019 presentation from the City of Chicago Department of Buildings, the goal of the new construction codes is “to better align the City of Chicago’s construction requirements with up-to-date model codes and standards used in other major US jurisdictions while maintaining longstanding local requirements that are adapted to unique conditions in Chicago.”

Chicago’s 2015-2021 Code Modernization Process – as the effort is called – has been broken down into three phases:

  • Phase I, which includes changes to the Conveyance Device Code and Electrical Code, has been completed.
  • Phase II, which includes changes to Administrative Provisions, Building Code, Energy Conservation Code, and Rehabilitation Code, is to be completed between 2017 and 2020.
  • Phase III, which includes changes to Fire Prevention Code, Fuel Gas Code, Mechanical Code, Plumbing Code, and (specific) Energy Conservation Code enhancements, is to completed between 2019 and 2021.

Electrical Code (Effective 3/1/2019)

Chicago’s new Electrical Code, which became effective on March 1st of this year, includes the following highlights:

  • 20 new code articles taken from the National Electric Code (NEC) including six that deal directly with renewable energy
  • Upgraded articles dealing with solar-photo voltaic construction to reflect the new technologies
  • Lighting load calculation and service disconnect location exceptions
  • New requirements for switched lighting

Energy Conservation Code (Effective 6/1/2019)

The revised Illinois Energy Conservation Code, which adopts the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) with amendments, is effective on June 1, 2019. The law does not apply to buildings designated “historic” or having “landmark status” (interior and exterior separately), buildings exempt from a local building code, and buildings that do not use either electricity or fossil fuel for comfort conditioning. The new Illinois Energy Conservation Code includes the following highlights:

  • IECC now addresses both commercial and residential buildings
  • Additional compliance paths have been identified including ASHRAE and performance based
  • Code officials are required to approve energy compliance in lieu of testing requirements outlined in the previous IECC
  • Lighting and lighting control including daylighting requirements have been updated and clarified
  • Mechanical equipment efficiency ratings, minimum airflows and required controls have been updated and clarified

Building Code (Effective 8/1/2020)

A new Building Code will be issued by the International Code Council (ICC) in October of 2019 and will ultimately be adopted by the City of Chicago for mandatory use as of August 1, 2020. A transitional period for implementation of the new building code has been outlined by the City of Chicago as follows:

  • Test projects utilizing the new ICC Building Code will be accepted by invitation only for permit applications within the City of Chicago during the Fall of 2019.
  • Permit applications within the City of Chicago will have the option to submit according to the new ICC Building Code beginning December 1, 2019.
  • Minimum standards for compliance with the new ICC Building Codes will be enacted and enforced by the City of Chicago during the Spring of 2020.
  • The new ICC building Codes will be mandatory for all permit applications within the City of Chicago as of August 1, 2020.
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R-22 2020 Phase-Out Deadline Fast Approaching

Background
The Montreal Protocol is a global agreement with the goal of phasing out the use and production of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS), which include hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). To meet the goals established by the Montreal Protocol, HCFCs must be phased out by January 1, 2020; and will therefore, no longer be produced or imported into the U.S. after that date.

Although other HCFCs can be sometimes be found in currently used refrigeration equipment, the most common HCFC by far is HCFC-22 or R-22.  This refrigerant is used in existing air conditioners and refrigeration equipment including unitary air conditioners, cold storage, retail food refrigeration equipment, chillers, and industrial process refrigeration.

Many recall the first step of the HCFC phase out, which occurred on January 1, 2010 and resulted in the production of R-22 to be significantly reduced. Since the initial phase out, the cost of R-22, and therefore the cost of maintaining equipment using R-22, has become increasingly expensive. After the upcoming phase out, only reclaimed or stockpiled R-22 can be used for maintenance of R-22 refrigeration equipment. It is expected that the cost of R-22 will significantly increase with the latest phase due to limited and dwindling supplies.

Options for Building Owners and Managers
With potentially many pieces of air conditioning equipment under their care and responsibility, the upcoming R-22 phase-out deadline means that building owners and managers need to establish a viable, common-sense course of action to pursue.  Several options are available.

  • DO NOTHING NOW AND WAIT. If a unit breaks after January 2020, the repair may be cost prohibitive due to the cost of R-22. If it happens in 2019, a decision will have to be made to replace it or to invest in a repair.
  • RETROFIT OLDER SYSTEMS TO USE A NEW REFRIGERANT. In some cases, equipment owners can invest in a retrofit that allows existing equipment to use certain newer refrigerants. Because this option will not be possible for all systems, an analysis will be needed to determine its technical and financial viability.
  • REPLACE PROACTIVELY. Although the upfront cost/investment can be a hurdle, especially if multiple systems need to be replaced prior to the R-22 phase-out deadline; proactive replacement could be the most cost-effective alternative in the long run. Equipment owners can take advantage of current tax breaks and utility-sponsored incentive programs to potentially reduce HVAC equipment and installation costs.

Options Guidance and Cost Reduction Opportunities 

With expertise in energy audits and studies, master planning, engineering design, equipment identification and selection; Elara Engineering is well-positioned to identify, evaluate, and pursue a technically and financially sound R-22 phase-out option.  In addition, having procured a cumulative total of over $5MM in incentives from ComEd, Peoples Gas, and Nicor to help offset costs associated with the installation of energy efficient improvements, Elara can assist clients, when combined with applicable tax breaks, minimize R-22 phase-out costs as much as possible.

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Elara Guides Design of USGBC Certified Passive House (PHIUS+) and LEED Platinum Multifamily Midrise Supportive Building

To support the initiatives of Heartland Housing, Inc — a division of the Heartland Alliance (Chicago, IL) and a developer/manager of sustainable, innovative and high-quality affordable housing for at-risk populations — Elara provided advice, planning, and direction to the entire project team regarding MEPFP and sustainable features, including solar domestic hot water and geothermal heating and cooling.

Rethke Terrace in Madison, WI is a 36,000 ft², 4-story, newly constructed supportive housing facility with 60 studio, single-occupant units serving the formerly homeless or those at risk of homelessness. The property has 5,000 ft² of common area and office space for property management and four case workers, assembly space, a computer room, a library/quiet room, a fitness room, and a commercial kitchen for residents and the neighborhood.

With Elara’s efforts, Rethke Terrace achieved Passive House certification and a LEED Platinum designation for Homes (Midrise). Contributing design elements include wall assembly features with advanced framing details and an air-tight envelope, window heights and placement that maximize natural day-lighting, energy efficient lighting design, energy recovery ventilators, Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) heating and cooling systems to provide individual comfort control in units, occupancy sensors, window switches, kWh tracking, and remote building management.

Elara provided conceptual/pre-schematic design, schematic design, design development, bidding, and construction observation services. To support the project’s early planning phases, Elara performed energy modeling and building optimization based on numerous interacting effects; evaluated the most cost-effective building design; explored net-zero energy opportunities; and optimized lighting design and controls, including a detailed light level analysis, daylighting, occupancy control, and layouts to minimize energy while maximizing occupant satisfaction. A renewable energy analysis was also completed that evaluated multiple options, including geothermal, and their performance. Elara also evaluated plumbing heat recovery and rain water retention/reuse.

The HVAC system ultimately selected due to Elara’s work maximized energy efficiency and savings and minimized cost with respect to building envelope design.

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Elara Reduces Utility Costs by $116,000 for New Orleans Hotel

Based on a recommendation from Elara Engineering’s Energy Audit and HVAC/Mechanical Systems Assessment of the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, Elara recently completed a chiller plant replacement and chiller heat recovery implementation project that reduced utility costs by $94,000 within the first 10 months of operation (projected at $116,000 annually).  Elara’s assessment identified additional improvement opportunities with a potential to reduce the hotel’s operating costs up to an additional estimated $125,000 per year.

The Pere Marquette Hotel, an 18-story luxury hotel located in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter was originally constructed in 1925, renovated in 2001, and underwent repairs to the base building after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The property has 275 guest rooms, restaurant, café, fitness center, banquet and conference facilities, offices, and a parking garage.

Due to costly, repeated issues with compressor failures, an upgrade of the hotel’s existing chilled water plant was identified as a priority project within Elara’s assessment report.  Upon approval from the owner to implement the first of its recommendations, Elara;

  • Designed and replaced three existing air-cooled rooftop chillers with two cooling-only chillers and one heat recovery chiller to preheat the domestic hot water using waste heat while improving the chiller’s efficiency,
  • Designed the replacement in phases to minimize building systems downtime and allow the hotel to remain operational,
  • Converted one of the building’s existing three domestic hot water storage tanks to a preheat tank associated with the new heat recovery chiller, and
  • Installed a new heat exchanger and pump along with associated controls.
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Elara Designs Geothermal Heating & Cooling System for Eastland Elementary School

As part of its heating and ventilation system evaluation for Eastland Elementary School for Community Unified School District (CUSD) 308 in Lanark, Illinois, together with Richard L. Johnson Associates Architects, Elara recommended improvements to the school’s existing HVAC system to address aging equipment, increase energy efficiency, and enhance occupant comfort.  One improvement strategy included the design and installation of a Geothermal Heat Pump System for centralized space heating and cooling for the building.

The geothermal system designed by Elara was installed for an incremental cost of less than 10% of that to install a conventional heating and cooling system. Additionally, this environmentally-friendly approach is more energy efficient and eliminates future costs to replace central boiler and chiller plants approximately every 20 years.  The system’s geothermal field, with its 36, 450-foot deep vertical wells is anticipated to last at least 50 years, with heat pump equipment replaced according to a traditional schedule.

For the system installation, a single pipe geothermal condenser water loop was utilized to serve the classroom heat pumps and to save material and labor costs of pipes routed through an existing utility tunnel.  Elara also re-used two existing mezzanines above the gymnasium’s stage area to house new heat pump air handling equipment.  Once Elara unified the HVAC systems for the building (which were previously disjointed due to numerous renovations and additions), a new direct digital control system was installed to maximize controllability and energy savings associated with the operation of the new equipment.

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Elara’s Enhanced Commissioning Supports LEED Gold Designation of State-of-the-Art Research Facility

With LEED Enhanced Commissioning services and expertise, Elara successfully secured valuable points to ensure a highly desired LEED Gold designation for Loyola University’s newly constructed Center for Transitional Research and Education facility (CTRE).  The highly specialized, highly complex 5-story state-of-the-art research facility required an extreme level of systems redundancy and continuous mechanical system service to ensure uninterrupted medical research.  To serve a wide range of space uses, the building included multiple sophisticated mechanical systems; including, emergency chilled water fed from the University’s Health Science Campus and over 650 air terminal units.

Through coordinated commissioning activities that included comprehensive functional testing, the identification of control sequencing modifications and reliability enhancements — considered to be of critical importance for lab space performance, and black out testing to verify emergency power functionality and emergency sequences for MEP systems throughout the building, Elara delivered a highly efficient building system with complete functionality.

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Renovated Building and New Addition Uses 40-50% Less Energy

Elara Engineering recently completed a mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection design for the renovation and expansion of Indian Trails Public Library in Wheeling, Illinois that is projected to result in a 40-50% reduction in energy use relative to other, typical library buildings.  This sustained benefit was primarily derived from the innovative use of a geothermal heat pump heating and cooling system combined with energy efficient building materials and features.

The design team’s work addressed several issues impacting the original two-story building, including; substantial energy costs, poor indoor air quality, and outdated mechanical equipment.  To correct this, the design team:

 

 

  • Designed a new energy efficient mechanical system (geothermal heating/cooling heat pumps that generate hot and chilled water to serve fan coil units and VAV boxes within the occupied spaces) and digital controls for the new and renovated spaces
  • Developed new power, lighting and emergency/egress lighting systems to support the new and renovated spaces
  • Modified and expanded the existing fire alarm, plumbing and fire protection systems for the new and renovated spaces.