Decarbonizing a building sounds complicated. How do I start?

While there are challenges with any building retrofit project, decarbonization may seem overwhelming and paralyzing for some owners; however, there are some key steps that an owner can take to explore and implement building decarbonization solutions.

  1. Get to know your building. How does it perform now and what repairs or replacements are needed soon? An energy audit and capital needs assessment (CNA) can pinpoint opportunities for improving efficiencies and help in initial planning by providing timelines for mechanical system replacements and building upgrades. This is also a key time to assess the on-site renewable energy production potential.
  2. Establish the project performance goals and other objectives. Many jurisdictions are implementing building emissions regulations. Investigate any local regulations that might require compliance now or in the future. This is also an opportune time to examine the property through a resilience or equitable lens. For instance, are there any community-based health concerns or resiliency factors such as extreme heat or flooding that should be considered? Is there a concern about occupant disruption? Knowing the project constraints and how you want the building to perform will enable you to communicate the project goals confidently and clearly with anyone involved.
  3. Reach out to innovative technical partners. Seek a decarbonization feasibility assessment from a technical provider – an architect or building science firm with experience in existing building retrofits. This assessment will include the information from the energy audit and CNA to propose an architectural and mechanical scope of work that will meet the decarbonization performance goals. Also included could be a roadmap to complete the work either all at once or over time, depending on current financial schedules, capital improvements, or occupant turnover. A preliminary cost estimate from the provider or a trusted contractor is helpful at this stage for planning.
  4. Figure out the financing. As the decarbonization market and workforce develop and mature, implementation and equipment costs are expected to decrease. In the meantime, many state, local, and utility agencies recognize the price differential and offer grants, incentives, or low interest loans to help owners fund decarbonization projects. Reach out directly or to supportive organizations to get help on researching available funds. Note: often these incentives are performance based, so you will want to make sure your project qualifies. Don’t be afraid to contact the agency directly to fully understand any requirements. In your applications, be prepared to make a compelling account and clear description of how your project aligns with the goals of the program.
  5. Share your lessons learned. Building decarbonizing is important. The more buildings that undergo retrofits to decarbonize, the more these efforts will become common practice and more cost effective. Projects that follow in your footsteps will benefit from your efforts.

Good luck!