Energy efficiency

4 Places to Look For Energy Losses In Commercial Buildings

Quick question, what do you think your buildings’ biggest operating expense is? Did you say “Energy?” The truth is, monitoring and reducing excess energy throughout your facility can lead to substantial savings.

A significant amount of energy loss is temperature related. For example, hot and cold air leaks. It takes energy to condition that air, and when it dissipates from a leak, you have wasted that energy!  Many other systems and pieces of equipment within the building will also reveal their energy waste in terms of heat.  Motors, pumps, and electrical panels will also generate heat and lose energy efficiency as they begin to fail.

Thermal imaging is a great tool to help you identify wasted energy. It creates pictures by measuring infrared energy or heat and then assigns a color spectrum based on the temperature differences that it measures.  Thermal imaging experts suggest that inspection of the following systems is a practical way to identify energy losses.

The following outline is a great starting point to identify these potential losses:

  1.      HVAC Systems: The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are typically the largest energy user in commercial buildings and offer the best opportunity to reduce energy consumption.

What to Scan

  •   Ductwork – Even the highest efficiency rated HVAC systems waste energy without a well-sealed ductwork system.  With infrared technology, you can see the thermal pattern of air losses and leaks.  This also will identify deteriorated or damaged ductwork insulation.
  •   Piping – Thermal imaging of piping systems, much like ductwork systems, can identify deteriorated or damaged piping insulation and leaks.
  •   Fans – With fans, mechanical imbalance will reveal itself in overheated bearings and other components. Thermal imaging can also identify shaft misalignments in couplings between motor and fan.
  •   Electrical Connections – Loose or corroded electrical connections increase resistance at the connection, resulting in overheating, energy loss and potential failure.
  1.      Motors: Electrical motors also use a significant amount of energy within a facility.  Overheating and malfunctioning motors tend to indicate mechanical or electrical inefficiencies that can lead to more energy use and ultimate failure if not corrected.

What to Scan

  •   Airflow – In fan cooled motors, a restriction in airflow will cause general overheating of the entire fan housing; this is an indication of potential failure and will increase energy consumption.
  •   Motor Winding Insulation – Areas of the housing with a higher heat signature indicate a breakdown of the motor winding insulation; this indicates a potential motor failure, as well as higher energy consumption.
  •   Electrical Connections – Loose or corroded electrical connections increase resistance at the connection, resulting in overheating, energy loss and potential failure.
  1.      Boiler Systems: Boilers are the heart of steam and hot water heating systems.

What to Scan

  •   Boiler Jacket Insulation – Thermal imaging can identify damaged or deteriorated insulation around the water jacket.  Radiant insulation loss of boiler system can be significant, not only in energy loss but also causes mechanical rooms to overheat potentially damaging other equipment.
  •   Fan Motors – As with any other motor, check for impeded airflow, electrical unbalance, overheating bearings and failing winding insulation.
  •   Pumps – Look for hot bearings, leaking and as with fans, motor faults.
  •   Valves – Thermal imaging can identify failing valves or valves that leaking through when they are to be in the closed position.
  1.      Electrical Systems:  Many people are not aware that electrical systems can actually waste energy.  As components degrade and resistance increases, incremental waste occurs.

What to Scan

  •   Distribution Panels – Thermal imaging of distribution panel can identify unbalanced circuits and loose or corroded connections at breakers, fuses and busses within the panel.
  •   Transformers – Monitor the high and low voltage connections, cooling tubes, cooling fans and pumps.  Look for overheated connections and variances in the cooling system.  Be aware that if the temperature of one electrical leg on a transformer is significantly hotter than the others, that leg may be failing.

While Thermal Imaging is a very good tool in identifying wasted energy, it is also a very good predictive and preventative maintenance tool.  By establishing base line measurements on various components of your systems and then performing annual imaging you can use the recorded information to determine faulty or failing components before they fail. This will afford you the opportunity to correct the issue before it becomes an expensive repair or replacement, and you may also avoid significant down time of your systems.


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