New windows, doors, and heating and cooling systems have made Gaylord City Hall a warm, inviting place to work and conduct business.
GAYLORD — A few years ago Gaylord City Hall was a not-so-pleasant place to work or visit: Drafty, frosty windows in the winter; an outdated, uneven HVAC system for all seasons; and lighting that was less than stimulating. But that all changed in 2010 and 2011, when the two-building City Hall received a much-needed energy retrofit, which included 14 new energy efficient windows, three new doors, and a new high-efficient furnace and air-conditioning system for both buildings.
Today, Gaylord City Hall is a whole new experience. “Gone are the cold winter drafts and dreary atmosphere,” said Kevin McCann, city administrator for Gaylord, a central Minnesota town of about 2,300. The new windows and movable blinds help maximize available light, the new windows and doors make the 1920’s buildings more aesthetically pleasing, and the new heating and cooling systems use less energy and offer improved air quality and comfort.
While energy efficiency was the major goal of the Gaylord building project, workers and visitors of City Hall say the building’s enhanced atmosphere and comfort stand out most. “In our case, the building improvements translate to a better work environment and increased productivity,” said McCann. “And because staff and their service represent the most valued function of city hall, better conditions for our workers and Gaylord citizens provide the biggest benefit of our energy upgrade.”
Studies document productivity gains
Indeed, research on building retrofits suggests that improving the energy efficiency of a building can result in gains in worker productivity, as well as generate energy cost savings. According to a literature review by the Institute for Building Efficiency, studies demonstrate that comprehensive energy efficiency improvements as well as single-measure upgrades (such as improved lighting, temperature control, air quality, and comfort) can substantially increase productivity. Productivity gains are rarely factored into the financial return-on-investment calculations for energy efficiency upgrades, because productivity gains are difficult to measure.
However, comparing Gaylord’s cost of staff salaries to other building overhead (e.g., maintenance, energy costs, and taxes) offers some perspective when assessing cost benefits. Salaries account for about 95 percent of the resources invested in Gaylord City Hall, so even a slight uptick in employee productivity registers substantial cost benefit to the city.
“It’s hard to put a dollar figure on improved staff attitude and performance, but those are real benefits for the City of Gaylord,” said McCann.
City Hall staffers concur. “The building upgrades have helped a lot,” said Lori Doering, who works as billing clerk at City Hall. “It used to be drafty in here—I was cold all the time and used a space heater to keep warm. Even the windows and lighting are much improved.”
“It sure helps attitude-wise,” added Lori Waltz, accountant for the city. “City Hall is a nice place to work, an attractive workplace. The citizens who come here to pay their water bills comment about the comfort of our building.”
Figure 1. Gaylord has achieved significant natural gas savings (shown in top table, decreases shown in red rectangle) and electric savings (show in bottom table, decreases circled in blue).
Tangible energy cost savings
In addition to the building’s enhanced comfort, energy cost savings have been realized by Gaylord (see figure 1). Since the efficiency improvements were implemented, Gaylord City Hall has realized significant savings in natural gas consumption, which dropped 42 percent from 2010 to 2011 and 43 percent from 2010 to 2012. Electricity use declined by 16 percent from 2010 to 2011 and 18 percent from 2010 to 2012.
The building’s energy costs have been reduced by 29 percent, from about $5,300 in 2010 to $3,800 in 2012. The most significant energy-use reductions began in the fall of 2010, when heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades and window replacements started. Decreases in electricity use began to show in May 2011, when furnace and AC systems in the old building were replaced.
Of course, many factors influence a building’s energy use, and not all changes can be attributed to energy upgrades. But in Gaylord’s case the trend is quite clear. The data in the tables above are recorded for Gaylord City Hall in the Minnesota B3 Benchmarking database, the building energy management tool for public buildings in Minnesota.
Heating and cooling system upgrades
The two buildings of City Hall were originally separate but merged in 2008 to form one. The merger left a 40-year-old forced air furnace in the main building and a 30-year-old boiler in the back building, and the boiler was in need of frequent repair. Part of the renovation called for replacing the old equipment with two 95-percent efficient ENERGY STAR® furnaces. For cooling, half of the main building had an old central air unit and the other half had struggled with only one window unit. The new furnaces are each equipped with modern efficient AC units.
The new windows help keep out the winter cold and the sun’s glare.
New windows keep the heat in
The City Hall windows were about 30 years old, and although they were not the originals, they were leaky and provided only minimal protection from outdoor cold and heat. The new tinted energy-saving windows are full height and generate lots of light and pleasant views. In fact, there is enough light that most days half of the lights can be turned off. Movable blinds control glare.
Gaylord was fortunate to receive a $43,500 stimulus-funded grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce that paid for 75 percent of the project’s cost ($58,000 total). But McCann said that even without the generous funding, the project would have been a wise investment for the city.
Helpful resources for public building projects
Public institutions seeking energy improvements should consult with their local gas or electric utility. Utility representatives can help assess opportunities for efficiency and identify what rebates may help finance projects.
In addition, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources (DER) provides support to local government units, state agencies, school districts, and institutions of higher learning that are seeking to implement energy efficiency and renewable energy measures. Contact DER at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss which of its energy efficiency programs can help.
The U.S. Department of Energy provides helpful resources for building retrofits, including “The Advanced Energy Retrofit Guide for Office Buildings.” For more on energy efficiency, including information on Minnesota’s B3 Benchmarking tool, contact the DER Information Center at email@example.com or 800-657-3710.