John asks: What does a commercial building energy audit typically cost? My building is 55,000 square feet and have 4 tenants including my company, who owns the building. I see there are levels of audit so what are the cost differences between them?
It is difficult to determine the price of an energy audit based on square footage alone, but breaking down the differences between energy audit levels can be a good start in determining cost.
The general purpose of a commercial building Energy audit is to identify areas where building systems and equipment can be improved through updated operation or replacement, with the end goal of saving energy and reducing the utility costs associated with operating the building.
According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), there are three levels of energy audits that serve as general categories for identifying the level of information provided and the types of results expected.
3 Levels of a Commercial Building Energy Audit
Level I Energy Audit
The ASHRAE Level I Energy audit is the first step in developing a priority list for buildings that may qualify for a Level II or Level III Energy audit, or for cases where a large portfolio of buildings exists.
A Level I audit involves assessing a building’s energy cost and efficiency by analyzing energy bills and briefly surveying the building. Level I analysis identifies and provides a savings and cost estimate of low-cost/no-cost measures.
The Level I audit is most useful when there is some doubt about the energy savings potential of a building, or when an owner wishes to establish which buildings have the greatest potential for energy savings. Generally, a Level I audit will only uncover significant energy deficiencies and major problem areas.
Level II Energy Audit
The second stage in a commercial building Energy audit is Level II. A Level II audit (Energy Survey and Analysis) includes a more detailed building survey and energy analysis. In a case where submetering is not present, energy usage for individual building systems or components can be estimated using installed equipment efficiencies and general rules.
This breakdown helps the auditor determine which efficiency improvements are most favorable in terms of return on investment (ROI). It also gives auditors the data they need to make simple payback calculations for the system’s owner.
Level II analysis identifies and provides practical measures that meet the owner’s constraints and economic criteria, along with a discussion of any effects on operation and maintenance procedures. It also lists potential capital-intensive improvements that require more thorough data collection and analysis, along with an initial judgment of potential costs and savings. As the ASHRAE handbook states, the level of detail associated with this type of audit suits most cases, and it is therefore the most common.
Level III Energy Audit
The ASHRAE Level III audit is by far the most comprehensive. The main difference between a Level II and Level III audit is that the Level III includes detailed analysis of capital-intensive modifications with a level of confidence high enough for major capital expenditures.
Again, it is difficult to estimate the cost of an energy audit based on square footage alone. Coming up with a ballpark cost for an energy audit typically requires knowledge about the building’s lighting, HVAC, domestic hot water, metering and other systems.
A very rough figure for a Level II Audit is somewhere in the range of $8,000 to 12,000, including energy usage benchmarking with ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. Differences for Level I and Level III Audits vary, but would likely be something around ±20 percent. These numbers are a very general estimation, since every project is different and fees vary pretty widely.
David M. Pratt, P.E., CEM, LEED AP is an Energy Management Consultant for Sustainable Climate and Energy Solutions group of MWH Americas, Inc. MWH is the global leader of the wet infrastructure sector. The MWH organization is driving the wet infrastructure sector globally, and we are leading the world in results-oriented management, technical engineering and construction services to build a better world.
Mary is a writer and editor for Poplar Network.