Buildings are energy gluttons.
Federal government statistics show buildings use about 42% of the energy consumed in the U.S. each year. Not too surprising really, everything from heating and air conditioning to lighting. But planners, builders and such now have more ways than ever to reduce that level of gluttony. Call it what you want, green building or sustainable building practices. But what it really comes down to is building smarter.
A Columbia business has used that building smarter concept in a big way. The result is the OHM office building which opened late last year just off Vandiver Drive near Highway 63. OHM is working toward being the most energy efficient building in town.
OHM held an open house of sorts recently to showcase that energy efficiency. Things you might expect like insulated windows and LED lighting. Brad Stegemann is an architect at Simon Oswald Architecture and one of the tenants in the building. "We have can lights that are LED that cost the same if not less than traditional can lights," he said.
What really caught my attention though in the office was part of the geothermal heat pump system humming along very quietly next to someone's work station. Kirk Mescher owns the building and has offices here. He said, "these are the two primary pumps that circulate the water out to the heat exchanger underneath the parking lot." Yes, underneath the parking lot. Mescher, who heads-up CM Engineering, said that's where 18 holes were drilled into the ground long before there was a parking lot. "They are just plastic pipe into the ground 300 feet."
After this process ended the building went up and the heat pumps were installed. Water is pumped through that system of pipes under the parking lot and deep into the earth where Mescher said it's stored. "When winter comes we are able to extract the heat from the ground. We extract the heat from the ground with the fluid. The warmer fluid comes to the heating and cooling units and they are able to make heat."
Mescher also said it's a huge money saver. "For every unit of energy we put into our heat pumps we get five units of heat back out because we get four units from the ground."
Upfront costs aren't cheap but Mescher said a system can pay for itself in seven years or sooner. "We had tax breaks for putting ground source in that were so advantageous that if we didn't do it we weren't doing a very smart thing. It almost paid for itself before we even started up."
At the end of the year OHM can apply for what's called an energy star ranking that is backed by the EPA. Mescher said he is confident of getting a ranking of 99. That means his building is more energy efficient than 99% of the buildings in the country similar to it.