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TECHNICAL FEATURE

This article was published in ASHRAE Journal, January 2015. Copyright 2015 ASHRAE. Posted at www.ashrae.org. This article may not be copied and/or
distributed electronically or in paper form without permission of ASHRAE. For more information about ASHRAE Journal, visit www.ashrae.org.

Reducing Energy Use


In Older Large Buildings
BY DAVID ARNOLD, PH.D., FELLOW/LIFE MEMBER ASHRAE

The larger the building, the greater the amount of energy needed to provide comfort
for the occupants and meet power demands of modern business. Buildings are typi-
cally replaced at a rate of 1% per year. However, large buildings tend to be kept in use
longer, and even longer if they become national monuments. Older buildings also use
more energy. For example, pre-1980 office buildings in the United States use 10% to
15% more energy on average1 than post-1980.
Once buildings are deemed to be landmark build- “First Chicago School” pioneered the steel-frame con-
ings, significant constraints are applied that restrict the struction necessary to build skyscrapers; largely used
options for saving energy, particularly if the measures initially to construct large office buildings. Air condi-
affect the appearance. Given that the current horizons tioning meant it was no longer necessary to restrict the
for reducing energy use extend to 2050 and that the depth of the floors from windows in buildings to provide
majority of the today’s buildings (and in some cases the natural ventilation. It allowed architects to design much
mechanical systems), estimated at 60% to 75%, will still deeper floor plates and ignore the thermal properties of
be in use at that time it is important, if not more impor- buildings; the use of curtain walling became endemic in
tant, to focus attention on reducing energy use in exist- new buildings of the era. Experience has shown, how-
ing buildings in order to cut CO₂ emissions and achieve ever, that overcoming the inherently poor standards of
sustainability, rather than new. airtightness and thermal properties of buildings built
This article is about energy-reducing measures post World War II, particularly with curtain walling
attempted and carried out in three large office buildings makes achieving high standards of sustainability a very
in Chicago. The buildings are all skyscrapers and, by difficult task.
coincidence Chicago is the city generally acknowledged The three buildings in this article are of this vintage,
to be where the first skyscraper, “The Home Insurance and were first visited by the author in 2001–2003 as
Building,” was built in 1885. Architects of the so-called part of personal research on the length of service life

David Arnold, Ph.D., is a partner at Troup Bywaters & Anders in Reading, U.K. He is chair of ASHRAE’s Historical Committee.

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FIGURE 1  
Inland Steel building floor plan. Section at perimeter.2 FIGURE 3 (RIGHT)  Low level air supply grilles.
FIGURE 2 (LEFT)  

of equipment in air-conditioned
buildings. Chicago was selected due
to the abundance of large air-con-
ditioned buildings built in the 1950s
and 60s, many with their original
systems. The Inland Steel Building
Air boots being installed.4
FIGURE 4A (LEFT)   Holes drilled in cellular deck. FIGURE 4B (RIGHT)  
and the Richard J. Daley Center
have been designated landmarks
by the “Commission on Chicago
Landmarks” and as such are subject
to constraints on alterations. The
buildings were re-visited in 2012
and found that during the inter-
vening period many energy saving
measures had been attempted or
applied to the buildings, in distinctly
different ways, with different levels energy use although the levels of houses support facilities including,
of intervention. intervention differ from relatively elevators, wash-rooms service shafts
The air-conditioning systems for simple measures such as the addi- etc., leaving completely open spaces
all three buildings were designed tion of digital controls and inverter (Figure 1).
between the mid-50s and the mid- drives, to plans, not achieved, to Air conditioning is provided on
60s. The designs were typical of the take one building back to its frame the office floors by all-air dual-duct
era, well before the “First Oil Crisis” and completely replace all mechani- systems. The main plant is in the
in the United States, and show cal and electrical systems and the basement and with the cooling tow-
little acknowledgement to the need building cladding. ers on the roof of the services tower.
to conserve energy. The systems An unusual feature is that the metal
have common energy-demanding The Buildings decking installed to form the floors
techniques such as: a) operating Inland Steel Building was used to convey air from dual
air and water distribution systems The Inland Steel Building was duct boxes to air outlet grilles on the
at a constant rate, b) cooling air to designed by architects Skidmore, floor above. This is shown in Figure 2.
below its dew-point temperature to Owings & Merrill (SOM) in 1956 Air passes from the metal deck (13)
dehumidify, and c) high inlet pres- and completed in 1958. The build- to the low level plenum (3) and dis-
sures terminal units. The buildings ing has 19 stories above ground and charges through the air supply grille
continue to operate today with the a particularly unusual plan form, (10).2 The drawing also shows double
original air-conditioning systems which separates office areas from a glazing (2), originally intended but
modified and retrofitted to reduce services tower. The services tower omitted for single glazed green tinted

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TECHNICAL FEATURE 

windows.3 Given the cold winters in Chicago, it was A new building owner announced, in 2007, ambitious
important, although not energy efficient, to blow warm plans for the retrofitting of the building with the goal of
air over the glass to reduce down draughts and cold radi- achieving LEED Platinum certification.5 The building
ation. The photograph in Figure 3 (Page 53) shows a typical was originally intended to have a double-glass skin, and
air supply outlet grille on an office floor, fed from below. to use the space between as a climate modifying wall.
Figures 4a and 4b shows the air boots that transfer the tem- This idea was not implemented then but was included
perature controlled air from dual duct boxes to air sup- in proposals to achieve LEED Platinum status. This
ply grilles on the floor above, being installed. The photo- would have meant installing a second glass wall behind
graphs are from a feature article published in February the outer window wall with programmable mechani-
1957 in the Heating Piping and Air Conditioning Magazine.4 cal blinds between the panes. Other energy saving
Figure 4a shows holes being drilled in the cellular floor measures planned included, daylight saving lighting
deck and 4b air-boots being connected to voids in the cel- controls, variable speed drives, single pass outdoor air
lular decks, which is used as air supply ducts. These voids supplies and integrated chilled beams, which incorpo-
were also used to route telecommunication and electrical rated lighting and other fixtures, instead of the original
power cables to the perimeter. energy inefficient dual duct system.
In 2003 the original plant installed in 1957 was still The plan ran into problems. First, the Commission
operating including the boilers, chillers, cooling towers, on Chicago Landmarks rejected the change in glazing
air-handling plant and even the pneumatic controls. because it threatened to change the appearance of the
The original chillers did not continue in operation for building. Second, subsidies for conservation projects
long after the first visit. The building was soon con- that made the plan economically viable were with-
nected to the Chicago district chilled water system. drawn and, third, the recession hit in 2008 and the fall

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TECHNICAL FEATURE 

in property values finally killed the FIGURE 5 (LEFT)   Daley Center boiler plant. FIGURE 6 (RIGHT)   Daley Center induction unit.
ambitious scheme.
The goal of achieving LEED Platinum
status is now unlikely but the own-
ers continue to invest in energy-
saving measures. The building is in
the process of a major renovation to
bring its functionality up to current
standards.3 The mechanical improve-
ments include, a new chiller, pneu-
matic controls replaced by digital and
the constant air volume dual duct
system replaced progressively by VAV
using the original ducts.
This “no-cost energy conservation measure” alone saved
Richard J. Daley Center more than 5,400,000 kWh in the first year of operation.
The Richard J. Daley Center, originally known as the This modification to the building’s induction system is
Chicago Civic Center, has a floor area of 137,700 m² (14 one of the energy-saving measures that contribute to the
million ft2) and although the building is more than 200 rating of buildings in the Energy Star certified buildings
m (656 ft) tall it has only 31 floors. It was completed early and plant scheme.6 The engineering team, operating the
in 1966. The central boiler plant has four high-pressure mechanical and electrical systems in the building, has
water tube steam boilers (Figure 5), three rated at 17.2 actively followed the Energy Star guidelines for energy
MW (50,000 lbs/h steam) and one rated at 24.0 MW management to achieve and improve the building rat-
(70,000 lbs/h steam). The 24.0 MW boiler was added to ing. Building operators that participate in this program
feed the adjacent “Chicago City Hall” but the service was have the actual energy use of their buildings compared
never provided. Cooling is provided by four open type against similar buildings and rated. A rating of 50, for
centrifugal water chillers each rated at 7.0 MW (2,000 example, represents typical performance, while a score
ton). The chillers are located in the building’s basement of 75 indicates that the facility performs better than
and connected to high level cooling towers built into the 75% of all similar facilities nationwide. This building
structure. achieved a score of 75 in 2009, which has improved to 82
Two types of air conditioning were installed. The in 2013.
perimeter had non-changeover induction and interior Many energy-saving measures have been applied to
areas, constant volume units with reheat. A typical the engineering systems in this building since the mid-
induction unit is shown in Figure 6. Air outlets discharge 1990s and include:
over the windows, essential given the winter climate and •• Supplementing the pneumatic control system with
single glazing without thermal breaks. At an early stage digital control;
the heating, the building engineers found it necessary •• Changing from CAV reheat to VAV without reheat;
to run the perimeter high pressure air supply systems •• Changing VAV boxes to digital control;
and heating continuously when the temperature fell to •• Installing inverter drives;
below around 3°C (37°F), simply in order to maintain •• Retrofitting chillers with R-134a, variable speed
reasonably comfortable conditions during the day. drives and digital controls;
The engineering team modified the system, by •• Installing lighting control systems and converting to
increasing the temperature of the hot water feeding the electronic ballasts;
induction units, which then allowed the units to act as Modernizing elevators with digital controls and ac-dc
natural convectors and avoid running the high pressure generators with VSDs coupled directly to the motors;
fans, warming outside air unnecessarily. The fans are These measures and others have reduced the use
switched off overnight and not used at all on Sundays. of electricity from 266 W/m² (25 W/ft²) in 1997 to 151

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W/m² (14 W/ft²) in 2011 and contributed to the building estimated electrical demand, when constructed, of
being awarded Silver Certification LEED for Existing 69,000 kVA. There are 10 electric boilers, each with heat-
Buildings: Operation and Maintenance (EBOM).7 ing capacities of 1600 to 1800 kW, and air-handling units
have step controlled electric resistance heating coils.
John Hancock Center The apartments had electric heating but the tenants
The John Hancock Center is another building designed installed their own air conditioning.
by SOM. It was completed in 1969 and has a gross area There are four large centrifugal water chillers with a
in excess of 260,000 m² (2.8 million ft2), 100 stories high total capacity of 21.5 MW (6,100 ton) serving the office
with a mix of offices, retail floors and apartments. There air conditioning located in the level 42/43 mechani-
is parking at the lower levels of the building with retail cal equipment rooms. The photograph in Figure 7 of the
and commercial floors from Concourse to Level 5; then former assistant chief engineer Dan O’Shea standing in
office floors up to Level 41. Levels 45 to 92 are apart- front of one of the chillers provides an indication of their
ments and a restaurant occupies levels 95 and 96. There physical size. They are part of the original installation
are mechanical equipment rooms at basement level and and still operate on refrigerant R-114.
Levels 16, 17, 42, 43, 93 and 98 to 100 where the cooling The first energy saving intervention happened early
towers are located. The façade of the building is curtain in the life of this building as reported in the Chicago
walling with single-glazed windows to the offices and Tribune 1985.8
double glazed to the apartments. “In 1974, its first year of full occupancy, the all-electric Hancock
The office floors have induction unit and all-air CAV building spent nearly $1.1 million on energy, according to the
systems, similar to the Richard J. Daly building. The property`s manager, Sudler & Co. By 1984, though, its electric
building is unusual in that it is “all electric” with an bill had more than doubled to $2.8 million and was expected to

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TECHNICAL FEATURE 

exceed $3 million in 1985.” The report


FIGURE 7 (LEFT)   John Hancock Center chiller. FIGURE 8 (RIGHT)   New inverters in cases of original equipment.
continued, “Hancock has budgeted
$500,000 to install a computerized,
System 600 Building Management
System” and “Another $1 million will go
toward converting the building`s constant-
volume ventilation system to a variable-
air-volume or VAV system ….”
The average retail price of electric-
ity in 19859 was 7.27 cents per kWh
and at this unit cost the building was
using over 40 million units per year.
As a consumer of this size would
have negotiated lower unit rates the
actual use was probably higher. The
article commented that these works were projected to A “Central Area DeCarbonization Plan”10 has been
save $12,000,000 over the next 10 years, which equates developed for Chicago establishing eight strategies to
to around a 40% reduction in annual energy costs. reduce energy use. The strategies include “investigat-
Since the first energy-saving measures were carried out ing how existing structures can be upgraded to improve
in 1985 the inverters have been replaced by new “state energy efficiency, increase the value of aging build-
of the art speed controllers.” The new inverters demon- ing stock and tap into the potential to transfer excess
strate the miniaturization of electronic controls as the energy loads back to the grid, all while offsetting the
new inverters fit inside the cases of the original units need for new construction.” While upgrading existing
with room to spare (Figure 8). The building engineering structures in older buildings has the greatest potential
team maintains a high standard of maintenance, which for sustainability, in the case of Landmark buildings,
is reflected in the current condition of plant. Most of it is it is difficult to achieve; due largely to constraints that
original, dating from the 1960s including the electric boil- restrict changes in appearance. Had, for example, the
ers, chillers and air-handling plant. There is an ongoing master plan to completely retrofit the Inland Steel build-
replacement program for the cooling coils, but otherwise ing been implemented, it would inevitably have resulted
the units are as originally installed. in greater energy savings than the improvements cur-
rently being carried out. However, had the objections
Conclusions of the Commission of Chicago Landmarks been over-
There is no “right way” to implement energy conserva- come, and the structure changed, it would have meant
tion in older buildings to improve sustainability. This a loss of embedded energy in the original structure,
article described several examples of ways in which and mechanical and electrical systems. This benefit of
energy use can be reduced, in older buildings, with embedded energy is much less tangible than direct sav-
varying degrees of intervention, from simple continu- ings that can be predicted for new energy reducing mea-
ous improvement and refinement of the operation of sures but, none the less real and should be taken into
mechanical and electrical systems to rebuilding includ- account when considering the options for energy saving
ing adaptive reuse. There is at present a lack of incen- measures in older buildings.
tive for building owners to invest large sums of money The measures in all three buildings have reduced
in techniques that can take many years to pay back, energy use to a greater or lesser extent but in addition to
when payback is often less than certain. There are no reducing energy use, interventions of any degree need
code requirements to enforce improvements. The main to be cost effective if building owners are going to invest
incentives are either profit or being able to take the high in improvements. This is probably why the “low hanging
moral ground by achieving high ratings in LEED, Energy fruit,” the measures most likely to give the biggest return
Star or other schemes. on investment have been applied in all three buildings.

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For example, converting CAV systems to VAV, installing the case of the United States the target is a reduction of
digital controls and fitting pumps with inverters. 83% below 2005 levels by 2050.
The Richard J. Daley Center is the only building, with
publicly available measured data, that records the References
reduction in energy use. This shows a 43% reduction 1. Buildings Energy Data Book. 2012. http://tinyurl.com/kz7a9hl.
2. Danz, E.1963, “Architecture of Skidmore Owens Merrill” the
since 1997 for the building and demonstrates the success
Architectural Press, pp 74 – 81.
of incentive programs such as LEED and Energy Star. 3. Bright, W. 2013. “The Groundbreaking Inland Steel Building
Paul Spiels representing the owner of the building, the Becomes Fully Appreciated 50 Years Later.” Chicago Architecture
Public Building Commission stated, with reference to Blog, http://tinyurl.com/pl2ohtg.
achieving LEED Silver status, “As a building funded by public 4. HPAC. 1957. “What’s happening in Chicago.” Heating Piping and
Air Conditioning Magazine (02):157–161.
dollars, it is important to demonstrate good stewardship of both 5. Lange, A. 2010, “In Metropolis: Blue Sky Thinking.” http://tinyurl.
public funds and the environment” and “Lastly, the PBC and com/m7qwwuh.
MB Real Estate found value in demonstrating that older buildings 6. EPA. 2013. “Richard J. Daley Center – Energy Star Labeled Profile.”
can be successfully managed and retrofitted to meet and exceed http://tinyurl.com/lsyttfb.
7. USGBC. 2012. Richard J. Daley Center. http://tinyurl.com/mcspo3k.
today’s standards.”7 The key, to energy sustainability in
8. Ibata, D. 1985, “Hancock Aims At $12 Million Energy Savings.”
existing major buildings, is ensuring they can be ret- Chicago Tribune. http://tinyurl.com/qz5q95d.
rofitted and energy managed successfully. Given that 9. US-EIA. 2012. “U.S. Energy Information Administration.” Table
around 75% of buildings in 2050 exist today.; Unless 8.10 Average Retail Prices of Electricity, 1960-2011 (Cents per
this goal is achieved countries will not be able to meet Kilowatt-hour, Including Taxes). http://tinyurl.com/q7la8eg.
10. Smith, A., Gill, G., 2011, “Toward Zero Carbon – The Chicago
national commitments for reductions of emissions. In Central Area DeCarbonization Plan.” Images Publishing Group.

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