The subjects of this three-part series are two apartment buildings on Burt Street in Saugerties, New York, which recently underwent retrofitting with high-efficiency, prefabricated building panels. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority measured the effectiveness of these wall systems. Part one of this series focused on the how superior insulation can reduce energy bills, while part two examined the panels' ability to promote more effective airflow. In part three, we will take a look at the return on investment and cost of the panels compared to other retrofit options.
"Economic burden often prevents necessary upgrades from happening."
Burt Street project achieves cost-effective retrofits
The goals of the Burt Street project were to reduce energy use and better control airflow and there are various procedures that will accomplish that. But there was a third, equally-important goal: to complete those two objectives in a cost-effective manner. That condition limits the types of construction the team could undertake, but did not rule out building panels. By taking advantage of a high-performance wall assembly, the contractors were able to minimize overheads.
"The difficulty with a deep energy-retrofit process is that it is often fairly labor-intensive and site-specific, which means that while savings can be significant, the cost is equally high," explained research coordinator Jordan Dentz. Then Bob Carver, one of the heads of NYSERDA's Buildings Research Group, expanded on that thought: "The Burt Street project in Saugerties is part of a broader project to demonstrate and document a variety of different and innovative approaches to reducing the costs of exterior insulation retrofits."
Building panels reduce construction time, cost
Many building owners avoid making upgrades to their structures due to financial reasons. Their mindset is understandable – certain new construction or retrofitting can be more expensive than landlords are willing or able to pay. In a perfect world, every building is given more efficient upgrades as necessary, but economic burden often prevents that from happening.
However, through the use of prefabricated building panels, builders can achieve the desired performance improvements without breaking the bank. These technologies also reduce the amount of manpower, materials and time spent on the project – factors that all contribute greatly to cost.
"Since we completed a lot of the installation at the end of last fall and into the early winter, being able to mount the panels quickly was a big help," explained lead contractor Joseph Malcarne. "Despite the challenge we faced with having to remove so much original siding material, the panels installed easily and now look clean, true and finished."
Overall, this project showed that it is possible to achieve major energy efficiency improvements in a cost-effective way. But there's more to it than that – the prefab panels also promoted aesthetic values. Though it was not an explicit goal, no contractor or building owner wants to improve building performance at the expense of the visual element. Fortunately, these panels resulted in a visually appealing facade that also functions at a high level.