Engineering course uses new energy audit to review campus buildings

Engineering course uses new energy audit to review campus buildings

UNL engineering students write down answers during an interview with Kirk Conger. The students are conducting energy audits of UNL buildings as part of a pilot course in engineering.
Troy Fedderson | University Communications
UNL engineering students write down answers during an interview with Kirk Conger. The students are conducting energy audits of UNL buildings as part of a pilot course in engineering.

Through a new pilot course, engineering and architecture students are gathering data that UNL plans to use to reduce the energy consumption of campus buildings.

The first time class, "Building Benchmarking and Disclosure" (CNST 498), is led by Timothy Wentz, associate professor construction management. The course allows students to work with a client — in this case Kirk Conger, energy projects engineer with UNL's Facilities Management and Planning — to conduct a new type of energy audit created by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers.

"Building benchmarking and disclosure is a new trend in the industry, with laws cropping up nationwide," Wentz said. "Creating pilot courses like this is one way we help students keep up with these industry trends. They also give students hands-on experience needed as they prepare for graduation."

The ASHRAE Building Energy Quotient is a relatively new system modeled after a European program. Wentz, who is a member of the ASHRAE BEQ committee and treasurer of the society, said the audit is unique and generates a rating by comparing buildings of the same type and in the same climate.

"There are four or five different versions of these systems out there, but we like this one because the final ratings are based on similar buildings and the conditions they operate in," Conger said. "We think this one will provide benefits to the university and energy audit experience to the students."

Through the ASHRAE Building Energy Quotient system, students conduct client interviews, review energy usage data, document building conditions during a series of walkthroughs, use an infra-red camera to track HVAC leaks, and talk with building users. The collected information is used to generate a final report that includes the building rating and a list of possible improvements.

"This class is an amazing opportunity to get hands on and see what is actually going on with these operating systems within a building," said Heath Wiley, a graduate student in engineering and construction management who is taking the course. "This knowledge is something that can be used in internships or when we get a job in the industry."

The students have completed a class review of UNL's 501 Building. Now, they have broken up into teams that will review two to three additional buildings each — the first of which are the Military and Naval Sciences Building on City Campus and Mussehl Hall and the Family Resource Center on East Campus.

"The students all work with a member of the facilities management team when they are conducting the walkthrough reviews," Wentz said. "And, we work with facilities to let people in the buildings know when the students will be coming through."

Final audit results will be presented to a UNL facilities management team at the end of the semester.

"We're excited to collaborate with students and assist with the university's education mission," Conger said. "We expect these audits will generate some great ideas and be a starting point as we plan future energy-savings projects in our buildings."