Cutting Energy Costs in Operations and Maintenance

The U.S. Department of Energy recently released a new resource for implementing a district- or school-wide energy-efficient operations and maintenance (O&M) program. The Guide to Operating and Maintaining EnergySmart Schools was introduced and reviewed in a July 16th Webinar moderated by David Kornegay, editor of and resource sites. Margo Appel, program manager of the Department of Energy’s EnergySmart Schools, reviewed information contained in the guide.

Energy management is important because schools are experiencing rising costs, aging facilities and limited budgets. Energy is simply a cost — there is no value added to it, and there is less money to spend on teaching and learning the more a district spends on energy. Energy costs can be controlled through many no-cost and low-cost solutions, especially good preventative maintenance techniques.

EnergySmart Schools promotes schools working towards net-zero energy buildings in an effort to create significant energy savings. Their approaches listed in the Webinar include:
  1. Promoting 50 percent improved efficiency in new schools and major renovations or additions and 30 percent in exiting buildings.
  2. Developing and disseminating technical guidance, best practices and case studies, which address existing buildings and new construction.
  3. Identifying sources of financing for high-performance schools and providing tools that help stakeholders make a compelling business case.
  4. Collaborating with national, regional and local partners to promote healthy, high-performance schools.

The Guide to Operating and Maintaining EnergySmart Schools was developed through stakeholder outreach, which included “feedback on existing tools and their constraints” and “needs for operating and maintaining high-performance schools.” The results included several topics of interest, such as standardizing energy/utility management, preventative maintenance, benchmarking and auditing, training, no-cost or low-cost solutions, industry standards and resource integration.

The Guide to Operating and Maintaining EnergySmart Schools begins with 10 quick-start tips, with brief descriptions and an estimated value for each. The 10 tips are as follows.
  1. Install programmable thermostats
  2. Perform energy surveys and audits
  3. Keep doors and windows closed
  4. Review cleaning and maintenance activities
  5. Provide training for key staff
  6. Establish a plug load plan
  7. Control exhaust fans
  8. Inspect outside air systems
  9. Install outdoor lighting controls
  10. Replace exit sign lights with LEDs

After the “getting started” section, the guide offers advice for benchmarking, “making the business case” to stakeholders for lasting energy-saving practices, policy development, and action plans. You can also find technical considerations for facilities managers and staff in the guide.

The guide discusses benchmarking as an opportunity establish baselines to “catch billing errors, diagnose equipment failures or inefficiencies over time and present data effectively to decision-makers and other stakeholders.” The benchmarking process is described as three-fold: a period is spent gathering data from different buildings over a set amount of time, the data is then compared and the results communicated. The Department of Energy does offer a free benchmarking tool, the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, which gives an ENERGY STAR Rating for school facility data.

Once benchmarks have been established and data has been collected, this information should be presented to district stakeholders (school administrators, business officials, superintendents and board members). This presentation should include “the baseline,” “the benefits” and “the plan.”

The baseline compares the school or district’s current energy use compared to other districts, regions or national averages. The guide suggests keeping your audience in mind while presenting the baseline.

The guide lists several benefits you can use while making your business case for investing in high-performance schools, and it also offers plans that can be tailored to your specific needs.

A nine-step critical path outlines steps one should take in the first year of advanced O&M program development. Each step is explained with a role summary.

The Guide to Operating and Maintaining EnergySmart Schools concludes with several appendices to help you accomplish your task of achieving high-performing, energy-efficient schools.
To download this guide and other guides offered by the Department of Energy and EnergySmart Schools, please visit