Estimating savings from building-fabric improvements

If you improve a building’s insulation, or reduce its ventilation rate, the resulting energy saving can be estimated using simple formulae in combination with relevant weather-data tables. In the case of an improvement to insulation of an individual element of the building envelope, the approximate formula for annual fuel savings is

0.024 x (UOLD – UNEW) x A x DDA / EFF                         (kWh)

where  UOLD and UNEW are the original and improved U-values (W/m2K), and A is the area of building element being improved (m2).  EFF is heating-system efficiency, for which it would be reasonable to assume a value in the range of 0.8 to 0.9, reflecting the fact that 10-20% of the fuel used is accounted for by combustion losses.

DDA meanwhile is the annual heating degree-day figure, which is a measure of how cold the weather was in aggregate. Degree-day totals tend to be higher in the north and lower in the south; and they also depend on the outside temperature below which a given building’s heating needs to be turned on (the ‘base’ temperature). Selected totals are given in Table 1 for various regions and base temperatures. Buildings with high space temperatures and low casual heat gains have higher base temperatures, implying higher annual degree-day totals and thus bigger expected savings for a given improvement to their insulation.

Turning to the effect of reducing the building’s ventilation rate, we need to know the reduction in air throughput, RDV. If we express RDV in m3/day, the annual energy savings are given by this approximate formula:

(0.008 x RDV x DDA) / EFF                   (kWh)

DDA and EFF have the same meanings as before.

Use for air conditioning

The same techniques can be used to gauge the effect of reduced cooling load. In this case we use cooling degree days (examples in Table 2) and EFF is likely to be in the range 2 to 4, representing the chiller coefficient of performance. Saving one kWh of cooling effect saves much less than a kWh of electricity.

Base temperatures

The base temperature for heating depends on the temperature set-point, the construction of the building, how it is used, how densely it is populated and how much casual heat gain it experiences from lighting and equipment. It is invariably below the internal set-point temperature. How far below can be determined in various ways but there would typically be about 4°C difference.

Similar considerations apply to cooling: the cooling base temperature is the temperature above which it becomes necessary to run air conditioning. If you know air-conditioning is used throughout the year, a very low base (say 5°C) is appropriate. Otherwise something of the order of 15°C could be a reasonable assumption.

Table 1: Annual heating degree days1

Base temperature: 20°C 15°C 10°C
South West   3,189   1,576      503
Midland   3,632   2,033      860
N E Scotland   4,075   2,355   1,003

Table 2: Annual cooling degree days1

Base temperature: 25°C 15°C 5°C
South West          2      233   2,386
Midland          6      274   2,111
N E Scotland    0      111   1,649

1 The full tables can be downloaded from Click on ‘D’ in the A-Z index and look for ‘degree days’.