Approach 1: Benchmark, Retune and Retrofit Existing Buildings
According to the 2019 Census, out of the 1.03 million housing units in Miami-Dade County, 82% were built before 2000, which is before the Florida Building Code entered into force in 2002. This means that the existing housing stock offers tremendous opportunities for energy efficiency and energy savings. Given South Florida’s hot and humid climate, the building envelope and cooling systems are the main areas of interest.
There are three strategies to enhance building performance and tackle energy waste: benchmarking, retuning or retro-commissioning, and comprehensive retrofits. A healthy and efficient building is especially critical for those experiencing a high energy burden and sub-par housing structures.
Benchmarking refers to tracking energy use in a building over time. It establishes a baseline and allows us to observe consumption patterns as well as promoting data-driven decision making that ultimately leads to saving opportunities. Retuning or retro-commissioning refers to no-cost or low-cost conservation measures where small tweaks in operations and minor weatherization result in immediate savings.
After these first measures are implemented, the last step is a comprehensive retrofit which includes an energy audit of all building systems to identify and prioritize areas for improvement. While the first two strategies are relatively cheap and immediate, the last strategy is more expensive and often requires external expertise.
There are many private companies, non-profit organizations, specialized networks and other entities operating in the home improvement market and energy management services. County programs available to community buildings revolve around energy monitoring and retrofits and include: the Building Efficiency 305 (BE305) Program managed by the Office of Resilience for large existing buildings; the Weatherization Assistance Program and Home Rehabilitation Program run by the Community Action and Human Services Department for low- and medium-income (LMI) households.
The BE305 program seeks to promote improvements in building performance through a suite of strategies that increase energy and water efficiency in large, existing private and public buildings. The target audience is building owners and managers of buildings 20,000 square feet or larger, which represent about 12,200 buildings or approximately 43% of floor space in the entire County. One of the components of the BE305 program is the Building Performance Ordinance which mandates benchmarking and retuning, also known as retro commissioning.
Low- and medium-income households are more likely to live in older buildings that are less efficient. As a consequence, these households experience higher energy bills and lower comfort levels. This is also known as the “energy burden,” when a disproportional amount of income is allocated to cover energy expenses. Often, a higher energy burden is correlated with higher incidences of asthma and other health conditions. This is a very important topic as crises, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic, elevate the role of safe, efficient and healthy homes and buildings.
To address this issue the County’s Community Action and Human Services Department (CAHSD) offers the Weatherization Assistance Program and Home Rehabilitation Program. The Weatherization Assistance Program is a federally funded program that assists low-income homeowners with making their homes energy efficient through the installation of cost-saving measures, such as insulation, and repair or replacement of lighting and air conditioning equipment. With the current federal funding level, CAHSD retrofits about 48 homes per year, addressing energy and health and safety concerns.
The Home Rehabilitation Program offers a forgivable loan to help low-income qualified single-family homeowners make repairs. Repairs are prioritized to eliminate health and safety issues, correct code violations, make the home more energy-efficient and make improvements.