Budgeting and Financing Sustainable Lab Retrofits

David Leever, Burns & McDonnell
Steve Laraway, University of Utah

Retrofitting an old lab building with 21st century controls takes real capital. While lab retrofits offer great energy savings potential, sometimes the investment is difficult to fund. Campus budgets are stretched thin and other campus needs can compete for funding. A Mechanical System Master Plan can provide an innovative approach to moving lab buildings to the top of the campus retrofit priority list.

This presentation is a post-construction follow-up to the 2014 pre-construction presentation on the same topic. This presentation will focus on the lessons learned with post-construction hindsight.

A Mechanical Master Plan is similar to a campus master plan, but focuses on the campus utility system and the building mechanical systems. The goal is to develop strategies for future spending toward mechanical systems. These strategies are prioritized by many factors, most commonly a return on investment (ROI). With their high ROI, lab retrofit projects gravitate to the top of the campus priority list.

This presentation will detail how to a Mechanical Master Plan gets started, the benefits, the funding options, and the business case. This will include strategies to separating capital improvement funding from energy savings funding to avoid payback dilution. The University of Utah case study will show how the Mechanical Master Plan roadmap has been executed at the project level.

The presentation will look at financing from multiple sources including multiple campus funding sources as well as bonds and incentives. How to benchmark, capitalize deferred maintenance, file for incentives and other lessons learned will be presented. The presentation will discuss leveraging the funding for the energy projects to supplement the costs to update or repair equipment and systems that are long overdue for a refresh.

Case studies will be used to compare the results of ROI driven design to the actual project savings. Lessons learned include showing how careful infrastructure surveying in the cost estimating phases will assure the projects achieve their financial goals. The University of Utah case study will be used to present the real world results of difficult to forecast Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs) such as a fan array motor staging optimization control sequence, duct leakage sealing, and CAV-to-VAV for dual duct systems.

While most facility owners are developing energy reduction projects, often campus executives and facility managers do not know how to derive the most benefit for each dollar invested. A Mechanical System Master Plan helps owners pinpoint savings strategies and develop a strategic plan for investment. And those plans will lead to funding for Lab Retrofits.

Learning Objectives

  • What a mechanical master plan is and how it can fund lab retrofits.
  • How to plan during the energy evaluation and budgeting phase to assure results align with expectations.
  • How to use energy savings to supplement costs for other needs and find a balance that will fund multiple goals.
  • How to budget and plan for the surprises during the construction phase.


David Leever serves as an Associate Mechanical Engineer in the laboratory, pharmaceutical, and biotech industry for the Burns & McDonnell Research Facilities group. His projects include life-cycle and energy efficiency driven designs for higher education as well as process HVAC and process piping for classified laboratories, cleanrooms, and other room pressurization driven environments.

Steve Laraway is a registered professional mechanical engineer with over 35 years of experience, the last 10 at the University of Utah. In addition to a BS in Mechanical Engineering he has earned a Masters of Business Administration and an MS in Technical Communications. During his career, he has concentrated on HVAC and machine design, supplemented with a 7-year assignment managing a maintenance department.


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