Budget Face-off: Construction Cost vs. Energy Savings

With operating budgets getting tighter and tighter, the pressure is on to find innovative ways to save energy dollars. But there’s a catch—construction budgets aren’t getting any bigger. So, how do we increase energy efficiency without increasing construction costs? 
Wesley Seminary is located on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. It’s home to the university’s graduate seminary program. The 23,000-sf building is all new construction and was completed in 2013. The facility is made up of classrooms, meeting, administrative and office, and gathering/informal learning spaces.
The project team was challenged to find energy efficiency and operational savings without adding additional cost. Some of the strategies explored included: 
  • LED lighting in classrooms to allow dimming functionality without the cost of adding a dimming ballast to traditional fluorescent lighting
  • Load-bearing, insulated sandwich panels to reduce structural steel quantity and greatly increase the thermal performance of the exterior wall
  • 1/8 gallon flush urinals to save significant water without the cost of the regular maintenance required by waterless urinals
  • CO2 sensors monitor indoor air quality to reduce ventilation requirements under minimum occupancy 
Some additional design elements were included that did result in an increase in the construction budget, but the resulting reduced operating expenses will pay for these elements in 5-10 years.
  • High performance clear glazing reduces cooling load while maintaining a strong visual connection between public spaces and the site. This element also became one of the driving concepts to this design. (added cost approx. $1,500)
  • Additional 2” of roof insulation beyond code minimum reduces heating/cooling loads, resulting in a less than 10-year pay back. (added cost approx. $7,000)
  • Lighting control system allows multiple settings to be programmed, including day light sensors in corridors, resulting in a 4-year payback. (added cost approx. $5,000)


What does this mean for you and your projects? How can you save operating costs on your next project?

  • Engage your architect and engineer early in the process to discuss these potential cost saving strategies. 
  • Utilize energy models to compare various systems and evaluate all options available before choosing the system that makes the most sense for your facility. 
  • Use the models to not only help determine an initial budget, but also to gather forward-looking information about the long-term operating costs of your facility, typically a 30-year view.


Partner, Electrical Engineer