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A Beginner's Guide to Decarbonizing Buildings

Updated: Jan 9

The increase in corporate sustainability goals combined with new local, state, and federal climate legislation has given rise to the importance of building decarbonization. While most building owners understand that building energy efficiency is the first and most critical step, additional action must be taken to decarbonize buildings fully.


Decarbonization is the process of preventing or reducing carbon gasses from being released into the atmosphere, often as the result of burning fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases.


Once an inventory of all greenhouse gas (GHG) sources for the building has been taken, there are 4 steps to decarbonize:

  1. Efficiency – Buildings must first maximize energy efficiency (thereby reducing emissions) and maintain it throughout the life cycle of the building.

    1. HVAC accounts for 40-50% of energy consumption in commercial offices.

  2. Electrification – The process of switching building energy sources from on-site fossil fuels to electric sources that do not use fossil fuels.

    1. Why electrification? For more information, click here.

  3. Refrigerant Management – Transitioning to low-GWP refrigerants in HVAC equipment and on-site management to minimize the effects of leaks.

    1. Preventing 100% of refrigerant leaks over 30 years (2020-2050 can reduce 57.18 Gigatons of CO2e).

  4. Renewable (Clean) Energy – Solar, wind, and other types of energy from natural and constantly replenished sources.

    1. Energy storage and on-site renewables are leading priorities for investment.


Decarbonization will impact many buildings of all types by fundamentally changing how they are heated. Currently, many buildings are cooled with electricity and heated with natural gas. To fully decarbonize, the natural gas that fuels comfort heating and domestic hot water systems must be eliminated. To implement this, the HVAC equipment typically used in buildings today will need to be applied in different ways, such as using a chiller to recover heat. Other equipment may need to be replaced with different technologies such as high-efficiency heat pumps.


The good news is that in response to this shift in the marketplace, there is a significant increase in investment in the research and development of efficient electric heating and heat recovery equipment. Boland helps clients design, implement, and operate HVAC systems that save money and achieve decarbonization goals across every step of the building life cycle – from original building design throughout operation to upgrading once systems have reached the end of their usable life. Boland engineers help clients reconfigure systems and apply new technologies to electrify buildings and make them more efficient.


Boland is also a leader in the next generation of low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants and can consult on equipment transition planning. While building energy efficiency, electrification, and refrigerant management are being addressed, Boland collaborates with partners to determine the best renewable energy and energy supply solutions to help clients meet their decarbonization goals. Understanding that our client’s bottom line is key, Boland’s financial experts ensure every available incentive dollar is applied to each project, ensuring the lowest first cost and highest return on investment while meeting current legislative requirements and preparing building owners for the future. 


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