Security in Federal Buildings Creates Energy Saving Opportunities

June 1, 2002

A photo of a contractor installing a blast-resistant window frame in the outer facade of the Pentagon's E-ring.

A contractor installs a blast-resistant window frame in the outer facade of the Pentagon's E-ring. The new windows also have a better U-value and are more tightly sealed to help reduce infiltration levels.

There is ample reason for today's heightened concern for security in our Federal offices, military facilities, National Laboratories, and other public buildings, but does this mean we have to put on hold the Federal commitment to energy efficiency and sustainable design? Are there ways that energy savings and security improvement can complement each other? And in cases where there may be trade-offs between improving energy efficiency and security, how can the Federal government lead the way in developing and deploying new, advanced technologies that improve the terms of that trade-off (or make trade-offs unnecessary in the future)?

Both energy cost savings and improved building security are elements of sustainable building design and operation; along with increased comfort, lower maintenance costs, and improved workplace health and productivity. FEMP is interested in the relationships between building security and energy efficiency as one key element of the "business case" for sustainable Federal facilities. We would like to hear from FEMP Focus readers who have further ideas or examples on this subject.

Federal buildings may account for only a small portion (about 2 percent) of the total U.S. building stock and an equally modest percentage of U.S. industrial facilities, but they represent a dis- proportionately high share of potential terrorist targets, due to their symbolic importance and functional value. Thus, in the years to come, Federal investment may comprise much more than their proportionate share of all commercial floor space (about 2 percent) in terms of spending to upgrade building security and add protective features in new construction. The Federal sector, in effect, will serve as a real-life laboratory for enhancing building security through measures that improve threat detection, reduce vulnerability of people and property, and speed the process of recovery after a possible attack.

In both new and existing buildings, it is possible to improve building security and address energy efficiency at the same time. If energy efficiency is ignored in the process, however, important opportunities will be missed. Ideally, more building security projects should consider energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities, especially in cases where energy cost savings could in turn help lower the life-cycle costs of security improvements.

For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) already incorporates building security guidelines as part of its sustainable design criteria for new facilities. Some standard design criteria, such as structural engineering for wind and seismic loads, can help address blast-resistance as well. NASA's compilation of materials used by other agencies for building security planning and mitigation is available on CD-ROM. (Contact Steve Rider of NASA at 202-358-0872 or

The ongoing Pentagon renovation also illustrates the close linkage between energy efficiency and building security. According to DOD's Teresa Pohlman, Special Assistant for Sustainable Construction, "In the process of renovating the Pentagon we've found that several of the force protection measures we are taking to protect the Pentagon against terrorist attacks are complementary to our sustainable construction efforts."

For example, Pohlman points out that a spray-on wall coating being considered at the Pentagon to provide blast-resistance would also provide extra benefits by improving the air-tightness of the building envelope, which in turn saves heating and cooling energy. A tighter envelope would also provide added protection against airborne chemical/biological agents released outside the building (or help contain interior releases until they can be dealt with safely).

Another example of energy-savings is the facility's new windows, the blast-resistant windows that are replacing the original ones at the Pentagon are 50 percent more energy efficient. The Pentagon is planning to use photo luminescent signs (which draw no power) on the floor and lower wall areas to mark building evacuation routes during a fire or blast event; this will help personnel exit quickly in case the conventional ceiling-mounted "exit" signs are obscured by smoke. A final example is the use of zoned climate control systems that not only provide improved indoor air quality and more efficient heating and cooling, but also make it easier to control smoke and chemical/biological agent proliferation. "These are all examples of building security and energy efficiency working hand-in-hand," Pohlman concludes.

Other examples of positive interactions between security and efficiency measures include:

  • Improving control of building air distribution systems, including periodic calibration of sensors, adjustment of dampers, and other system maintenance, is essential for rapid response to an emergency while also contributing to energy-efficient operation under normal conditions.
  • Significantly reducing air leaks in the building envelope and distribution ducts is helpful in balancing heating and cooling systems, and even more critical to prevent unwanted entry or spread of airborne toxins released by an attack in or near the building.
  • Daylighted spaces may be easier to evacuate quickly in the event of an attack or threat accompanied by a power outage.
  • On-site power systems may be marginally economic in terms of reduced peak electricity charges alone, or to improve reliability during utility system outages (natural or human-caused), but the combined benefits of reliability and peak savings may make them much more attractive-especially for low-emission systems that also recover and use the waste heat.
  • Upgrading existing windows for blast resistance may also create opportunities to improve thermal and optical (daylighting) performance, provided that the window system or add-on film is selected carefully.
  • Redesigning security lighting in concert with automated sensing and surveillance systems may actually reduce the need for constant high nighttime lighting levels, while improving detection capabilities.
  • Improvements to particle air filtration have several potential benefits, in addition to helping protect buildings from biological agent attack. These include reducing indoor particle concentrations from other sources, thereby improving occupant health (and productivity), and helping reduce HVAC coil fouling which in turn improves heat exchange efficiency.

To identify these and other opportunities, FEMP is meeting informally with facility managers and security specialists in several Federal agencies. We are reviewing relevant work on building security by agency working groups and organizations such as ASHRAE to identify ways of incorporating energy efficiency measures into their recommendations. The Buildings Program of DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is also studying the linkages between energy efficiency and building security, and considering their implications for both research and development and technology deployment.

Ongoing FEMP activities could also create paths to address building security along with energy efficiency. Examples include: guidelines on sustainable Federal facilities, design assistance for new construction, support for on-site distributed energy resource projects, Federal facility energy audits, operations and maintenance training, new technology demonstrations, and alternative financing of energy retrofits. FEMP could also consult with other agencies to identify Federal demonstration sites or initial buyers for new, dual-purpose technologies such as advanced HVAC sensors and controls, high-performance filtration that minimizes added fan loads, and improved window films.

For more information or to forward comments, please contact Beverly Dyer of FEMP at or Jeff Harris of LBNL at