What would happen if your engineering team stepped into another firm’s facilities with the goal of identifying energy inefficiencies? In the same vein, what would happen if engineers from another firm entered your buildings with that same goal in mind? Would you be brave enough to face the resulting realities?

Not only is such a so-called engineering swap actually occurring, it’s being filmed and presented in reality TV-esque webisodes courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Better Buildings Challenge Swap.

Maria Tikoff Vargas, director of the Better Buildings Challenge, said the program was designed to examine how leading organizations can work together to identify solutions and find opportunities to save energy. The result is an informative, behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to improve operational competitiveness through energy efficiency.

“Our swaps focus on operational improvements, the low-hanging fruit that can be upgraded today, and larger capital projects that should be addressed over time,” said Vargas while presenting at the Association of Energy Engineers’ (AEE) West Coast Energy Management Congress (WCEMC) in Seattle. “We’ve been thrilled at how successful the swaps have been at moving efficiency out of the boiler room and into the hands of people who understand the importance of efficiency.”



The first webisode aired in February 2016 and featured engineering teams from Whole Foods Market and Hilton Worldwide.

Despite being world-class efficiency organizations, both teams identified inefficiencies as well as recouped ideas to implement themselves, including the recapturing of hot and cold air, optimizing the performance of motors on their cooling towers, and more.

“In season one, the Whole Foods team was blown away with what Hilton did with its housekeeping staff,” Vargas said. “Those are the people who truly decide if a hotel is efficient or not. If they’re not on board, the building will simply not be efficient, regardless what technology you employ.”

Subsequent seasons featured swaps between the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy as well as the cities of Atlanta and Boston

“In the Navy-Air Force swap, the Navy was surprised to see how the Air Force had implemented flat solar panels onto their buildings,” Vargas said. “That gave the Navy all sorts of ideas on how they could utilize similar solar panels on their own buildings.”

The most recent season featured a swap between L’Oréal USA’s largest cosmetics plant in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, where the Chevrolet Volt and Impala, Cadillac CT6, and Buick LaCrosse are made.

Both teams learned new ways to identify and fix compressed air leaks, how to better utilize air economizers, and more.



With its pretentious voiceovers and slow-motion walk-ins, the Better Buildings Challenge Swap is no doubt glorified reality TV, but beyond the theatrics, the underlying message is one that needs to be shared. The U.S. spends $200 billion to operate its commercial properties, and aging facilities may achieve 20 percent savings or more by implementing minor improvements, such as adding insulation, providing better maintenance, upgrading their lighting systems, and more. Sometimes it just takes another’s perspective to identify such weaknesses.

That said, it’s much easier to walk into a facility and point out flaws than it is to welcome another’s critique of your own facilities. Are you up for the challenge? If so, the results could truly change the future of your firm.

For more information, or to view all four seasons of the Better Buildings Challenge Swap, visit here.  



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Oct. 8-10

Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo

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79th RSES Conference and HVACR Technology Expo

Rolling Meadows, Illinois



Oct. 17-19

41st World Energy Engineering Congress 2018

Charlotte, North Carolina