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Columbia Association Upgrades Aging Infrastructure with Advanced Rooftop Units

Columbia Association identified the need to replace their existing rooftop units with high-efficiency models, as many existing units were 15-20 years old with minimal energy efficiency features. The team was interested in replacing the aging units with more efficient units, driven in part by local utility incentives for ENERGY STAR® specification packaged units. Initially, the team found limited information on a standardized specification for an affordable high-performance RTU, and there were cost concerns associated with specifying uniquely high-performance units that a manufacturer would not typically produce. Columbia Association’s familiarity with the Better Buildings Initiative (and subsequent participation in the Better Buildings Challenge) led them to the Advanced RTU Campaign where they were able to use ARC’s resources to identify equipment that met their needs. The two ARC resources Columbia Association used most were the High-Efficiency RTU Specification and the Rooftop Unit Comparison Calculator:

  • High-Efficiency RTU Specification: This resource provided Columbia Association with a description of rooftop unit efficiency and functionality characteristics that align with the goals of DOE’s Advanced RTU Campaign for new or replacement installations. It includes minimum specifications and indicators for improved performance across various parameters.  
  • Rooftop Unit Comparison Calculator: Developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, this calculator assists decision-making regarding the purchase or replacement of packaged rooftop air conditioning equipment by estimating a product’s lifetime energy cost savings at various efficiency levels. Columbia Association used the calculator to get a better understanding of cost savings for potential units, which helped the team gain buy-in from leadership and ultimately move forward with the project.


In 2014, Columbia Association deployed two units that met the criteria of the specification as pilot projects. These units qualified for the local utility HVAC replacement incentives, which lowered the overall cost of purchase and installation. The team engaged with local architects and engineers for design support, and mechanical contractors for installation. All phases of the two pilot projects (design, procurement, installation, and operation) were successful and the team continued to initiate RTU replacements at additional facilities.

Columbia Association requires its contractors to receive training (typically through the equipment manufacturer) on how to properly install and maintain the advanced equipment. As a result, these contractors gain the necessary skills to work on similar projects for other clients as well as routine maintenance and new capital investment projects for Columbia Association.

The Advanced RTU Campaign is a recognition and guidance program designed to encourage building owners and operators to take advantage of savings opportunities from high efficiency RTUs. ARC provides access to information and expertise to lower facility operating costs while maintaining or improving building occupant comfort. Joining the campaign allows you to:

  • Leverage campaign resources and technical expertise in evaluating savings opportunities
  • Stay informed on innovative RTU technologies and resources produced through the campaign
  • Gain recognition, achievement awards, and participate in case studies

To learn more about the program, visit:

Since 2014, Columbia Association has installed more than 40 RTUs, ranging from 3 to 23 tons in cooling capacity. These installations have assisted in reducing portfolio-wide energy use intensity, and the organization reached its Better Buildings Challenge goal of a 20% reduction in 2018. In addition to rooftop unit replacements, Columbia Association has made the specification the basis of design standard for all new construction projects to ensure future energy cost and use savings.

In addition to the energy cost savings, Columbia Association has engaged in community outreach efforts around its RTU program. The organization made it a point to inform local stakeholders about the benefits of using high performance RTUs through holding regular energy meetings, participating in environmental fairs, and promoting on social media.