Columbia Association Upgrades Aging Infrastructure with Advanced Rooftop Units

Columbia Association is a nonprofit community services corporation that manages 500,000 square feet of public facilities in Columbia, Maryland. The organization was looking to replace aging rooftop units (RTUs) across its portfolio but leadership was having trouble identifying a cost-effective high-performance RTU and the features and specifications that would go together to make a complete unit. Columbia Association leveraged resources available through the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced RTU Campaign to implement two pilot projects for high-efficiency RTU replacements. The success of the initial projects led to the implementation of a replacement plan across the building portfolio. As of 2019, Columbia Association has replaced over 40 RTUs across its portfolio leveraging the ARC specification; the organization achieved its Better Buildings Challenge goal of a 20 percent reduction in energy intensity in 2018.

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  • Process

    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.

  • Partnerships

    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:

  • Measuring Success

    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.

  • Outreach

    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.

Columbia Association developed an RTU replacement plan and basis fo design specification for its building portfolio leading to the identification and installation of more than 40 cost-effective, high-performance RTUs, helping reach its 20% energy reduction goal.

Organization Type


Commercial Real Estate



Difficulty identifying specifications for cost-effective, high-efficiency HVAC infrastructure.



Columbia Association used the Advanced RTU Campaign’s publicly available resources to identify RTUs that fit their needs, leading to the development of an RTU replacement plan and basis of design specification for its building portfolio after two successful pilot projects.



The RTU replacement program helped Columbia Association achieve its Better Buildings Challenge goal of a 20% portfolio-wide reduction in energy intensity, and educational outreach and workforce development efforts around the RTU program have had benefits on the local community.