From Manhattan to San Francisco, the commercial building infrastructure is aging and many building owners wrestle with how they will maintain them. They're trying to spend dollars carefully in an effort to balance profits with tenant retention and property value.

What can really be frustrating is there are so many amazing technologies available for transforming buildings, yet many owners struggle with how to pay for it.

The good news is that the HVAC industry has tools and is developing new ones to help owners in this endeavor. In that light, a number of equipment manufacturers are teaming up with universities, associations, and the government to create forums to discuss these issues and brainstorm solutions that work for all stakeholders.

One example: In June, Danfoss (bit.ly/danfoss_usa) hosted its 15th Envisioneering Symposium (bit.ly/Envisioneering) in Washington, D.C. and I must admit, I stole the title of this editorial from the title of the meeting.

The keynote was presented by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (http://1.usa.gov/bingaman), who discussed the S.1000 buildings standards bill ("Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011) that was introduced May 16. In essence, this is the "Net Zero" energy bill, which Bingaman said also could address issues like the smart grid and energy-use data security (Who owns energy use-data—building owners/managers or the utilities? Or the tenants?)

Steve Yurek, president and CEO of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, addressed the economy and the politics behind it. Among the key issues he said to keep an eye on: U.S. debt limits, the above-mentioned energy bill, and stimulus dollar credit extensions.

"The HVAC industry is a success story when it comes to efficiency," he said. "But there is a cost. The consequences are that consumers today tend to focus on repairs more than replacement, which means fewer equipment sales."

Yurek also said that we face a new reality: Equipment efficiency is maxing out. "We must look at a whole-building approach to comfort. We must design to the lowest lifetime cost and this requires research, measurement, and assistance. So we need new modeling systems and need the Department of Energy to work with us on this."

That was just the kick off. Attendees comprised a who's who of manufacturers, consulting engineers, contractors, trade associations, and government officials. Discussions ranged from benchmarking existing technology like Onstar (security, communications, and diagnostics systems used in cars) for use in buildings, to revisiting the use of thermal-storage technology (bit.ly/tstorage). We also learned about current research by Penn State University on creating a "new" type of building (see http://gpichub.org/).

Another concept: aggregating groups of buildings together to negotiate the procurement of energy services. This is being done by the Chicago chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). This could really set an example for energy retrofits across the country. How cool is that?

So this is what I learned: We need to work better to take the HVAC industry to the next level. That means keying in on education and sharing information across the channels so we truly understand the impact of energy policies, efficiency demands, and the economics of it all on our customers, our businesses, and our nation. Your thoughts?

Send comments and suggestions to mike.weil@penton.com.