Retrocommission for a Better Building

Improve system performance, energy efficiency, and operations


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    Root Out System Inefficiencies
    Retrocommissioning will help you find building inefficiencies that are difficult to spot. A survey of 224 retrocommissioned buildings found that the most common problems uncovered are associated with air handling.
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    Gain Performance Benefits
    As opposed to renovation or replacement, retrocommissioning focuses on optimization strategies. Equipment performance is a top area of improvement, according to EPA data, followed by occupant satisfaction for indoor air and environmental quality.
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How to Start the Process
The first step is to work with a commissioning authority (CxA) – this is not an in-house investigation you perform during spare moments. You need a dedicated individual who has the time and expertise to root around your building for inefficiencies in all system types.

To start the process on the right foot, you and your CxA should benchmark your building using a tool such as Portfolio Manager.

“Benchmarking can help you understand how your building is currently performing,” Hutchinson recommends. “It’s important to establish a baseline so you can track the improvements from retrocommissioning. You can quantify your success if you have a before and after snapshot.”

To ensure your baseline is accurate, complete scheduled preventive maintenance beforehand, Hutchinson advises. Otherwise, the process can be delayed by simple maintenance issues, such as dirty filters, worn out belts, broken dampers, or loose electrical connections.

You also need to be conscious of time. If you condense the process too much, you could be overlooking some of the savings you’re trying to find in the first place. “Commissioning is a process, not an event,” stresses Levy.

Because EBCx is a collaborative process, anticipate how much time your FM staff will need to be involved. To encourage participation and buy-in, have them work with the CxA only a few days a week to accommodate their busy schedules, Levy recommends.

“O&M staff should be actively involved throughout the testing and evaluation process because changes made after retrocommissioning will impact their operations,” Miller explains.

Owners should also consider the time of year they initiate EBCx. “If you’re commissioning your HVAC system, it’s ideal to review and test system performance in both the heating and cooling season as well as in-between periods,” Miller adds. “It’s difficult to commission a chiller in the winter when it’s not running.”

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Using operating documents you provide (see sidebar), the CxA will then establish your current performance and generate a list of improvement options.

Is Your Paperwork In Order?

Existing building commissioning can be good motivation to ensure building documents are current and easy to access. These resources will help your commissioning authority gain a full understanding of your current operations.

  • A list of known problems and potential improvements
  • Original or as-built design documentation
  • Equipment lists with system specifics
  • Drawings for the building’s main energy-consuming equipment
  • Control system documentation (point lists, control diagrams, and narratives on the sequences of operation)
  • O&M manuals
  • Utility bills or metering readouts (preferably for 12 months)
  • Testing, adjusting, and balancing (TAB) reports
  • Previous commissioning reports and energy studies
An average-sized facility may need days or a few weeks to assess the building, but the implementation phase could stretch out over months. Suggested projects aren’t generally time-intensive, but they should be completed in an order that accounts for the impact on other systems, Levy says.

“When a staged approach is adopted and performed sequentially, each stage includes changes that will affect the upgrades performed in subsequent stages,” notes the ENERGY STAR Building Upgrade Manual, “setting up the overall process for the greatest possible energy and cost savings.”

Ongoing Efforts
Once your improvement projects have been completed, stay on top of performance so your building won’t drift off course.

“Avoid snapbacks – you don’t want to lose the efficiencies that you’ve gained,” Hutchinson says. “To ensure that your benefits remain in place, update your policies and procedures for O&M. You also need to train the building staff on any new or revised operating guidelines.”

“You should also plan for ongoing commissioning,” Miller advises. “This can include periodic commissioning activities scheduled with the work order systems, regular performance benchmarking, and the use of automated fault detection technology.”

Facility managers who apply the EBCx process have much to gain as they root out inefficiencies, poor performance, and malfunctioning equipment. It spurs operators to refine and improve what they already have in place – the ultimate form of sustainability.


Jennie Morton jennie.morton@buildings.com is associate editor of BUILDINGS.


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