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4  FM quick reads on Retrocommissioning

1. Retrocommissioning Building Automation Can Reduce Energy Costs

Today's tip from Building Operating Management: Retrocommissioning can reduce energy costs significantly.

There are plenty of reasons that building automation systems benefit from retrocommissioning. One is that well-meaning operating staff can make changes to the system that have the unintended consequence of increasing energy consumption, Bert Gumeringer, director of facilities operations and security services at Texas Childrens Hospital in Houston.

"What happens is that our good maintenance people come in and they make adjustments based on 'tribal knowledge,' he says. "Some of those practices aren't in synch with good engineering practice." Retrocommissioning can rectify those mistakes.

One common problem, says Gumeringer, is that operating staff tend to put devices in the manual mode, rather than the automatic mode, so the building automation system is not running the equipment. Another issue is sensors that have been bypassed or sensors that haven't been calibrated properly.

A third problem is sensors that were disconnected. That may happen if a technician goes to do a preventive maintenance item and leaves a key sensing device disconnected. "Putting everything back together the way it's supposed to be really yields good results," Gumeringer says. If all of the sensors are in good working order, the building automation system gives the facility manager a window into the system.

He has found that retrocommissioning can bring a substantial payoff. His team has retrocommissioned several buildings that are more than 15 plus years old. "We're starting to see some very nice savings in the two to three to four hundred thousand dollar annual range by doing retrocommissioning," he says. Savings from retrocommissioning have enabled the hospital to keep energy costs essentially flat even as the amount of space was increased. "If we had not done that, our costs would have continued to trend upward," Gumeringer says.

This has been a Building Operating Management Tip of the Day. Thanks for listening.

2.  Facility Staff Should Be Involved in Retrocommissioning

Today's tip from Building Operating Management: To maximize the benefits of retrocommissioning, get the facility operations staff involved in the retrocommissioning process.

Retrocommissioning is a cost-effective way to improve the performance of building systems. A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the median energy savings is 16 percent on retrocommissioning projects. With a payback of little more than a year, the ROI is nearly 100 percent. Although retrocommissioning may seem to be exclusively a matter of hardware and software, the facility operating staff is actually vital to success. For example, if an operator doesn't trust the optimization function to turn equipment on at the proper times, the operator may come in a 5 a.m. and turn all the chillers on, just to be safe.

It is worthwhile to talk to building operators at the start of the retrocommissioning process. After all, they know the quirks of building operation better than anyone, even if they don't have the time to investigate optimization opportunities themselves.

Because the operating staff ultimately has control over the system, it's also essential to ensure that the controls are no more sophisticated than the people who will operate the system. One approach is to limit the system capabilities to the knowledge of the operators. Another is to upgrade the operators' knowledge base.

Don't underestimate the importance of operator training. When planning training, keep in mind that it may not just be the chief engineer who can make changes to the control settings. Even if the chief engineer is trained, other people on the staff may make changes and neglect to tell the chief engineer. That's why it is important to get everyone on board, not just the chief engineer. One option is to train others on the staff, but if that is not possible, another approach is to restrict the ability of other staff members to make changes to the system.

3.  Utility Incentives Can Help Cover the Cost of Retrocommissioning

Today's tip: Look to electric utilities for incentives that can help cover the cost of retrocommissioning.

Retrocommissioning is a cost effective way to trim energy costs and improve building system performance. According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the median payback time for a retrocommissioning project is slightly more than one year. In other words, the return on investment is nearly 100 percent.

But even an ROI like that may not be enough to win funds to conduct retrocommissioning. At an average cost of thirty cents per square foot, the price tag for a 100,000 square foot building is $30,000.

One way to reduce that cost and improve the chances for project approval is with utility incentives. In some states - notably California — utility incentives have been available to help cover the cost of commissioning. Other states that have offered utility incentives include Colorado, Minnesota, New York and Texas. For utilities the benefit is very simple: By reducing the amount of energy used by a facility, retrocommissioning offers a very cost-effective way to cut the demand on the utility infrastructure.

The retrocommissioning incentives are one element of the growing effort by many utilities to reduce electric consumption among commercial and institutional customers. Those incentives peaked during the 1990s, then dropped sharply as the electric industry deregulated. Since then, however, incentive programs and associated dollars have climbed steadily.

A federally funded website is one way to find out if your local utility offers an incentive for retrocommissioning. The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funds a national program called the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency - DSIRE, for short. Go to the organization's website,, and click on the state or U.S. Territory to see a list of utility programs in that area.

4.  Retrocommissioning Benefits Include IAQ, Longer Equipment Life

Today's topic is retrocommissioning.

Energy savings is a substantial and important byproduct of retrocommissioning, say experts, but it's not the only benefit. Indoor environmental quality is another big gainer. With controls functioning better, for example, occupants may have the benefit of more stable temperatures, which could cut hot and cold complaints. And the system is more likely to bring in the right amount of outside air.

Longer equipment life is another significant benefit. That's especially true of valves and dampers controlled by an actuator, which suffer excess wear and tear if they are being opened and closed more often than necessary.

Increasingly, another factor is likely to point to retrocommissioning: greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Lawrence Berkeley National Labs says that commissioning of all sorts, including retrocommissioning, can provide large reductions in carbon emissions. Commissioning, it says, is "arguably the single-most cost-effective strategy" for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions from buildings.


Retrocommissioning , building automation system , building controls , energy management system , energy costs ,

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