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Commission to Maximize Efficiency

By Greg Zimmerman, Executive Editor - June 2008 - Facilities Management


It’s hard to argue with these stats: The Whole Building Design Guide reports that, over the first five years after commissioning, a building saves $4 on utility costs for every $1 invested in commissioning. A study by the Oregon Department of Energy showed that, for a 110,000-square-foot office building, commissioning could save about 11 cents per square foot per year and about 279,000 kWh per year. Many other studies have shown that commissioned buildings save about 10 to 25 percent compared to non-commmissioned buildings.

“Commissioning is like an insurance policy,” says Colin Moar, commissioning operations manager for Heery. “You pay a premium up front for risk mitigation.”

To maximize the benefit of commissioning, Moar suggests hiring the commissioning agent — strictly as a third party contractor, not as a subcontractor to the architect or engineer — at the schematic phase. That way, the commissioning agent can review design documents and help facility executives make sure they’re getting what they want from the building. Additionally, hiring a commissioning agent as early in the process as possible can reduce change orders between 30 and 50 percent, says Moar.

For existing buildings that have never gone through the commissioning process, retrocommissioning is a way to bring systems back into spec. It’s a similar process to new building commissioning — testing equipment and reporting on what is working and what isn’t. And once that occurs, a recommissioning, or continuous commissioning, program can make sure that facility equipment runs optimally all the time.

“Once we bring the building back to a state of efficiency, we have to keep it that way,” says Lenny Jachimowicz, vice president of engineering for Marriott. For Marriott facilities all over the country, Jachimowicz has instituted a continuous commissioning process, including a formal training program for building operators. Part of the continuous commissioning process is expanding preventive maintenance to ensure that buildings are always running efficiently between recommissioning intervals.

Additionally, says Jachimowicz, making operational changes focused on efficiency is critical. But that aspect, he says, is more difficult. “It’s on the operating side where sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s hard to get people to think differently about operating buildings.” Jachimowicz says the most basic example of this is the idea of expanding preventive maintenance — ostensibly more work for building operators, but with a payback of more efficient, longer-lasting equipment.

For Jachimowicz, as for most facility executives, one of the hurdles to instituting a program is the cost of an initial commissioning report. “The industry sometimes suffers from C-sickness,” says Moar. “CFOs and CEOs are making facility decisions.” Fortunately, many utilities and other third-party organizations offer incentives, rebates and interest-free loans to help facility executives justify the cost of either new building commissioning or retrocommissioning on an existing building.

Incentives are just a piece of the overall return on investment justification, Jachimowicz says.

“You can find out about leakage in the ductwork or areas you’re heating and cooling at the same time,” he says. Those may sound like small gains, but added up, they can be significant. A system that seems to need an expansion to handle additional load may be so wasteful that retrocommissioning provides all the extra capacity required.

And there are less quantifiable arguments facility executives can make as well. Moar offers this advice on justifying commissioning: “There are lots of soft, intangible benefits, including longer lasting equipment, improved reliability and improved IAQ, which can lead to better worker productivity.”

 

Don’t Assume Bigger Is Better

Stymied by management’s unwillingness to fund energy upgrades that could bring years of significant savings? A good way to break through is by thinking small.

A small project is one way to get management comfortable with the idea of investing in energy efficiency. A lighting retrofit can be a good choice. Lighting upgrades often offer quick paybacks. Savings are predictable because they’re not affected by weather. But if the project is a test, it’s essential to get it right — by analyzing real energy costs, estimating savings based on actual electricity use and rates, and documenting results.

— Edward Sullivan

Low-or no-cost steps can establish a track record for energy savings, paving the way for investments in upgrades. For more on low-cost, no-cost steps, go to: www.facilitiesnet.com/7015bom

 

For tips on successful building commissioning and other helpful links, visit the Whole Building Design Guide’s commissioning page

For advice on the process of hiring a commissioning agent, go to: www.facilitiesnet.com/6477bom

For a wide range of information and tips on commissioning, visit the Building Commissioning Association’s Web site





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