Despite Buildings' Success, Facility Managers Aim For More Performance

By Greg Zimmerman, Executive Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Especially In Net-Zero Energy Buildings, A Careful Eye On Operations Pays OffPt. 2: Facility Managers' Grasp Of Big-Picture Issues Is Crucial To Net-Zero PerformancePt. 3: Flexible Design, Careful Energy Monitoring Are VitalPt. 4: This Page

Despite the success stories of these three buildings, all three of these facility managers aim for still more performance and fine-tuning. The three readily admit their work has been and will continue to be to improve — both in terms of efficiency and occupant comfort. As one example, Turkey Foot is in the midst of an energy performance contract — one part of the contract includes installing solar film on the windows.

Similarly, at DPR, Elrod says they're "continuing to identify areas we can provide more comfort or savings on usages of mechanical cooling and lighting." It's an important point — a building can be net-zero, but if it's not comfortable for its occupants, it's not a good building. "Passive systems on a commercial building present a challenge from a comfort standpoint," he says. "You're never going to please everyone all the time." But when occupants understand the goals for the building, they'll be more eager to do what they can to contribute.

Even three years into the building being occupied, Elrod says they're still learning about how to create more efficiency. "It's more of a fine-tuning process now," he says. "Each year, the changes necessary become finer and finer. We look at this building as a living laboratory."

This is a sentiment Uribe echoes about his building: "We're always adjusting," he says. "But we're making sure that as we're meeting net-zero energy, we're maintaining comfort. It's a living and breathing building."

What Is Net-Zero Commissioning?

Net-zero energy and ultra-efficient buildings often include things traditional buildings don't. One obvious example is photovoltaic panels. This means that these types of buildings require an extra level of diligence in the commissioning process. The New Buildings Institute has coined a new term to apply to such a process — net-zero energy commissioning (NZE Cx). Net-zero energy commissioning, according to Cathy Higgins, research director, basically means going beyond traditional building systems to include things like energy generation and two-way exchange of energy with a utility. "It's so much more important on these buildings to ensure meters are spinning both ways," she says.

Some net-zero energy buildings are already doing a de facto version of net-zero energy commissioning, albeit on an ongoing basis. At the David and Lucile Packard Foundation headquarters building, building engineer Juan Uribe says that he is constantly "baselining" his PV system to make sure it's performing as specified. He has turned his energy management system into an ally in that effort. At first, he says, if the PV system wasn't producing the energy expected — presumably meaning a panel or two had gone out — he wouldn't necessarily know which one it was without testing all of them. So he added some instrumentation to have his energy management system recognize groups of seven panels, making fault detection much easier and quicker. "This was a small investment, with huge benefits," he says.

— Greg Zimmerman

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  posted on 11/20/2014   Article Use Policy

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