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Making Retrocommissioning a Priority
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Todd Isherwood Transforming City of Boston's Energy StrategiesPt. 2: Library Energy Project Replaced Outmoded SystemsPt. 3: Centralizing Energy Management in City of Boston Buildings Pt. 4: This PagePt. 5: Boston's EPC, PPA Plans Have Potential Big Impact
Todd Isherwood has also made retrocommissioning a priority, with the goal of saving energy for buildings without having to do major capital improvements. It started, also, as a way to educate facility managers about the benefits of being efficient. His knowledge of utility rebates also helped here.
One particular retrocommissioning exercise illustrated its value starkly. Isherwood says he looked at several school buildings and selected one that was about 10 years old, Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School. The study showed that for its first nine years, on an energy use intensity (EUI) basis, the building had performed about 10 points more efficiently than the average school building. But in its 10th year something went haywire, and it was 10 points less efficient than the average.
"So part of our process was finding out why the building had tipped and why things were breaking down," says Isherwood. The answer was no surprise for an aging building — mechanicals had drifted out of spec, dampers weren't activating, etc. What's more, facility managers were reacting to comfort complaints without knowing the full scope of how they'd affect building systems holistically. "They were providing comfort on an emergency basis," he says. "In total, the retrocommissioning process was valuable. It showed us where the problems were. And now we're planning on taking this report to other 10-year-old buildings to see if they're having similar problems."
If they are, Isherwood can tell the facility managers how to fix them. And if equipment needs to be replaced, it can be included in that building's profile, and Isherwood can look into a possible utility rebate. Indeed, one of the reasons for Isherwood's success has been his ability to get his facility managers "free" money. "The facility managers usually listen to someone who has money to hand them," he says.
Isherwood has made it his business to help them get these rebates. "They're keenly interested in how they can submit a lower capital budget," he says. "What I bring to the table is helping them get the rebates. In the past it was a 50/50 chance of them getting the rebates because they didn't know how to navigate the process."
This knowledge of utility rebates has also helped Isherwood build rapport with his facility managers, and overcome what he initially saw as a big hurdle: "My job was somewhat difficult because the FMs don't work directly for me," he says. "I had to go in and persuade FMs to implement efficiency in their departments."
But getting the facility managers on his side has certainly been another success in Isherwood's tenure with the city. "What's helped me more than anything is that I am a co-worker of theirs," he says. "In the past, for energy efficiency, the message was coming from utility reps or vendors trying to sell them something." Isherwood says it took a bit of time to build trust and gain confidence, but his background in both architecture and facility management helped. "And even in my early days, I swung a hammer, and most of the FMs are really hands-on people."
According to Meade, the facility managers see Isherwood as one of them: "Todd's understanding of the mechanical systems in the different city buildings and his relationship with the utilities really has established his credibility," he says. "His mindset is that we have a responsibility to improve what we're delivering for our taxpayers."