Retrocommissioning Is First Step in Energy Upgrades
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has learned a lot about boosting energy efficiency in existing buildings over the past couple of years. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — known as ARRA or the stimulus bill — provided $5.5 billion to create jobs and use green technology in public building projects. More than 80 percent of that funding — $4.5 billion — targeted improvements in existing buildings. Since then, GSA has been hard at work evaluating buildings, analyzing options and moving forward on projects.
Those efforts hold a range of lessons for facility managers responsible for buildings of all types, said GSA experts who spoke on a panel at NFMT, “Bringing High Performance Buildings into Focus: The GSA Vision takes Shape.”
GSA undertook a wide range of projects with the ARRA funding, ranging from full building modernizations to more limited scope projects. Before it started the smaller projects, GSA recommissioned each building. That’s hardly standard practice for most facility managers. But GSA found it essential to making sure buildings were operating as well as they could before deciding whether to invest money in upgrades. “Recommissioning was the foundation for everything we did,” said Martin Weiland, mechanical engineer with GSA’s Public Building Service.
Recommissioning typically identified control issues and problems with control components. GSA expects an aggregate energy reduction of 5 percent nationally.
GSA also has buildings recommissioned before it starts talking to ESCOs (energy service companies) for an ESPC (energy saving performance contract), said Kevin Kampschroer, director of the office of federal high performance green buildings. The process provides an excellent baseline for building performance going into the upgrades. GSA shares that baseline with ESCOs. The agency also uses the outside recommissioning team as a partner in its talks with ESCOs, a strategy that allows GSA to bring additional engineering expertise to the negotiating table.
Another important planning lesson came out of the modernization of the 36-year-old Edith Green/Wendell Wyatt federal building in Portland, Ore. The original concrete exterior was failing, so the building is being given a new façade — or rather several new facades, because the building will have different exterior treatments on different sides of to maximize daylighting and minimize heat transfer. What’s more, the agency is replacing building systems, including HVAC.
Once an initial design was complete, GSA went back to the design team to ask what could be done better. The answer, it turned out, was “a lot.” All of the occupants were moved out of the building. That increased some expenses, like the cost of moving people and of leasing space to house them during construction. But because of the façade and building systems replacement, emptying the building reduced construction time and cut total costs. What’s more, it boosted occupancy in other Portland buildings, and the build-out of those spaces should add jobs to the local economy.
The message from that project, Kampschroer said, was not to be satisfied with a good design, even a very good design, but to seek out opportunities to improve.