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Energy Audit vs. Retrocommissioning: Which Is Best for a Building?


By Edward Sullivan Energy Efficiency

An abundance of building industry marketing and benchmarking programs exist today, each defining operational best practices, sustainable design, and ways to effectively engage design and operations teams. These programs outline great tools, implementation guides, and best practices, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Your best next step may be an energy audit, whereas your neighbor’s may be retrocommissioning. It depends on the developer’s objectives, current state of the building, and the operational goals of the team. Knowing which one to implement can be the difference between a successful project or a costly, unsuccessful one, even though the intent of each is to create a high-performing building and to improve overall operations.

Buildings should be re-tuned on a regular basis, whether they’re one year or 75 years into operation. Space use types change, tenants and tenant requirements change and the systems should be adjusted to match. The options for checking and updating your operations include re-commissioning, retro-commissioning, or energy auditing. Teams should develop the scope and identify objectives prior to selecting the best step. Generally, performing an energy audit is the best first step. It’s usually at a lower cost and begins with benchmarking the facility in EPA Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a free online tool. Upon completion of the energy audit, recommendations may include some aspect of retro-commissioning or re-commissioning, but these can now be focused on the immediate needs of the building. Retro-commissioning should be used if the equipment was never commissioned. Re-commissioning should occur if the equipment was commissioned upon installation.

For construction or equipment and controls replacement projects, always begin with commissioning. At a minimum, this includes HVAC, domestic hot water, lighting, controls, and renewable energy systems. The goal is equipment that was installed and programmed properly — unlike a building in Texas that’s several years into operation and has always had issue with one of the air handling units. The problem was a piece of factory-mounted sheet metal restricting airflow directly to the cooling coil bypass. This sheet metal should have been removed upon installation, but due to contractor or factory error, and because the building was not commissioned, the sheet metal remained in place, causing temperature control issues. Even though the system was never commissioned, a change in management team led to an energy audit; as a result, the issue was identified and a remediation plan was created.

Overall, continual improvement should be at the forefront of an organization’s decision making process and revolve around a triple-bottom line analysis for people, planet, and profit. Buildings face a plethora of abuse — from weather to occupants — and the market is more competitive than ever. Thus facility managers should commit to developing and operating higher functioning indoor environments in an environmentally and economically conscientious manner. By challenging the status quo, you can improve your next development or your existing facility.

Rock Ridolfi Jr., CxA, CEM, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, is a senior solutions consultant for Rivion, formerly Transwestern Sustainability Services. The firm offers energy and sustainability solutions to improve building performance, reduce operating costs, increase asset value, and create healthy environments.

Click here read about planning an energy upgrade on Facilitiesnet.com.

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