Building Commissioning and Retrocommissioning FAQ
Questions about building commissioning and retrocommissioning? Here are some frequently asked questions.
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Commissioning is a formalized process that helps ensure the performance of key building systems [HVAC, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, etc] for new construction or major renovation projects. Independent professionals review the design to confirm that equipment selected will meet the needs and efficiency goals of the building and client. Observation and testing during construction then verify correct installation and proper functionality of all systems before the contractor closes out the project.
The primary goal of commissioning is to identify and correct issues before they adversely impact the building. Confirming key equipment is installed correctly and operating efficiently provides piece of mind, but also reduces the lifetime costs of building operations, maintenance, and system repair/replacement. Furthermore, commissioning helps to ensure reliability and resiliency for facilities with mission critical or 24/7 operational requirements.
US Department of Energy research has proven that commissioned buildings use up to 20% less energy than similar un-commissioned buildings1. Properly functioning and maintained equipment also lasts longer, minimizes downtime, and enhances indoor environmental quality which contributes to increased occupant well-being and productivity.
1 DoE Advanced Energy Retrofit Guide https://www.energy.gov/eere/buildings/advanced-energy-retrofit-guides
All commissioning providers are not created equal. The biggest differentiators are process and expertise. Identifying certified firms with credentialed professionals is the first step to ensure the providers are knowledge and attuned to current best practices. Next, firms with robust processes and tools in place are able to more effectively measure, track, and resolve issues in order to fulfill your project goals. These qualities, along with a commitment to correcting problems not just identifying them, are the hallmarks of a strong commissioning firm.
Commissioning is crucial to confirm system optimization and energy efficiency therefore it is a requirement under the Energy and Atmosphere [EA] section of the LEED manual. The USGBC outlines options for LEED Fundamental and LEED Enhanced commissioning services.
While commissioning is beneficial across all project phases, a commissioning agent brings the most value when engaged early in the design process. Early identification and resolution of issues is the core objective of commissioning. Pre-design and design phase involvement consistently results in better engineering solutions, enhanced document quality, and maximum cost savings and building efficiency. An experienced agent leverages knowledge and lessons learned to help you define the performance objectives for your building, weigh initial costs with lifecycle costs, and support the architect and engineer’s equipment selection.
Commissioning services represent a very small portion of a project’s total cost – between 0.6 and 1.8% of the construction budget. Commissioning fees vary and are determined primarily by the scope of services and phases of involvement [design and construction, construction only, or design through post-construction support]. The quantity and types of systems to be commissioned can also impact the cost and can include HVAC, electrical, lighting, renewable energy, building controls and automation systems, as well as fire/life safety systems and building envelope. When framing the costs of commissioning it is important to weigh the long term performance benefits, with energy savings lasting up to 4.5 years, as well as increased system reliability and extended equipment lifespan.
Many factors can impact the overall performance of your building and equipment over the life the facility. These can include regular wear and tear, insufficient maintenance, changes to original equipment, and more. Retro-commissioning involves inspection and testing of key systems to understand the current level of functionality, provide recalibration or tune ups, pinpoint issues reducing efficiency and implement corrective measures.
Both energy audits and retro-commissioning identify problems with key building systems. An energy audit of your facility will tell you if there is equipment in need of maintenance, repair or replacement. Energy audits also compare your utility usage to that of similar buildings in a process called ‘benchmarking’ to determine deviations from the average that may indicate a problem. Retro-commissioning takes the process one step further to include implementation of corrective measures to achieve the cost savings identified.
Retro-commissioning and energy audits provide a strong return on investment. Research confirms that retro-commissioning delivers an average 15% annual energy savings with a payback ranging from 0.2 to 2.1 years2. Additional benefits include reduced wear and tear on equipment resulting in longer lifespans, improved reliability with decreased outages/downtime, and a healthier environment your building occupants.
2 Mills, E., H. Friedman, T. Powell, N. Bourassa, D. Claridge, T. Haasl, and M.A. Piette, “The Cost-Effectiveness of Commercial-Buildings Commissioning” (2004), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, http://eetd.lbl.gov/EMills/PUBS/Cx-Costs-Benefits.html
Open communication is crucial when seeking an energy services firm. The depth of a retro-commissioning or energy audit effort varies. The process should be tailored to meet the specific objectives, budget, or current challenges of each client. An experienced energy services provider knows the right questions to ask and listens to develop an approach that prioritizes your unique concerns and requirements.
Many utility providers across the nation offer incentives that help offset the cost of energy efficiency improvements. Retro-commissioning or an energy audit is often the first step to pinpoint areas of concern.