Building commissioning is one of the most compelling, and yet least understood, strategies for managing energy consumption, cost and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the DOE, 54% of commercial buildings were built in 1979 or before. Times change quickly and the way we conduct business now is completely different from five years ago, let alone 20+ years ago. Technological advances have changed the entire paradigm for building operations. In addition, building ownership changes hands over the lifetime of the property leading to clashes between current occupant needs and original design intent. Since only a small number of buildings incorporate commissioning from the get-go, it’s crucial to implement commissioning plans for existing buildings.
A recent Department of Energy sponsored study conducted by Evan Mills, Ph.D. of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs highlighted the cost-benefits of commissioning in new and existing buildings. Mills found that existing building commissioning projects cost $0.30/ft² and have a payback time of 1.1 years. Of the existing buildings analyzed in this study, over 6,000 energy-related problems were found through commissioning. Addressing these problems resulted in 16% whole building energy savings! At Horizon Engineering Associates, we conducted a case study of the Allen Park Public Schools in Michigan and found that our commissioning services saved the school over a quarter million dollars in utility costs within the first year. These findings prove that building commissioning is the single most effective vehicle to reducing green house gases and energy costs in America.
Also worth mentioning is changes in terminology over the years, causing some confusion as to what type of commissioning program is required. To eliminate this miscommunication, what was once called “retro-commissioning” or “re-commissioning,” is now identified as “Existing Building Commissioning” (EB-Cx). Both ASHRAE and the Building Commissioning Association (BCA) have adapted this change in terminology to create a standard within the industry.
To help owners and developers navigate the four phases of EB-Cx (planning, investigation, implementation and turnover), the BCA created a “Best Practices” document.
Commissioning is a cost-effective means for ensuring a healthy and efficient building. Owners and developers should consider partnering with a commissioning authority to meet their financial targets, as well as our country’s ever-growing “green” agenda. It would be wasteful and irresponsible to let these buildings run their course without taking all available resources and methods to improving their performance. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it saves a few bucks in the process!