Tag Archives: building commissioning

Existing Building Energy Consumption: Current Situations, Trends, Legislature and Solutions (Series Post #7: PlaNYC Local Law 84 and 87)

Energy use in NYC buildings contributes to 74% of citywide GHG emissions through the use of heating fuel, natural gas, electricity and steam. Energy expenses are up to $15 billion per year; therefore, NYC needed to act. NYC responded to this problem with the development of PlaNYC. In particular I’d like to focus on Local Law 84: Benchmarking (LL84) and Local Law 87: Energy Audits & Retro-commissioning (LL87).

“Released in 2007, PlaNYC was an unprecedented effort undertaken by Mayor Bloomberg to prepare the city for one million more residents, strengthen our economy, combat climate change, and enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers. The Plan brought together over 25 City agencies to work toward the vision of a greener, greater New York. Since then, we have made significant progress towards our long-term goals.”

LL84 began in 2009 and requires owners of large buildings to annually measure and report their energy consumption through the previously mentioned benchmarking practice. In July, they upgraded the online energy star reporting tool (www.energystar.gov/portfoliomanager). They also recently released their second year benchmarking scores (read the report here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/gbee/html/plan/ll84_scores.shtml).

The first energy efficiency reports for LL87 are due at the end of this year. Due dates are based on a building’s tax block id #. Those ending in 3 are required to comply in 2013, those ending in 4 are required to comply in 2014 and so on and so forth. LL87 requires that all buildings 50,000 sf or larger undergo not only an energy audit but also retro-commissioning.
LL87 requires the following base building energy systems to be investigated:
•    Heating, ventilation and air conditioning
•    Electrical and light
•    Domestic hot water
•    Building envelope
•    Conveying systems

The approved certified engineers that can help one comply with LL87 include:
•    Certified Commissioning Professional (CCP)
•    Certified Building Commissioning Professional (CBCP)
•    Commissioning Process Management Professional (CPMP)
•    Accredited Commissioning Process Authority Professional (ACPAP)

Horizon Engineering Associates, LLP (HEA) has conducted nearly 70 energy audits and retro-commissioning projects for LL87 compliance. The facilities have ranged from museums to hospitals. Just to put into perspective how effective energy audits and retro-commissioning has been, when we surveyed 9 buildings, HEA was able to identify over 70 energy conservation measures that, when implemented, will save over $3.36 million in energy costs annually.

Has your building complied with LL84 and LL87? Are you aware of early compliance? Is your city implementing similar laws to NYC’s PlaNYC? Share your experiences in the comments below!

My next post will highlight an energy audit and retro-commissioning case study and comment on my experience with retro-commissioning.

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Filed under Building efficiency, commissioning, Energy, energy audit, energy consumption, energy efficiency, energy usage, EPA, GHG

Existing Building Energy Consumption: Current Situation, Trends, Legislature and Solutions (Post #1: Introduction)

Existing Building Energy Consumption: Current Situations, Trends, Legislature and Solutions (Series Post #1: Introduction)

Our nation’s current energy appetite needs to be curbed. And while there are many solutions out there, I wanted to share my thoughts specifically with energy use and efficiency in buildings. My reason for choosing this topic is twofold: 1) Buildings account for a large portion of the US energy consumption (see more details below) and 2) Throughout my 20 years of experience with building commissioning (new construction and existing building), I have witnessed how commissioning and energy studies contribute to not only energy savings, but lower maintenance costs, increased occupant satisfaction and improved building documentation.

Why look to buildings?
The U.S. buildings sector accounted for 7% of global energy consumption in 2010. We must re-evaluate our fossil fuel consumption patterns which have been directly linked to climate change in order to mitigate the adversities we are facing. Buildings accounted for 41% of primary energy consumption in the U.S.; that is 44% more than the transportation sector and 36% more than the industrial sector. Buildings are identified as being responsible for the largest portion of our country’s carbon dioxide emissions; therefore, it seems the best way to combat climate change and create a sustainable future is to demand a higher standard from our buildings.

The federal government estimated that we can save $40 billion dollars annually by reducing energy use in commercial buildings by 20% by 2020. With people spending 90% of their lives inside buildings, we must work to provide buildings that are operating at ultimate performance. We need leadership and coordination to implement legislation. We need education to allow people to make the best choices. We need research and development to cultivate the technology and practices to ensure sustainable energy solutions. My future posts to this blog series will look at current trends in energy efficient buildings such as energy audits and the impact they have on building systems. The posts will explore the different organizations and principles set forth for better building systems such as ASHRAE. I will then tie in my personal experience and lessons learned as an active commissioning professional in order to explain and exemplify the importance of commissioning, retro-commissioning and energy audits.

I will be publishing a new post every other Thursday. Any topics and/or questions you would like me to address? Leave me a comment and I’ll make sure to reply. I hope this is the beginning of a great discussion.

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Building Commissioning for Existing Buildings

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!

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Should We Be Energy Efficient Only When it Hurts Our Wallet?

Riding through my hometown, I noticed that the price of gas was starting to creep up again. This week it averaged $2.89/gallon – a far cry from the $4.00+/gallon we were paying last year. When gas was $4.00/gallon, people would sneer at the SUV drivers and seemingly overnight, everyone wanted to drive a hybrid. Now that the price of gas has dropped, does anyone still care?

It’s apparent that the consequences to a person’s wallet are directly proportional to their interest/concern in fixing the problem. This concerns me as we talk about carbon footprints, greenhouse emissions and polluting the environment. The “as long as it doesn’t affect me” mentality that exists in this country will continue to dominate society. When gas gets back to $4.00/gallon, will we be scrambling to drive a hybrid again? We are becoming fair weather energy efficiency supporters.

The same amount of carbon emissions are produced at $2.89/gallon as they are at $4.00/gallon. We need to be constantly vigilant of our energy consumption – in our cars, homes and businesses. It appalls me that, as a society, we are not concerned about energy efficiency until it hurts our wallets. Improving energy efficiency should be something we are always doing.

I was struck by an article in the New York Times that spoke of oil companies abandoning their efforts to drill, as it no longer made fiscal sense because of the reduced price of oil. I would think trying to find new oil reserves would be a top priority in decreasing our reliance on foreign oil supplies. Aircraft and military machinery will not be using renewable technology in the foreseeable future. The sheer power needed in such a short period of time can only be generated from an internal combustible engine (a battery would be inadequate). Therefore, let’s find those extra deposits and leave them in the ground for a rainy day. Don’t abandon the effort. The reality is the price of oil will rebound and fuel will be needed.

During a visit to our office in St. Louis, I was shocked by the lack of awareness towards energy efficiency. It costs roughly 5¢ per KW in St. Louis, while in the Northeast it averages 15¢ per KW. Triple! Compare the interest in energy efficiency in these two areas – increased cost equals increased interest.

Energy efficiency needs to be on all of our minds and we should always be thinking about saving energy every chance we get. This should not be merely a cost-driven exercise, but a focus because we are wasting our resources and polluting the environment.

Sadly, the economic features will always exist and if big oil is not making a buck then why should they drill? The greater society is no different then big oil. If consumers aren’t saving money, will they care about being energy efficient? We owe it to our children’s children and the environment to be energy efficient, all the time.

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Reflections from a Recent Hotel Stay

On a recent trip to one of my offices in St. Louis I stayed in a well-know national hotel chain. As I walked into the lobby, I was greeted by a mini-wind turbine on the front desk and was pleasantly surprised to see this hotel’s support for being green.

As I got into my room, I saw a small placard in the bathroom that stated the hotel’s commitment to being environmentally-friendly and encouraged guests to reuse their towels. It went on about the millions of gallons of water and detergent used to wash towels daily and how it was unnecessary waste if the towel was still clean.

Sitting on the couch, I noticed the lights were left on by housekeeping, TV was tuned to a local station for my enjoyment and most notably the air conditioner was set to a chilly 65 degrees turning my eyebrows into icicles. I sat back and reflected on all of this and thought, “Do they really care about being green? What about their sign in the bathroom…maybe they just don’t want to spend money on laundry?”

My curiosity got the best of me. After shutting off the TV, turning off the lights and opening up the curtains to let light in, I called the front desk and inquired about the true meaning behind the placard. After questioning the very polite hotel manager, I found out that laundry wasn’t even done on-site. So, the placard is not about wasted water, detergent or staff; it’s about saving money and the bottom line. Less towels means less laundry, which means less to pay the launderer. Speaking of the launderer, does the hotel know whether they have any green practices, like using environmentally-friendly detergent, recycling the water or conserving energy?

I’ve seen similar placards all across the country and can’t help but think it’s a PR tactic to make me feel better about staying at their “forward-thinking-clean-green-therefore-expensive” hotel. I would rather they say, “Please help us keep your rates down by using your towel more than once.”

If the hotel is going to be environmentally-friendly, it would have more impact on me by keeping the air conditioner off when someone is not in the room, keeping the lights off or put them on motion sensors and keeping the TV off. Also, I would love to see a recycling bin and a sign that reads, “When you’re done with the beverage we’ve conveniently placed in your refrigerator and ripped you off by charging $5, please put it in the recycling bin provided.”

As I checked out, I asked the young man at the front desk when the last time someone used my room. He said business was a little slow and it had been four days since someone was in there. So much for the wind turbine.

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BCA Certification for CxAs

Recently, I’ve been working with the BCA to create new certification guidelines and I wonder how we can make the process easier without sacrificing integrity. I presented the question on my LinkedIn account and received this post from Nathan Gauthier, Assistant Director at Harvard University’s Office for Sustainability:

“As someone who has worked with a lot of bad commissioning authorities, I think the certification requirements are great. How many projects have a commissioning authority sign off despite never having an OPR or BOD? How many CxA’s use the nominal group technique to facilitate development of the OPR? How many CxA’s use Guideline 4 to prepare the systems manual? CxA’s that confirm As-Builts are As-Built? CxA’s that suggest envelope commissioning in a complex building? I think the BCA and U of Wisconsin certifications give educated owners a level of confidence in their consultants and help give the industry a better image. I’ve worked on lots of clients who feel (after paying for bad commissioning) that it was a worthless investment though I’m convinced and the data supports that good commissioning is the smartest investment an owner can make.”

Well, to Nathan and others who share this experience, I’m sorry you’ve been the recipient of poor Cx services. The fact that this occurs is one of the reasons we started certifying CxA’s with the BCA. But currently, some members of the BCA feel pressured to lower standards as other organizations tend to give out certifications without having the applicants prove they deserve it. I feel that most owners do not value a good Cx provider and are either chasing points or getting their buildings commissioned because it’s the cool thing to do. Unfortunately, this waters down the quality of the building and doesn’t help our cause. My question to all you building owners: how do we get you to value the service of a good Cx provider?

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Are We Spending Money in the Right Spot?

Is the current Obama administration’s approach to eliminating greenhouse gases (GHG) balanced? It seems the in vogue thing to do is build a wind farm, set-up solar PV panels and put more and more money toward clean energy. I agree that all these measures have a tremendously positive impact on our environment. However, it appears the lost child in this whole green initiative is improvements on how existing buildings actually consume energy.

The amount of private commercial real estate that exists is in the billions. According to the Energy Information Administration’s latest report, there are over 4.8 million commercial buildings in the United States covering over 71.6 billion square feet. These buildings consume over $82 billion in electricity and spew out GHG. The cost of improving these buildings’ energy efficiency would be a fraction of the cost to build a wind farm or install an array of solar panels. Marc Gunther of Reuters recently covered Silicon Valley venture capitalist Sunil Paul’s “Gigaton Throwdown” report that details how top clean energy technologies can have a significant impact by 2020. Gunther writes, “building efficiency is a much, much cheaper way to reduce greenhouse gas emission than solar thermal power or nuclear” noting that it’s the least expensive option.

It’s plain and simple: today’s buildings don’t run efficiently and it’s the worst kept secret in America. There are many buildings that are either too cold or too hot and are wasting energy by allowing those kilowatts to literally escape out the window. I have been involved in commissioning millions of square feet of all types of buildings and can tell you that finding savings is easy and relatively inexpensive.

So why aren’t more building owners doing it? Reasons abound – building operators are too busy keeping their buildings from falling apart and dealing with tenant complaints. In addition, tenants are often kept in the dark with building costs and problem areas, but still have to foot the bill because of how leases are structured. This waste is quickly written off as the “cost of doing business” and not investigated further.

What incentives will encourage building owners and tenants to look at actively decreasing energy consumption as a bottom-line saver? The highest expense our businesses face today (other than payroll, benefits and rent) is energy. Improving energy consumption by just 10% will undoubtedly increase profits and save jobs by improving the bottom-line.

ROI should be proof enough to support energy efficiency of buildings. An upcoming study by ACEEE found that for every kilowatt-hour saved by installing solar panels we spend 20¢ or more. But for every kilowatt-hour saved by improving an existing building’s systems we only spend 3.5¢. Why does the current administration not see this and invest more toward building efficiency instead of focusing so heavily on clean energy? This too creates jobs, saves money and reduces GHG. President Obama recently said changing light bulbs is not that sexy, but he’s doing it. Though I give him credit, more still needs to be done. For now, building owners can follow suit and launch initiatives to capitalize on these low/no cost energy saving measures.

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