Recommissioning is currently a hot trend in the commercial market, according to members of the industry who frequently work with facility owners and operators. Because recommissioning enables facilities to substantially reduce their energy costs without making huge capital expenditures, there is the potential for quick return on investment (ROI) after one of these projects is completed.
“Recommissioning is hot, as it can help reduce energy consumption costs as well as lower equipment repair and replacement costs,” said Kevin Callahan, product owner and evangelist, Alerton.
Callahan added, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that commissioned buildings have 8-20 percent lower operating costs than noncommissioned buildings, which, he said, “is a big deal.”
And, the trend to recommission buildings is advancing as owners and operators become increasingly aware of the benefits of improving energy efficiency.
“As awareness of the role energy optimization plays in property management gains momentum, more building owners are looking to make their facilities more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly, all the while providing a comfortable environment for occupants,” said Jim French, vice president, product development and support, Distech Controls Inc. “Recommissioning of a building can offer substantial improvements in all of these areas.”
The financial payback made possible by recommissioning is certainly one of the main drivers behind this trend in the commercial market.
“With utility charges getting more expensive, owners are interested in saving money. Recommissioning is a lower-cost method to reduce energy costs compared to replacing large and expensive equipment and systems,” explained Joseph Ciernia, director of energy services, Uhl Co. Inc., Maple Grove, Minnesota. Uhl Co. is a member firm of the InsideIQ Building Automation Alliance, an international alliance of independent building automation contractors.
Ciernia also pointed out that utility rebates have made recommissioning more attractive to facilities.
“Recommissioning often qualifies for rebates from utility companies that can pay for the cost of studies and part of the cost of implementing energy conservation opportunities,” he said.
From working with various facilities, Robert Gray, national sales manager, Schneider Electric, said he’s seen more and more evidence of the trend toward recommissioning.
“Essentially, the building owners and facility managers are trying to delay replacing their existing HVAC equipment as long as possible,” Gray said. “They’re looking for simple and inexpensive energy retrofits with a fast ROI to enhance the energy performance of their existing HVAC equipment.”
And, according to Kevin Jobsky, director of marketing and aftermarket sales, ICM Controls Corp., “Energy management is no longer a concept that only a facilities manager understands; it has become an ROI tool that decision-makers at every level now take a vested interest in.”
Of course, how quickly a recommissioning project achieves its intended ROI, along with how much money is saved, depends on many factors. Overall, according to Ciernia, savings of 5-25 percent are generally achievable with recommissioning.
“Typically, very large facilities, such as high-rise office buildings with utility charges running into six figures, will have lower percentage savings, although the actual amount saved will be very large. Smaller facilities, such as a library, school, or small office building, can see a higher percentage savings,” he said, adding, “Still, 15-20 percent reductions in utility costs are very common in recommissioning projects.”
Other trends in the commercial market are also bringing attention to the benefits of recommissioning, especially the emergence of smart data and analytics. More data are being tracked on how buildings are operating and using energy, and this information is leading to a broader interest in recommissioning.
“With more data available than ever before, there is a fundamental shift in building management from traditional mechanical strategies to smart, data-driven, and analytical business intelligence methodologies,” said Marc Petock, vice president, marketing, Lynxspring Inc.
Petock explained that, when he’s presented with an opportunity to improve a facility’s energy efficiency, he begins by looking at the data to identify unexpectedly poor performance.
He continued: “With visibility of performance data layered with analytics across buildings, it becomes clear which buildings are performing well and which need to be recommissioned.”
And, tracking building performance data over time also helps facility managers to recognize when recommissioning is needed.
“The appropriate period for recommissioning depends on the building type,” said Callahan. “Typically, every three to five years is fine, unless it’s a critical space like a research laboratory where environmental tolerances are much tighter, so you might recommission annually.”
Even newer buildings can benefit from recommissioning, noted Ciernia.
“Owners of newer buildings may not realize how their facilities may have drifted away from the intended functionality and can improve efficiency and lower costs through recommissioning,” he said.
Overall, Callahan said, the focus of recommissioning is to “ensure the HVAC and other building systems are still operating at optimum levels and that they’re still aligned with the building users’ needs.”
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
To successfully recommission a building and enable facility operators to improve building performance and save money, it’s important for contractors to start out with the right attitude.
According to Gray, there is enormous potential for contractors to lead in recommissioning projects, but they must approach these projects with the appropriate confidence levels.
“[Contractors] need to be assertive with their customers in proposing and positioning energy conservation measures,” he said. “This is a huge market and opportunity for contractors to grow their businesses and bring additional value to the relationships they have with their customers.”
After a project’s been approved, the first step of recommissioning, according to French, is to begin with a basis of design for all aspects of the facility.
“It’s critical to understand a building’s thermal load and mechanical system sizing dynamics to ensure the most efficient operation and energy utilization,” he clarified.
Petock described this initial step as a comprehensive assessment and diagnostics of the building, its systems, the equipment, how the building is used, and its occupancy.
“During the assessment, if any updates or repairs are identified, it’s important to get them completed first,” he said.
Callahan recommended that a well-qualified commissioning agent be added to a recommissioning project team.
“Many engineering consultants throughout North America provide this specialized service,” he said, noting that some contractors may not be receptive to commissioning agents. However, Callahan advised that, instead of pushing back against the inclusion of an agent, contractors welcome the commissioning expert as a valued member of the team.
“The commissioning agent isn’t there to beat up contractors, but to work closely with them and the entire building team to ensure the building is operating as it should,” he explained. “A good commissioning agent will cooperate with the controls contractor, and, in turn, program the BMS [building management system] to make building commissioning and recommissioning easier, based on the contractor’s and building operator’s needs.”
Another crucial factor to the success of recommissioning projects is to consider the human element — namely the facility operations staff and their ability to maintain the improvements achieved through recommissioning.
“Perhaps the biggest, yet most overlooked, aspect of this new era of advanced energy management systems is a much greater importance that is being placed on facility managers for their growing ability to measurably impact a company’s bottom line,” Jobsky said.
Petock also pointed out that people are an important part of the equation.
“In addition to technology, there is a people part to successful energy management programs,” he said.
Ciernia agreed and discussed how to train facility staff in more detail.
“The most important thing contractors can do is train owners and operators to be aware of and monitor how their buildings’ systems are functioning,” he said. “Operators need to be aware of scheduling and setbacks and make sure those are occurring as intended. They need to be sure components, such as dampers or fans, are functioning properly — not stuck in ‘on,’ for example. Over time, set points can be overridden, sensors can fail, and other components can break. These are the problems recommissioning uncovers in a building that are making it less efficient.”
To improve building operation, operators must be trained to watch for these potential problems, as well as be trained on any changes to normal sequencing or scheduling operations recommended by the recommissioning study, Cierna said.
The overall goal, according to Ciernia, is to make sure facility staff understands how to keep the systems operating as intended by the recommissioning. Making sure the facility’s people are on board leads to achieving the promised reductions in energy usage and gains in efficiency.
SIDEBAR: RECOMMISSIONING IN 4 STEPS
According to Joseph Ciernia, director of energy services for Uhl Co. Inc. in Maple Grove, Minnesota, there are four basic steps to a successful recommissioning project:
• Step One — Planning: Develop a recommissioning project plan.
• Step Two — Investigation: Perform a site assessment, functional testing, diagnostics, and trending.
• Step Three — Implementation: Select the most cost-effective opportunities for implementation and implement these improvements.
• Step Four — Assessment: Follow up to implementation. Review utility bills and analytics to confirm actual savings is consistent with what was promised.
Publication date: 8/24/2015