While performing maintenance on your mechanical equipment, or inspecting your utility bills, consider how long it has been since you’ve commissioned your facilities. Commissioning, the process by which one documents, adjusts, tests, and verifies systems to ensure they operate according to how they’ve been designed, is an often underappreciated element of energy conservation.
Whether you’ve never commissioned, or haven’t in a long time, your facility’s equipment is potentially no longer operating within design conditions. Many common issues that plague systems could have low-cost solutions, discoverable through commissioning, especially when systems are complex. Recommissioning has the potential to make your building cheaper to operate, more comfortable for occupants, and less of a headache for your maintenance staff.
Although every building is different, one study, performed by Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, entitled Building Commissioning: A Golden Opportunity for Reducing Energy Costs and Greenhouse-gas Emissions, found a median whole-building energy savings of 16% for existing buildings resulting in a 1.1 year payback, and a savings of 13% for new construction resulting in a 4.2 year payback, in a sample size of 1204 buildings.
The process of commissioning by a third party agent is, in fact, required by law for those major facility projects which fall under the purview of the Energy Independence and Sustainable Construction Act of 2007 at 5, 10, and 15 year intervals following certification under the chosen green building standard. The commissioning report includes but is not limited to: energy and water savings, indoor air quality, and the ability of the mechanical systems to meet the facility’s requirements.
Initial steps that can be taken to evaluate the potential savings derived from commissioning your facility can include a needs assessment prepared by a commissioning agent, as well as a preliminary utility bill data analysis. If, as a result of the findings from these initial steps, you decide to pursue some form of commissioning, it is important to gather all necessary documents that the agent will use in developing a plan, including: test and balance reports, service logs, building equipment upgrade information, as well as other pertinent data.
To learn more about commissioning, consult the U.S. Dept. of Energy Federal Energy Management Program’s publication Continuous Commissioning Guidebook: Maximizing Building Energy Efficiency and Comfort, as well as Portland Energy Conservation, Inc. and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s publication A Practical Guide for Commissioning Existing Buildings.