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Getting The Job Done With Building Commissioning

August 25, 2011
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Cleaning and maintenance supervisors have always been challenged to provide building occupants with a comfortable environment that promotes health and productivity.

Today, the focus has expanded to include sustainability and cost containment goals.

As a result, many find themselves pressured to do more with less, optimizing resources and cutting operational expenses in the process.

Add to this the challenges and intricacies created by supervising or managing larger property portfolios, often with a wide array of building systems, and the average cleaning and maintenance supervisor can easily be overwhelmed by the responsibilities and expectations that accompany the job.

It should come as no surprise, then, that building commissioning is taking on new significance for cleaning and maintenance supervisors.

During construction of a building, the commissioning process verifies and documents that the facility and all its systems, components and assemblies are planned, designed, installed and tested and can be operated and maintained to meet the operational needs of the owner — including health, productivity, sustainability and financial goals.

In short, commissioning ensures that the building and its systems are operating efficiently and as specified by the owner''s project requirements (OPR).

Continuity After Construction

Commissioning is not necessarily limited to the time of construction.

In fact, commissioning can occur at any time during the lifecycle of the building — even in the case of ongoing commissioning.

After a building is commissioned and an operational baseline is established, ongoing commissioning verifies that the building continues to meet current and evolving facility requirements, known in the commissioning industry as current facility requirements (CFR).

The process includes a number of procedures that occur throughout the life of the facility, some continuously and others scheduled as needed, so that the building continues to operate as the owner intends.

With the advancement of smart building controls, ongoing commissioning services can be performed from a remote operations center that provides 24 hours per day, seven days per week monitoring of building equipment and systems.

Commissioned systems that are monitored in this fashion provide the greatest opportunity for persistence in optimized operation and sustained avoidance of energy costs.

Other building owners may opt to recommission a building several years after it is built.

The recommissioning process, which pertains only to buildings that were commissioned during original construction, provides an opportunity to evaluate energy efficiencies or address operational and/or maintenance problems, as well as comfort complaints, and can be a valuable tool when building use changes or new performance codes or objectives are identified.

Buildings that were not commissioned at the time of construction can undergo retro commissioning — a systematic process that helps resolve many of the same issues that prompt a recommissioning process, while ensuring that a building and its systems are optimized to meet current operational requirements as closely as possible.

Buildings with a track record of high energy use or a large number of comfort complaints are good candidates for retro commissioning, as are structures with indoor environmental quality issues and new buildings that never operated properly.

Buildings where space utilization or performance requirements have changed can also benefit from the retro commissioning process.

Retro Commissioning Broken Down

To help guide the process, the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB) has established six phases of retro commissioning:

•Contract phase

In this first phase, a walk-through of the facility is conducted to inspect the overall condition of the building and the mechanical systems to determine their level of complexity.

The inspection looks for details relative to access and construction, including the age and type of equipment.

With respect to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, the inspection examines current and deferred maintenance issues, building pressure, air filters, outdoor air dampers, airside economizer dampers, actuators and linkages, variable frequency drives, balancing valves on pumps and duct and pipe modifications.

The process also includes interviews with management and the development of a project proposal.

•Pre-site investigation phase

The retro commissioning team reviews construction drawings and specifications, trend data from the building automation system (BAS), operation and maintenance manuals, test and balance reports, utility bills and maintenance records and repair and replacement orders.

The goal is to gain a better understanding of the original design intent and owner requirements, while differentiating between submitted and installed equipment, analyzing energy use and establishing operating baselines.

Interviews with management, maintenance staff and building occupants also uncover patterns in building operation, including problem areas requiring focus during the next phase.

A retro commissioning plan is developed to guide the site investigation phase.

•Site investigation phase

During this phase of the process, the team uses the findings of the previous two phases to identify potential improvement opportunities.

A more detailed investigation of the building looks at operating systems, HVAC equipment, the building envelope, control systems, air balancing, indoor air quality (IAQ) and other issues that are often the result of installation defects, deferred maintenance, control problems and building pressurization problems.

Quick fixes are made and maintenance staff has the opportunity to participate in hands-on training.

•Analysis phase

Problems identified and data recorded during the site investigation phase are the focus during this phase of retro commissioning.

After any additional testing is completed, the team recommends solutions and includes estimated costs to implement the solutions and any associated energy/operational savings that will result.

•Corrective Phase

After studying and prioritizing the recommended solutions, the team, which includes the building owner, selects those it wants to implement, oversees the implementation and commissions them to verify the effectiveness of the solutions and ensure they achieve the desired results.

•Follow-up phase

This phase of retro commissioning provides an opportunity for the team to meet with building owners and maintenance staff to discuss the project, develop an ongoing commissioning plan and train staff on how to maintain the performance of the implemented improvements going forward.

The on going commissioning plan should include a performance verification plan to establish an expected level of performance that can be monitored over time.

A final retro commissioning report is provided and any off-season testing that may be required is noted.

Cleaning and maintenance supervisors under pressure to keep plants and facilities operating while reducing expenses appreciate the benefits of retro commissioning.

By improving the performance of building equipment and building systems interactions, the retro commissioning process contributes to lower operating costs and reduced energy consumption while minimizing breakdowns, reducing repairs and the associated costs and increasing the life expectancy of assets.

Optimization strategies also produce improved IAQ and comfort.

Meanwhile, retro commissioning directly addresses the causes of problems rather than the symptoms, ensures that the building meets CFR as closely as possible and aligns strategic business goals and objectives with facility operations/infrastructure.

At the same time, the process assists in achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for Existing Buildings (EB) and improves a building''s ENERGY STAR rating.

Finally, retro commissioning provides the opportunity to train maintenance staff to operate and maintain complex building systems.

This training, along with the benefits described above, helps cleaning and maintenance staffs meet the health, productivity, sustainability and financial goals that define their jobs, resulting in enhanced building performance.

Scott Gordon, LEED Accredited Professional for Operations and Maintenance (AP O+M), is the energy & sustainability product technical support manager for Johnson Controls Inc. He has over 30 years of experience in the mechanical contracting and engineering industry. Gordon holds a number of certifications from the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) and is a member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) committee GPC 0.2, The Commissioning Process of Existing Buildings and Assemblies, and GPC 1.2, The Technical Requirements to Commission Existing HVAC Systems. For additional information on Johnson Controls, visit

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