Building Commissioning is formally defined as the “art of analyzing a building’s current performance and implementing measures to reduce the operating cost while improving the functionality of the building’s systems.” Referred to as retrocommissioning when performed for an existing building, the process is designed to ensure the building operates more smoothly, occupants are more comfortable, equipment maintenance problems are reduced and the building owner saves money. In a recent informal survey of commercial building owners our firm has worked with, we were intrigued to find that some owners of existing buildings see the concept of “building commissioning” as too lofty of a goal for an existing building. They seemed to be looking for short-term, practical solutions to their immediate building problems such as occupant comfort complaints and the high cost of emergency maintenance calls. They also often reported not knowing what their HVAC Preventative Maintenance contractor is actually doing, and whether they were receiving the value that they are paying for.
What an Existing Building Owner Needs
An existing building is typically made up of an inherited HVAC system that was likely designed for a different use pattern than it is currently supporting, with a mixture of original and replaced components. There are often emergency situations that arise as components fail due to age, high loads or balancing issues created by new/expanded HVAC needs. To add to these headaches, building owners are often dealing with occupants who may be uncomfortable and complaining, while at the same time energy and maintenance costs are higher than necessary. To deal with these practical realities, the building owners we interviewed stated they would value the following assistance from a trusted HVAC advisor:
- Reducing the equipment emergency calls and costs
- Reducing the indoor air quality and comfort complaints
- Extending the life of their HVAC equipment
- Insuring the Preventative Maintenance contract is effective
- For DDC-controlled buildings: knowing the building is performing efficiently and the investment in the direct digital control system is substantiated.
Commissioning Agents as the Answer?
Commissioning agents are in a unique position to provide assistance with these needs as they have hands-on experience with solving numerous and various HVAC building issues. They can also quickly understand the whole picture of how systems are designed to operate and how the new requirements that are being placed on the systems may be leading to problems. While Facilities Managers are often capable, they may not have the time to investigate the entire system, the original design and the historical changes the system has gone through.
Tailoring Expertise to Customer Needs
A service that would meet the needs of the building owner will need to be tailored to the specific situation and budget. Every project will differ in its scope, depth and length – moving from a tactical strike that tweaks controls and ensures functionality of the equipment, to a long-term contract that reviews Preventive Maintenance (PM) contracts, historical component failures and assists in capital planning. A commissioning agent is an independent technical consultant who can provide peace-of-mind that the HVAC system is being monitored comprehensively, thereby reducing unanticipated emergency costs and ensuring HVAC-related expenses are well spent.