Building Energy Resilience

Ideas to fuel a sustainable built environment

6 min read

Building a Better Framework for Work-from-Home Success

By Lauren Hagen on May 20, 2020 10:30:00 AM

On March 10, I returned to a very different world here in Vermont after having spent the prior two weeks visiting New Zealand. While at the Auckland airport on my trip home, I accepted a position at Cx Associates, not knowing how the coming weeks would unfold as the virus was beginning to explode in the states. Upon my return, I self-quarantined for the recommended 14 days, and then the stay-at-home orders and various recommendations kept me here. Ten weeks in, I’ve had to adjust to a new life and start a new job that was never meant to be remote, remotely. I’ve learned a thing or two about working from home amidst a pandemic and would like to offer you some of the ways I’ve found rhythm and comfort among the challenges, and resources to get you started should you feel a certain strategy might be beneficial.

5 min read

Making our Commissioning Process Remote

By Katie Mason on Apr 22, 2020 10:00:00 AM

With the current COVID-19 global crisis, organizations all over the country are actively seeking ways to continue to provide the same level of services to their customers while keeping their employees safe. Cx Associates is known for its rigorous standards in the commissioning process, but a large portion of our work is contingent on our ability to be on construction sites, working with contractors to verify the installation and functionality of equipment. With Vermont’s order that all non-essential employees work from home, and with Cx Associates’ commitment to both keep our employees safe and prevent us from potentially spreading the virus on construction sites, we needed to quickly find a way to provide our on-site services remotely for the essential construction work that continues to move forward in a way that still matches our high standards. This blog discusses our approach to remote site work and how we're continuing to serve our clients while safely social distancing from our home offices.

3 min read

People & Planet during the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Tate Colbert on Apr 8, 2020 10:00:00 AM

In this time of global crisis, it can be hard to cope with some of the new realities we’re all being faced with, whether it’s experiencing isolation due to social distancing, fearing for yourself or loved ones, or dealing with the virus’ economic impact. As a business that strives to engineer a future where buildings are better for people and planet, we can’t help but notice the ways this crisis reflects global warming’s looming themes: it’s going to affect everyone, it has dangerous consequences, and it takes a global effort to combat. While I only have the emotional bandwidth for one global emergency at a time, the environment is still in the back of my mind, and I can’t help but think of the ways the virus and our environment are inextricably linked.

4 min read

COVID-19 & the Race for Isolation: Part 1 – Cooling & Dehumidification

By Matt Napolitan on Apr 2, 2020 11:00:00 AM

Hospitals are racing to create as many isolation rooms as possible to help effectively care for patients with COVID-19 while keeping healthcare providers and others in the hospital as safe from infection as possible.

3 min read

Five Steps to Turn the Tide on the Climate Crisis

By Jennifer Chiodo on Mar 25, 2020 10:00:00 AM

I’m very focused on the fact that we have only have a short time to change the way we live so that our planet can survive, and our children can have the future we imagine for them. That sounds scary, but what is even scarier is inaction in the face of compelling evidence of climate change.

11 min read

How to Do Building Automation System (BAS) Graphics Right

By Rick Stehmeyer on Mar 4, 2020 10:00:00 AM

Over the course of my career I have evaluated BAS graphics packages as a function of my daily 9 – 5. I have been doing this since 2002 and in those days, most BAS manufacturers barely had functioning websites. However, the products they sold allowed their vendor networks to create Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) and Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), and these interfaces haven’t really functionally changed a whole lot since those days of pre-broadband internet and before the smartphone was commonplace. Given that we may be stuck with outdated user interfaces for some time to come, it makes it all the more important that proper care is given to how the information is displayed and to ensure users can easily absorb the information they need from the BAS.

7 min read

Energy and Beer – The Path to Sustainability

By Krystina Kattermann on Jan 29, 2020 10:00:00 AM

Vermont is home to a lot of my favorite things. There’s skiing, swimming, music, cheese, apple picking, and more, but perhaps my favorite is Vermont beer. The Burlington area alone has enough breweries to keep one busy for a long weekend – from the classics like Switchback Ale and Fiddlehead IPA, to the ever rotating sours at Foam to the delicious (and highly creative) concoctions coming out of Burlington Beer Co., the 10 mile radius around this small city I call home has something for everyone. Though my love of beer continues to grow, so too has my concern about the sustainability of the beer brewing process.

3 min read

Challenges with Rooftop Units and Factory Controls

By Jamie Hand on Jan 15, 2020 10:00:00 AM

After an early morning departure and a snowy drive, my colleague and I arrived onsite to test, among other equipment, a packaged rooftop air handling unit with factory controls. At first, the unit appeared to check all our boxes, but as we dug into the details, it became clear that this would be a very expensive heating system to operate. This blog entry is about factory controls and the importance of getting into the weeds to identify issues like the one we found with this rooftop air handling unit.

4 min read

Welcome 2020 - Now Let’s Meet those 2030 Goals!

By Katie Mason on Jan 6, 2020 10:00:00 AM

With a new year and a new decade upon us, the popular trend is to create new resolutions and goals. Being an active member of the Burlington (Vermont) 2030 District Engineering Team has me thinking about the District’s and the City of Burlington’s goals and progress for energy, water, and transportation emission reductions. This post outlines what the Burlington 2030 District goals are, how these compare to the City of Burlington goals, and the services our team provides to property owners to help reach these goals.

3 min read

Making Sense of Building Data: Part 1: Overview

By Daniel Tuhus-Dubrow on Dec 18, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Similar to other domains, data from buildings is being generated at an unprecedented pace and scale. However, all of that data is useless if we can’t extract meaning to create value and yield actionable insights. This requires the utilization of protocols or standards to effectively make sense of the data. Project Haystack is one such standard that has been developed over the past several years and allows for the contextual tagging of data in a flexible way, using data from any number of sources.

5 min read

Saving the Planet One Veggie Burger at a Time

By Eric Hauser on Dec 4, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Cx Associates’ work focuses on engineering services that save energy, and thus doing our part to save the planet. All of us also have a strong personal commitment to living as sustainably as we can, recognizing that no one is perfect, and that we all do the best we can. Our employees walk or bike to work, take public transportation, compost, live in walkable neighborhoods, drive efficient cars, and recycle.

3 min read

It’s All in the Lighting: A Closer Look at the CRI Method

By Wilson Yandell on Nov 20, 2019 10:00:00 AM

A few years ago, while living in a small apartment in Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood, I noticed that the lightbulb in my kitchen had burned out. Naturally, I went to the hardware store to find a replacement. After struggling to read the French labeling on several different packages, I ultimately decided to go for the least expensive box of LED bulbs that the store had available. Once I installed the newly purchased lightbulb, I noticed a difference in the way our kitchen looked. Specifically, I noticed a difference in the appearance of the bowl of fruit that always sat on the counter. While the lightbulb illuminated the space, I remember thinking to myself how unappetizing and dull my fruit now looked. This exercise, though unintentional, clarified the importance of a light source’s color rendering capability.

3 min read

Understanding the Basics of a Ground-Coupled (Closed Loop) Heat Pump Design: Part 2

By Tate Colbert on Nov 15, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Thanks for following the second part of the ground coupled heat pump design. If you haven’t already, now’s a good time to go back and read Part 1. In the first part of this post, we discussed the importance of understanding thermal imbalance in a ground source heat pump system and the longevity impacts associated with an imbalanced system. Despite the issues associated with a thermally imbalanced system, there are ways to address building loads with additional technology that will further enhance the performance of the ground-coupled heat pump system, as well as provide long term performance.

6 min read

The United Federation of Energy Transition

By Rachael Straub on Nov 6, 2019 10:00:00 AM

In 2011, a study, co-authored by an engineering professor from Stanford and a transportation research scientist from UC-Davis, found that we could halt global warming, save millions of lives, reduce air and water pollution, and develop secure, reliable energy sources in 20-40 years. Nearly all of this could be done with existing technology and at costs comparable with what we spend on energy today.

3 min read

USP 800 Pharmacy HVAC Testing – The Devil is in the Details: Part 1

By Matt Napolitan on Oct 23, 2019 10:00:00 AM

A large healthcare client of ours recently opened a brand new USP 800 compliant compounding pharmacy, which we commissioned. We collaborated with the engineering team and the hospital during the design phase to help ensure prior issues weren’t repeated, and the hospital’s concerns were thoroughly articulated and addressed. At the conclusion of the design phase, the team was confident that the design direction was solid and would give the hospital what they were looking for.

4 min read

Understanding the Basics of a Ground-Coupled (Closed Loop) Heat Pump Design: Part 1

By Tate Colbert on Oct 9, 2019 10:00:00 AM

The ground source heat pump is a wonderful technology that will be vital in achieving energy efficiency goals this century. This technology isn’t new, but it is beginning to become more accepted as a viable solution for large scale, high efficiency HVAC performance. There are two main types of ground source heat pump systems: those that are “Ground Water” (also called Open Loop) and those that are “Ground-Coupled” (also called Closed Loop), see Figure 1 below. In either case, the water from the ground is pumped to a heat pump, where heat is either extracted out of or rejected into the ground and moved into or out of the conditioned space.

3 min read

A New Metric for 21st Century Buildings: The Carbon Emissions Intensity (CEI)

By Jennifer Chiodo on Sep 25, 2019 10:00:00 AM

As you know, Cx Associates’ work focuses on making buildings perform better for occupants, operators, owners, and for the planet. A common metric we use to assess building performance is the energy use intensity (EUI) which Katie has discussed in her recent blog posts. While attending the recent IEPEC Conference in Denver, I had a discussion with someone familiar with Xcel Energy’s work to be a net zero carbon utility in the relatively near future. We realized that EUI is an insufficient metric for guiding energy program investments at their customer sites. Ultimately, to drive carbon emissions down to a sustainable level that will halt and begin to reverse the climate crisis we are currently in, we need to track energy intensity while also focusing on carbon emissions intensity (CEI) at a building level. Cities and states that have adopted carbon reduction goals will do well to focus on reducing the CEI of their building stock through energy efficiency, fuel switching, and renewable energy generation.

6 min read

The Wonderful World of Compost

By Krystina Kattermann on Sep 11, 2019 10:00:00 AM

I had never heard of composting as a general practice, until I went to school in Vermont. UVM is one of those places where every trash can is accompanied with a compost and recycling bin (at least when inside near a dining area). When I moved to Boston for a few years after school, I was appalled at the lack of compost availability – what was this madness?!?! Luckily, upon my move back to Burlington, setting up an at home compost was a cinch – just fill up a bucket and drop it off at the waste center every other week for free. While Burlington does a fairly good job of encouraging composting, I just returned from a trip to Seattle where they do curbside compost pick up, and every restaurant I visited had a compost bin…STEP IT UP, EAST COAST!

4 min read

Spreading the Green

By Chloe Deas on Aug 28, 2019 10:00:00 AM

With a recent move, from the outskirts of Boston back to Vermont (where I grew up), I am rediscovering my love for nature, the outdoors, and taking care of the environment. Shortly after our move, my husband and I began exploring our property to plot out a compost location and now have one that is propped on a stand for easy rotation (which to me, feels extremely fancy compared to the chicken-wire enclosure I grew up with). I also recently discovered the mass transportation system that Vermont offers, which is surprisingly convenient for such a rural area. Taking the bus twice a week combined with having one work-from-home day each week has allowed me to cut down my commuting emissions significantly. Among the other small day-to-day measures we take to ensure we are reducing our impact on the environment, my husband and I take advantage of BeesWrap instead of plastic wrap, reusable silicon sandwich bags instead of the throw-away plastic kind, and eco-modes on our hot water heater (this means quick showers!). Like many (possibly most) others, there is plenty more that we could and should be doing – but we’re working on it.

3 min read

Benchmarking and Beyond

By Katie Mason on Aug 23, 2019 10:00:00 AM

In a previous blog post, I discussed the energy benchmarking service we currently perform for a healthcare network using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager (ESPM) tool. This tool is used to monitor the energy usage of a building over time. It allows a user to set energy goals, compare the overall energy use intensity (EUI) to a baseline year, and compare the building in question to other buildings with similar use-types and characteristics. In addition to continuing this specific service for the healthcare network, Cx Associates uses the benefits of benchmarking in other areas of our work too. This blog post will discuss what other areas of our work utilize benchmarking and then provide a brief update on changes ESPM has made to their scoring metrics over the past year.

8 min read

A Long Wind on Long Tailpipes

By Rick Stehmeyer on Jul 31, 2019 10:00:00 AM

My wife and I have committed to no longer buying combustion engines of any type. This commitment is not easy. It’s not fun either. It is, however, getting easier as time goes on. A recent challenge we faced with this commitment occurred when we realized we needed a new lawn mower. Just try buying an electric lawn mower – not only are their price tags still very much above that of their gasoline-loving counterparts, but you may also pay a hefty price arguing with your spouse about it.

4 min read

Resiliency in the Future Workforce: What Traits Will We Need?

By Eveline Killian on Jul 17, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Recently, I have been contemplating the impact of our college teaching styles on the future of our workforce. With technologies and global needs changing so rapidly, what should undergraduate programs[1] foster to prepare graduates for the future needs of the workforce? On a professional level, this has been instigated by our company’s recent search for new employees. On a personal level it comes from being the parent of three young adults who will be entering the workforce in the coming years, as well as discussions with two of my siblings who are college educators.

3 min read

Occupant Based Controls for Energy Savings

By Daniel Tuhus-Dubrow on Jul 3, 2019 10:00:00 AM

I recently attended the Performance Evaluation Methodology for Building Occupancy Sensing Systems for HVAC Controls workshop, which followed the annual ASHRAE conference that just wrapped up in Kansas City, MO. The workshop focused on one of ARPA-E’s[1] research programs called SENSOR (Saving Energy Nationwide in Structures with Occupancy Recognition)[2], and brought together a diverse group of individuals, including researchers from national labs and universities, industry representatives, design engineers, and other interested parties.

2 min read

Do Sweat the Small Stuff: Seemingly Small Issues Can Wreak Havoc in Buildings

By Walker Calderwood on Jun 19, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Sometimes certain parts of the commissioning and retrocommissioning process can seem trivial to both the contractor and the commissioning agent. Of course, the process involves some important and significant checks, such as ensuring the piping design detail matches the as-built piping, and that the specified ductwork sizes match the as-built ductwork size. But the commissioning process also deals with some of the finer details that may not seem as consequential or that have already been checked by multiple parties. So, why would the commissioning agent also need to check it again? In this post I am providing a couple examples of real-world commissioning issues that we’ve found. Each is an excellent reminder of why the seemingly minor commissioning verification steps are still required and important, even though they may seem inconsequential.

4 min read

Housing Density, Liberal Ideals, and Nimby-ism

By Eric Hauser on Jun 5, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Farhad Manjoo’s piece in the New York Times caught my eye recently and struck a chord. It describes the awful wealth gap that is increasing, seemingly by the day, with each newly minted tech billionaire in the San Francisco Bay Area. He reports that despite the fact that “the annual household income necessary to buy a median-priced home [in San Francisco] now tops $320,000,” California lawmakers recently killed Senate Bill 50, which would have undone zoning restrictions in the state. Changing these zoning restrictions would make it possible for more dense housing to be built, thereby increasing the supply and providing some relief to the non-billionaires in California.

4 min read

A Change in Career to Tackle Change in the Climate

By Krystina Kattermann on Apr 3, 2019 12:00:00 PM

As someone very new to the engineering world, I’ve learned a lot in the last few months about the impact that engineers can have on climate change. I came to Cx Associates and the world of commissioning in a rather round-about way. My background is in molecular genetics, specifically lung cancer research, but when I moved to Burlington this past summer, I decided to pivot in my career path. I’d found myself desiring more and more to move into a field that was doing some good for the world. I know, I know, many would say “Hey! Cancer research is good for the world!,” and I certainly don’t deny that, but what good is finding new cancer treatments if there isn’t a planet that can viably support the patients those treatments would be for? As I’m sure many of you heard or read in the news some months ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2018 Climate Report showed that “global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate” (something some climate scientists have argued is a conservative estimate). This will have devastating effects on people’s lives, and not only in poorer nations of the world – the Fourth National Climate Assessment released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in November 2018 predicts U.S. economic losses due to climate change in 2090 as $280-$500 billion/year. These reports cemented my feelings in the weeks and months after I began at CxA, but I had already felt myself pulled towards the idea of working for a company or organization that was doing solid, on the ground work to combat climate change. I did not expect that pull to land me at a consulting engineering firm.

4 min read

Forgoing Band-Aids: Approaching and Fixing Building Issues Holistically

By Daniel Tuhus-Dubrow on Feb 27, 2019 12:00:00 PM

When people ask me what I do for work, I generally tell them I’m a building systems engineer, with a big focus on making facilities more energy efficient and comfortable for occupants. One common part of my job entails going to a building to perform an energy audit or assessment. During these visits, we follow the same straightforward outline:

  1. Walk through the site
  2. Inventory all energy-related equipment including lighting, mechanical systems, building envelope, etc.
  3. Speak with the building operator about how they run the building
  4. Ask the building owner, occupants, and operator about and any issues or concerns they have regarding maintenance, equipment that is not working properly, or comfort problems.
Through these visits, we produce a report that documents not only the existing building systems, but recommendations on equipment upgrades or operational changes that can be made to save energy or improve comfort. We also provide quantification of energy and cost savings for each identified opportunity so that the building owner knows how much of a bang they get for their buck.

3 min read

Retrocommissioning 2.0

By Jennifer Chiodo on Feb 6, 2019 12:30:00 PM

Retrocommissioning (RCx) or Existing Building Commissioning refer to a technical process that retrofits and tunes building HVAC control systems so that buildings function more efficiently and effectively. The RCx process has historically included three primary phases: Planning, Investigation, and Implementation.

2 min read

Snowflakes...and Energy Savings

By Rick Stehmeyer on Dec 26, 2018 1:29:00 PM

Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley was born in my home town of Jericho, VT in 1865.  The town is situated in Vermont in a unique way that allows for a lot of annual snow (by Vermont standards).  Not only does Jericho get a lot of snow, but we also seem to be situated in such a way that we get perfect snowflakes that don’t clump together.  This is what allowed Mr. Bentley to become one of the first known snowflake photographers. He invented his own way of catching flakes using black velvet so they wouldn’t melt or evaporate before he could snap a picture of them. 

4 min read

Retrocommissioning - Looking Back to Move Forward

By Tate Colbert on Nov 28, 2018 12:00:00 PM

As the newest engineer to join the Cx Associates team, I have had the immense pleasure to be able to approach buildings from a different angle than in my previous work experience. In my former work as a mechanical design engineer, the focus was on current building technologies and keeping up with the most cutting-edge designs for our systems and buildings. Don’t get me wrong, looking to the future of efficient building technologies is tremendously important, but as someone who is concerned about the current state of the environment and ensuring there’s a habitable world for generations of living things to come, I found it hard to believe that new buildings alone are capable of being more than a small drop in a big bucket. After all, there are only a small number of new buildings built each year compared to the vast existing building stock. A quick look at the numbers from the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) will tell you that of the total data set, only about 18% of commercial buildings were built in the most recent 12 years surveyed. (https://www.eia.gov/consumption/commercial/data/2012/bc/cfm/b8.php)

6 min read

My Life as a Remote Employee: Part II

By Eric Hauser on Nov 7, 2018 10:00:00 AM

Last week in part I of this post, I discussed the advantages of companies allowing some workers to work remotely, and what my transition to a remote worker was like. In this week’s follow up post, I’ll get a little more into the logistics of working remotely and flag some recommended practices and tools that have worked well for us.

3 min read

My Life as a Remote Employee: Part I

By Eric Hauser on Oct 31, 2018 10:00:00 AM

In 2014, due to life and professional circumstances unrelated to my job as Operations Manager at Cx Associates, my wife and I relocated from Burlington, Vermont to Chicago, Illinois. Having worked for Cx Associates since 2009, I was reluctant to leave behind my job – I was happy there, the people I worked with were fantastic, and the work was meaningful and interesting. Luckily for me, when I approached the owners about the possibility of continuing to work remotely for CxA from Chicago, they agreed to let me stay on. I was ecstatic!

4 min read

The Unique Needs of Operating Room Upgrades: A Project Manager's Perspective

By Katie Mason on Oct 17, 2018 12:00:00 PM

Space upgrades are necessary to ensure that older buildings remain safe, functional, and cutting-edge for the users. As part of my role as an owner’s project manager for a large hospital, one of my recent projects has been upgrading the finishes of several operating rooms. This post discusses the coordination and construction effort involved for such a project, as well as some potential challenges.

3 min read

OPR: The Underappreciated Path to Success

By Jennifer Chiodo on Oct 10, 2018 12:00:00 PM

 

I looked back through our blog history and realized I have never written about the importance of a lovely little document called the Owner’s Project Requirements, or OPR for short.  An OPR is created through collaboration with many involved parties; it synergizes everyone’s ideas into one goal-focused document. At Cx Associates we are such believers in defining the goals and criteria for project success that we often develop OPRs even for internal business improvements to help focus and guide the process.  

5 min read

Keeping Cool in the Modern Era: R-22 to R-407C

By Tate Colbert on Sep 26, 2018 12:30:00 PM

The best time is now to replace an old R-22 refrigerant system with an environmentally-friendly alternative.

For better or for worse, we no longer live in the days of hairspray. Our ’do’s style may have suffered slightly, but our environment has benefited greatly. When the Montreal Protocol was signed by the United States in 1987, it set a goal of reducing emissions of ozone depleting chemicals, and it has experienced some success…I hope you all celebrated World Ozone Day this month on September 16th! Many people may be blissfully ignorant of the changes to their aerosol products in the last 30 years thanks to the Montreal Protocol, but in the HVAC/R industry, we’re continually aware.

3 min read

Why Design Review Is Crucial

By Thomas Anderson on Aug 29, 2018 10:00:00 AM

We often hear a question that goes something like this from building owners: “Why do I need an independent design review? I hire the best architects and engineers.” It’s a reasonable question — asked so often in my opinion because those of us in the architecture, engineering and construction industries have done such a poor job answering.

4 min read

The Case for Small, Local Engineering Firms

By Jennifer Chiodo on Jul 26, 2018 4:29:30 PM

My business partner, Matt Napolitan, and I each spent 10 years working at major, international engineering firms. I worked for Syska Hennessy Group (11th nationally ranked) in their San Francisco office and Matt worked for Buro Happold (14th nationally ranked) out of their New York office. We now operate a 12-person engineering consulting firm in Burlington, Vermont. We know both large, big-city engineering and local, Vermont engineering.

4 min read

Project Management Basics – Five Rules for Successful Additional Service Requests

By Jennifer Chiodo on Jul 19, 2018 3:31:59 PM

The first project that I managed as a young engineer was a tenant fit-up for a high-rise building in San Francisco.  Through a variety of random events, as a 22-year-old electrical engineer, I became the project manager as well as the project engineer for over 30 floors of mechanical, electrical and plumbing design for an oil company building out of its new west-coast headquarters.  Early on, I recognized that our fees were based on a limited scope of work and, as the client changed what they wanted in the space, I needed to make a case for the additional effort necessary to provide the services needed for the fit-up.  In some cases, it’s obvious when a project exceeds the contracted scope of work; for instance, the client added a large data center that required a code variance (another blog topic perhaps).

11 min read

Optimal Start/Stop and You’re Done, Right?

By Rick Stehmeyer on Jun 27, 2018 4:26:01 PM

Optimal start/stop (OSS) is available as an out-of-the-box function in almost every HVAC building automation system sold on the commercial market today.  Folks toss the term around with a very loose understanding of what it means.  PID controls suffer the same dilemma.  When you ask any industry professional to define OSS, you’ll get this generic and common response (Figure 1):

4 min read

Using Energy Metering to Verify Your Building's Performance

By Katie Mason on Jun 20, 2018 5:37:50 PM

Today there are a multitude of energy metering devices (e.g. data loggers) available to enable the analysis of building systems functionality. There are many different types of data loggers, each with a different purpose. To get the most from your building using energy metering, you need to narrow your options with your overall goals in mind. Before we install meters on a system, whether it’s an electrical system, HVAC system, or domestic hot water system, we must first determine what type of data we need and what the data will be used for. With this information, we put together a metering plan that will produce the data necessary for the analysis. I am going to provide two specific examples of systems/equipment we metered, including why we were performing the metering, how we did it (what types of meters), and what the findings were. Both of these examples showed the equipment being metered was not working as intended.

8 min read

Introduction to Dynamic Lighting Systems

By Gretchen Schimelpfenig on Jun 7, 2018 10:16:57 AM

In the mid-20th century, the lighting industry made major leaps forward with the evolution of dimming technology, which allowed users to control light levels. Today, modern lighting fixtures are equipped with digital controllers that provide many new capabilities that go far beyond basic dimming, including warm dimming, color-tunable, and color changing lighting options. Why and when might owners select these systems? How can engineers design them? And how can commissioning agents functionally test the equipment?

3 min read

Using Market Smarts to Enhance Energy Efficiency Program Evaluation

By Jennifer Chiodo on May 30, 2018 2:30:00 PM

Generating Market Demand

The purpose of energy efficiency programs is to cost effectively generate market demand for energy efficiency that would not be achieved without market intervention. An energy efficiency process evaluation investigates the effectiveness of programmatic interventions through qualitative and quantitative analysis. Marrying the analytical engineering-based approach of impact evaluation with the typically more social science orientation of traditional process evaluation can generate useful, actionable results to help program administrators improve market interventions to increase participation, depth of savings, and market transformation.
10 min read

Quantifying Benefits of Passive Solar Heating Technology

By Gretchen Schimelpfenig on May 23, 2018 10:42:34 AM

For eons, humans have used thick, thermally massive walls to store the heat of the day and to warm their homes at night. Due to America’s persistent dependence on fossil fuels, passive solar walls enjoyed brief mainstream popularity during the fuel crises of the mid-20th century, and residences across the country benefited from reliable, renewable heat. As gas prices declined, so did homeowner and developer enthusiasm for these low-energy systems. As we face a massive climate change calamity and most residential heating systems today are still served by volatile fossil fuels, it is time we revisit and incorporate passive solar technologies into our new buildings and renovations.

5 min read

Is Electrification of Space Heating a Positive Step?

By Eveline Killian on May 16, 2018 11:30:00 AM

When I started in the energy efficiency profession 20 years ago, the object of my job was to reduce electric demand on the grid. This was to be accomplished through energy efficiency and a strong emphasis to fuel switch equipment from electric to fossil fuels (specifically electric heat to natural gas or oil heat). At the point of use (our building), traditional electric heat is 100% efficient, meaning 100% of the electricity within our building is transferred into heat within our building. But the electric generation (at the power plant), and the transmission, and distribution process makes the entire process about 30% efficient. This means an oil or natural gas heating system, operating at approximately 80% efficiency at point of use, is inherently more efficient than traditional electric heat given the current electric grid generation mix. Heat pumps, however, have changed this calculation, with heating efficiencies of over 300%. Thus, the world is changing back to electric heat through heat pumps (refer to Gretchen’s blog from February 2017, Heat Pumps Catered to Colder Climates; Will Increased U.S. Adoption Continue?). Is this a good thing? ‘Experts’ seem to agree that it is, but I have been curious to do this calculation myself as adding electric load to the grid goes against my deep-rooted mindset.

3 min read

The Importance of the Project Coordinator Role in Building Commissioning

By Rachael Straub on May 9, 2018 9:50:00 AM

The title of Project Coordinator, as well as Project Manager, is ubiquitous in most industries, but also rife with preconceptions that stem from an individual firm or team’s experience with the role. I was hired at Cx Associates as a Project Coordinator, filling a position that had existed before my arrival. My role was 1/3 Project Coordinator and 2/3 administrative support for at least a year. As a Project Coordinator, I learned how to coordinate measurement and verification of incentivized energy efficiency projects, among other things.

3 min read

Earth Week - It's Not Enough

By Jennifer Chiodo on Apr 25, 2018 10:00:00 AM

First, let me acknowledge that my own life is harming the planet on which we live. I drive a car, I buy stuff packaged in plastic, I have pets – all things that I know to have a negative impact on the planet that sustains me, my family, my friends, and everyone else.

6 min read

Measuring the Openness of the Building Automation System Industry

By Rick Stehmeyer on Apr 18, 2018 2:25:00 PM

The floor was packed with a bustling crowd, filled with people from every branch of the Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) industry. They were making contacts, meeting friends, and checking out the latest and greatest technologies. There were young professionals eager to experience what the industry has to offer. They were seeing the current state of the art but also thinking about the future as they pass vendors strutting their stuff. Everywhere you looked, there were folks dressed smartly, representing their products with a smile and a handshake. Everyone was boasting about their latest tech, itching to perform the ritual tchotchke handoff in the hopes that someone will remember their product and give them a call after the dust settles. All of this was housed at a convention center so large it has its own bus port and ceilings so high they make your local Walmart superstore look like a tent at a county fair.

4 min read

Rack-Mounted Load Banks for Data Center Load Testing

By Ben Fowler on Apr 11, 2018 3:04:41 PM

Commissioning of mission-critical data center systems is essential to ensure highest system availability through different phases of operation – at the outset of operations, down the road at full system buildout, and, later, when systems begin to age.

3 min read

Energy Management: Turning Vision into Action

By Eveline Killian on Apr 4, 2018 1:07:00 PM

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.

I received an email with this tag line and it struck me as profound. A business cannot operate efficiently and effectively without a clear vision of its future and a road map of the steps to obtaining that vision. A business owner must constantly ask: what aspects of the business are going to change, how are they going to change, and what is going to stay the same? Am I riding on top of the wave that is my business paradigm, or am I getting toppled over by the wave and left behind?

6 min read

The Right Light for Your Building: Designing and Commissioning Wireless Lighting Controls Systems 

By Gretchen Schimelpfenig on Mar 28, 2018 3:21:54 PM

Lighting control systems have become more ubiquitous in recent years. Whereas five years ago, sophisticated lighting control schemes were the realm of a few performance venues, nowadays your neighborhood grocery store uses wireless lighting controls that can be complex to calibrate and require attention to detail from design through to occupancy. Commissioning is vital to ensuring that installed equipment operates as designed and provides adequate light levels and indoor environmental quality, and user controls function as intended.

3 min read

Israel: A Country Reaching for Sustainable Solutions

By Katie Mason on Mar 22, 2018 3:59:10 PM

I recently returned from a fascinating trip to Israel. My trip covered a large portion of the country, which is a little larger than New Jersey. Being able to drive to different areas gave me the opportunity to take in all the amazing features in both rural and urban settings. Although traveling for pleasure, this trip turned into a captivating educational experience. In addition to the history lesson, I learned about Israel’s approach to remaining sustainably sound, even in a desert climate. There are many technologies and processes used in other countries that originated in Israel. This blog post will discuss several of the sustainability challenges Israel faces and how the country has conquered these challenges, including some of the technologies that came out of these adversities.

5 min read

Who is Responsible for Low Energy Code Requirements for Lighting?

By Jennifer Chiodo on Mar 14, 2018 2:00:00 PM

I have repeatedly blogged about my concerns with the current and future energy codes because the codes are not keeping up with technology for lighting efficiency (see my previous blog posts titled “Why are Lighting Energy Standards Decreasing” and “More Issues with the Energy Code – Lighting is Running Rampant”).  The graphs below, developed by our friends at Optimal Energy, show some comparisons of Department of Energy (DOE) predicted efficacies for lighting technologies and the efficacy needed to meet code for some common space types.

4 min read

The Case for Monitoring Outside Air Flow in Hospitals

By Walker Calderwood on Mar 7, 2018 10:05:00 AM

It can often be an afterthought as to how much outdoor air (OA) is actually being drawn into a hospital through air handling equipment, but maintaining proper outdoor air volume is a vital part of achieving effective infection control, as well as meeting space pressurization requirements.  Proper OA volumes are also a metric that can be reviewed for non-compliance during Joint Commission audits.  The amount of outside air that a hospital’s air handling equipment should introduce into the building is defined by the ASHRAE Standard 170, which was discussed in one of our previous blog posts, Optimizing Air Handling Units for Healthcare. As we pointed out in this prior post, an airflow station, when properly selected and installed,  is an effective piece of hardware which can be used to monitor this outside air quantity (typically in cubic feet per minute), and the data provided by this meter can be very useful in a healthcare setting.

3 min read

Better Buildings by Design 2018: A Commissioning Agent's Experience

By Daniel Tuhus-Dubrow on Feb 28, 2018 3:47:18 PM

The Better Buildings by Design conference took place a couple of weeks ago here in Vermont. The two-day conference brings together contractors, utility representatives, architects, engineers, and other energy professionals to discuss energy efficiency, durability, and operations and maintenance for residential and commercial buildings. It included sessions across multiple subject tracks, workshops, and a trade floor with many exhibitors, and offered a great opportunity for learning about new developments in the field and networking with fellow energy nerds. Cx Associates had a strong attendance at the conference, with several of us presenting in multiple sessions. 

3 min read

Building Retrofits: The Retrocommissioning Approach

By Jennifer Chiodo on Feb 21, 2018 1:28:36 PM

If you're the owner or manager of an older commercial building, you may wonder if retrocommissioning is right for your building retrofit. You are not alone.

4 min read

Open the Mines! Let’s Start the Dig for Data and Improve Building Performance.

By Rick Stehmeyer on Feb 14, 2018 10:23:00 AM

Despite the fog’s best efforts (diverting my schedule three hours by car outside of Chicago), I  made it to the 2018  ASHRAE Expo . For those who don’t know what the ASHRAE Expo is, you can think of it like a  Comic-Con, but for Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC). There is a huge exposition where products are shown off and the latest in energy efficiency technology is pandered off in a bazaar filled with old friends from across this global industry.

I attended six talks, a few open panel discussions, an ASHRAE GPC36 Committee meeting, and topped the days off by making new friends and “nerding out” over HVAC. I chose to attend panels and presentations that had to do with controls, integration, and grid management because that’s where I believe we can easily continue to chip away at excessive energy consumption due to poorly controlled building HVAC systems.

5 min read

2018 Resolutions: Goals for the Building Commissioning Industry

By Gretchen Schimelpfenig on Feb 7, 2018 11:15:00 AM

Forty years ago, the practice of commissioning systems to ensure buildings deliver functionality and comfort for owners and users originated in Canada. Twelve years later, ASHRAE debuted Guideline 1 for the commissioning (Cx) process. For twenty years, the U.S. Green Building Council has included commissioning in LEED documentation, and in 2014, LEED v4 was released, requiring fundamental Cx, including design review, for all new construction projects seeking certification.

4 min read

Impressions of Colombia: Farming, Fair Trade, and the FARC Peace Treaty

By Eveline Killian on Jan 24, 2018 1:30:00 AM

I recently had the privilege to travel to Colombia with Engineers Without Borders to assess the needs and resources for an irrigation project for family farms.  Colombia is very well suited for coffee and sugar cane, but the dry season is too harsh for more sensitive plants like basil, lettuce, spinach, and peppers.  For this, farmers need drip irrigation, water catchment, water reservoir, and water diversion.  Our group’s goal is to develop an affordable, sustainable, and replicable design as a pilot project for ten farmers in central Colombia.  We are working with Food 4 Farmers, an international non-governmental organization (NGO), Nueva Realidad, a Bogota based NGO, and Nuevo Futuro, the local coffee cooperative.  We knew what our goal was before we started, but we had no idea what to expect from the trip.  Here are our impressions of the country with which our team returned.

3 min read

Using Opposite Season Testing to Protect the Integrity of Your HVAC System

By Ben Fowler on Jan 17, 2018 9:07:00 AM

During this recent cold-snap in the northeast, you can be sure that HVAC contractors were some of the busiest people around. Inevitably, when outdoor temperatures reach what are called “design-day” conditions, (the days with the highest expected heating or cooling loads a building can experience for its local climatic conditions), HVAC systems are put to the test. It is not uncommon for problems that are not obvious at lower temperatures to suddenly arise - sometimes leading to system outages, frozen pipes, and worse - exactly when you need your HVAC system the most.

2 min read

Retaining Energy Savings, and Snowflakes

By Rick Stehmeyer on Dec 29, 2017 4:40:00 PM

Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley was born in my home town of Jericho VT in 1865.  My town is situated in Vermont in a unique way that allows for a lot of annual snow (by Vermont standards).  Not only does Jericho get a lot of snow, but we also seem to be situated in such a way that we get perfect snowflakes that don’t clump together.  This is what allowed Mr. Bentley to become one of the first known photographers of snowflakes. He invented his own way of catching flakes using black velvet, so they wouldn’t melt or evaporate before he could get a picture of them. 

5 min read

The Role of Commissioning for Industrialized Construction Projects

By Gretchen Schimelpfenig on Dec 6, 2017 2:52:00 PM

As buildings become increasingly complex and codes require more verification of performance, commissioning is as valuable as ever. “Savvy building owners recognize the gaps in the current design and construction process and the impact they have on the ability to achieve increasingly higher performance requirements” said Ryan Corker of the National Institute of Building Sciences in a November 2017 roundtable for the ASHRAE Journal. The Journal Editor asks: “Why is commissioning necessary if we have professionals designing buildings…shouldn’t everything just work correctly?”

2 min read

The Role of Thermal Energy Storage in Electric Grid Management

By Daniel Tuhus-Dubrow on Nov 29, 2017 10:00:00 AM

I spend most of my time focused on improving energy efficiency in buildings. Common recommendations include improving scheduling so that equipment doesn’t run continuously 24/7 or implementing lighting controls so that lights automatically turn off when nobody is in the space. These types of measures can significantly reduce electricity consumption but may have little impact on the building peak demand, let alone the grid peak demand.

5 min read

The Business Case for Health Care Reform in the United States

By Rachael Straub on Nov 15, 2017 12:32:00 PM

While this is off the topic of energy efficiency and optimized building functionality, it’s relevant to sustainability, specifically the long-term health of businesses and the people they employ. The United States’ health care system is in crisis. As a nation, we spend over twice the amount on health care than other developed countries, but rank last in terms of health care outcomes, such as equity, efficiency, and mortality rates (see: How Bad is U.S. Health Care?). As the cost of health care rises, the financial hardship of staying well not only burdens those who need help the most – the sick and the poor – but also those businesses committed to providing health care to their employees.

5 min read

Can We Transition to Renewable Energy Systems without Government Support?

By Eveline Killian on Nov 9, 2017 10:00:00 AM

According to various studies, the United States is beating its energy reduction and renewable energy production goals beyond any federal predications.  Total energy consumption in 2016 was 17% lower than expected, wind power production was 79% higher, and solar production was 383% higher than the United States Department of Energy predicted in a February 2007 report, as stated in the October 5, 2017 Statista Portal.  In addition, a 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report finds that 45% of the 1.9 million workers in the Electric Power Generation and Fuels technologies are in the low-carbon emission generation technologies (renewables, nuclear, and advanced/low emission natural gas).

4 min read

Designing Buildings for Resiliency To Accommodate Power Failures

By Jennifer Chiodo on Nov 1, 2017 10:00:00 AM

I’m writing this blog from the floor of the Andover Public Library in Andover, MA. After a major windstorm, power is out all over New England and people are scurrying for the few available power outlets and sources of internet.

2 min read

How to Tell When It’s Time to Start The Retrocommissioning Process

By Walker Calderwood on Oct 4, 2017 10:00:00 AM

There have been many blog posts by Cx Associates’ staff on the benefits of retrocommissioning (RCx), or the best way to begin the RCx process, and even posts on how to increase RCx adoption through efficiency programs.  All of these are great posts and I encourage reading them to gain a better knowledge of RCx.  Even though many buildings can benefit from RCx, there are some buildings that are actually not good candidates for it. So how do you know if your building is a good candidate for RCx?  In this post I am going to give some examples that building owners, operators, and occupants can use to identify whether their facility can benefit from RCx, and determine when it is time to start the RCx process.

5 min read

Designing a High-Performance Building for Antarctic Conditions

By Gretchen Schimelpfenig on Sep 20, 2017 10:43:22 AM

The process of designing and constructing a highly efficient, comfortable, and healthy building is challenging enough when the site is in the United States; that becomes a much more difficult endeavor when the site is on the most remote and coldest place on Earth. The design team for the new McMurdo Station in Antarctica approaches the problem with a holistic mindset centered around stewardship.

3 min read

No Touch Energy Audits Can Reduce Cost & Increase Granularity of Data

By Daniel Tuhus-Dubrow on Aug 30, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Recently, I’ve been getting excited about so-called “no touch” energy audits, which employ meter data analytics to assess a building’s energy performance and even make specific recommendations regarding potential improvements, all without requiring the (expensive) “boots on the ground” of a traditional energy audit. This idea has been getting a lot of attention over the past few years as the increasing availability of 15-minute electric interval data has met with the “big data” revolution. In this post, I’m going to take a quick walk through various analysis techniques, moving from coarser to finer granularity.

4 min read

ASHRAE Guideline 36: Benefits of Real World Implementation

By Rick Stehmeyer on Aug 23, 2017 2:00:00 PM

Back in 2015 I wrote a blog post about ASHRAE Guideline 36 - High Performance Sequences of Operation for HVAC Systems.  I referenced a spec my team at Cx Associates wrote for a BAS controls upgrade.  Now in 2017, that spec, and the sequences contained therein, have been made into a fully functional BAS controlling 14 air handlers (AHUs), over 90 variable air volume boxes, and the central plant that serves them.  Our firm artfully adapted the sequences to meet the needs of the building owner and the function of the building (healthcare) without sacrificing the high degree of complexity which yields the energy savings building automation systems have been promising for decades.  After working on this project from specs to implementation, I can confidently say that Guideline 36 can deliver a reduction in energy consumption and improved comfort.  The cost (excluding the norms of engineering labor, BAS reprogramming, and commissioning) is primarily paid through raising all ships.  Let me explain.

3 min read

Quantifying Our Firm’s Carbon Footprint – Where to Start?

By Rachael Straub on Aug 16, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Early this year, Cx Associates and the Vermont Green Businesses Network (VGBN) were awarded the Burlington 2030 District Director contract. Cities and towns that become an established 2030 District commit to the Architecture 2030 Challenge, which requires all new buildings, developments, and major renovations to be carbon-neutral by 2030. Cx Associates and VGBN, as the Burlington 2030 District Director, are tasked with developing a roadmap for the newly established Burlington District and assisting it to become self-sufficient.

5 min read

Understanding Electronically Commutated Motors

By Eveline Killian on Aug 2, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Although electronically commutated motors (ECMs) are specified in efficient buildings, and energy efficiency programs provide incentives for their installation, I only had a cursory understanding of the difference between this technology and traditional shaded pole or permanent split capacitor type motors.  What makes ECMs more efficient?

2 min read

An Energy Efficiency Horoscope

By Jennifer Chiodo on Jul 26, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Imagining an energy efficiency horoscope for three of its most promising players …

3 min read

Magnetic Bearing Chillers - Proven Efficiency and Reliability

By Eveline Killian on Jul 19, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Office building cooling energy in the United States accounts for 7.4% of this country’s total commercial energy consumption, and chillers alone provide 31.9% of this space cooling. (The largest provider of space cooling is packaged rooftop units, which account for over 51%[1].) So, when an improved technology is proven to be successful, it’s worth the time to explore its merits.  And so, it is with magnetic bearing centrifugal chillers.

3 min read

The Importance of Functional Performance Testing BAS Outputs

By Walker Calderwood on Jul 12, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Previous blog posts from my colleagues and I contain a detailed explanation of functional performance testing (FPT), an overview of how functional performance tests are created, and specific examples of how conducting FPT contributes to better building performance and energy savings.  In this post I would like to expand upon the previous post “Functional Performance Testing Done Right: Details Matter.”

4 min read

CleanMed Conference Report

By Katie Mason on Jul 6, 2017 10:00:00 AM

I recently attended the CleanMed Conference and Exposition in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This event, organized by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth, “has gained a global reputation as the premier conference on environmental sustainability in the health care sector.”[1] This blog post will discuss the conference content as well as a few key points from several of the workshops I attended.  

4 min read

High Performance Neighborhoods: Sustainable Water Use

By Gretchen Schimelpfenig on Jun 28, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Earlier this month, the New England chapter of the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Committee on the Environment held their annual leadership summit in Burlington, Vermont. As the keynote speaker, Clark Brockman – principal at SERA Architects and a leader in his field – delivered a presentation on district scale solutions for net zero energy and water in communities.

2 min read

Acting Locally After Paris Accord Withdrawal

By Daniel Tuhus-Dubrow on Jun 21, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Following the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement and the abdication of responsibility at the federal level to address climate change, the action now moves to states, municipalities, businesses and individuals. Fortunately, there are a lot of exciting things happening right now in these arenas, which could go a long way toward filling the current leadership vacuum. This post will survey some of the efforts underway, with a focus on initiatives aimed at improving energy efficiency in buildings.

6 min read

The Advantages of Publicly Accessible Controls Documentation

By Rick Stehmeyer on Jun 14, 2017 11:00:00 AM

Commissioning agents do a large amount of review of other people’s work and products.  The building commissioning (Cx) process is a quality-assurance process for verifying and documenting that the performance of facilities, systems, and assemblies meet defined objective criteria[1].  Therefore, to verify facilities and systems, I need access to a product’s technical documentation.  In the commercial building space, almost all documentation is online and readily available via a quick Google search.  Notice that I said almost.

5 min read

Adapting to Climate Change: Why Do It, and How to Begin?

By Rachael Straub on Jun 7, 2017 10:00:00 AM

I appreciate NASA’s Global Climate Change website as a resource for scientific evidence of the existence of human-made climate change (https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/). The facts are simple, such as the rate of global sea level rise during the last two decades being nearly double that of the last century. Of course, the most telling fact is that the planet's average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the beginning of global temperature record keeping (around 1890). Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. Essentially every year is warmer than the year before and is the warmest year on record. That is, until the next year.

3 min read

The Emerging Business Model of Energy-as-a-Service (EaaS)

By Eveline Killian on May 24, 2017 10:00:00 AM

I recently read an article about an emerging business model, Energy-as-a-Service (EaaS), which is a deviation from traditional power purchase agreements (PPAs) and Energy Management services.  In its basic form, “energy as a service” is the idea that an outside service company guarantees a building’s future energy costs.  If the building uses more energy than predicted, the service company is responsible for the difference.  But if the building uses less energy than contracted, the service company profits.  From the building owner’s perspective, it’s a way to manage overhead electricity costs that fluctuate by time-of-day rates and demand peaks, and fossil fuel costs that fluctuate throughout the year. For the service company, it is a way to be creative in energy supply and management, and an incentive for efficiency improvement.

4 min read

Special Considerations for Hospital Operating Room Upgrades

By Katie Mason on May 17, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Space upgrades are a necessity to ensure that older buildings remain safe, functional, and cutting-edge for the users. As part of my role as an owner’s project manager for a large hospital, one of my recent projects has been an upgrade to the finishes of several operating rooms. This post will discuss the coordination and construction effort involved for such a project, as well as some potential challenges.

4 min read

Community Engagement for Carbon Neutrality

By Gretchen Schimelpfenig on May 10, 2017 10:00:00 AM

On Samsø Island in Denmark, Søren Hermansen led a community of 3,724 to achieve their zero-carbon goals in ten years. Today, every person on the island has a negative carbon footprint. What can cities in Vermont learn from Danish methodologies of stakeholder engagement so they can reach their carbon reduction goals?

3 min read

Beyond Band-Aids: Approaching and Fixing Building Issues Holistically

By Daniel Tuhus-Dubrow on May 3, 2017 10:00:00 AM

When people ask me what I do for work, I generally tell them I’m a building systems engineer, with a big focus on making facilities more energy efficient and comfortable for occupants. One common task entails going on a building site visit to perform an energy audit or assessment. During these visits, we walk the site, inventory all energy-related equipment (including lighting, mechanical systems, building envelope, etc.) and speak with the building operator about how they run the building and any issues or concerns they have regarding maintenance, equipment that is not working properly, or comfort problems. The end result is typically a report documenting the existing building systems, with recommendations on equipment upgrades or operational changes that can be made to save energy or improve comfort. We also will provide quantification of energy and cost savings for each identified opportunity.

5 min read

Lighting Control Systems and the Double-Edged Sword

By Rick Stehmeyer on Apr 26, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Lighting control systems are making their way into new construction and are becoming as common place as HVAC controls.  Just like with many new building technologies, lighting control systems started small, and are now gaining more and more market penetration.  This is great news for those of us who work towards saving energy for building owners.  This new frontier of controls creates new challenges for those of us who work towards saving energy for building owners.  Why, you ask?

5 min read

Adaptability for Survival in a Changing Environment

By Rick Stehmeyer on Mar 31, 2017 8:30:00 AM

I recently finished Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.  I highly recommend this story which is a 1999 novel about 90s era computer hackers, World War II, and encryption.  It is both technically accurate, and gives a pretty good description for the 90s era hacker culture.  The book also gives the reader a good intro to encryption concepts.  However, why I am discussing it here is because one of the main characters, Bobby Shaftoe, brought to my attention the concept of people and their ability to adapt.  A person’s adaptability is important in my opinion - in life - but also in energy efficiency. 

3 min read

Implications of the Average Global Temperature Rising Two Degrees 

By Rachael Straub on Mar 22, 2017 10:00:00 AM

When people hear that scientists predict only a 2-4 degree rise in global temperatures due to global warming, they often shrug. That doesn’t sound too bad.  If a warm summer day is 85 degrees instead of 82, what’s the big deal? But a 2-4 degree rise in temperatures means much more than that, and it’s important to know what it means if we’re to understand why climate scientists call for an immediate reduction in carbon emissions world-wide.  

Topics: Public Policy
6 min read

Renewable Energy Generation in the United States

By Gretchen Schimelpfenig on Mar 15, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Renewable energy resources – including solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass (any organic non-fossil material of biological origin), ocean thermal, wave action, and tidal action – are becoming a larger part of the American energy portfolio.

3 min read

Dangers of TMY3 Data in an Era of Changing Climates (Part 2)

By Jennifer Chiodo on Mar 8, 2017 12:00:00 PM

Hi, it’s me again – two blog posts in a row!  I still haven’t had the time to compile the full TMY3 comparison picture that I envisioned when I started this rant. (See my last post if you want to learn the TMY3 basics.)

3 min read

Is Typical Meteorological Data Relevant for Energy Analysis? (Part 1)

By Jennifer Chiodo on Mar 1, 2017 10:00:00 AM

When we undertake energy analysis for commercial building energy retrofits, retro-commissioning, and even new construction projects, we normalize the energy savings to try to reflect average savings over the life of the measures.  For measures like HVAC upgrades, savings are usually weather-dependent.  The industry has used Typical Meteorological Year (TMY) data as the basis for weather normalization.  These TMY data are generated by the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) and include actual weather data that is determined by NREL to be representative of typical weather over time for each month.

3 min read

Heat Pumps Catered to Colder Climates; Will Increased U.S. Adoption Continue?

By Gretchen Schimelpfenig on Feb 22, 2017 10:00:00 AM

The origin stories for heat pump technology are economic. Applying Lord Kelvin’s theory that disputed the concept that heat could only flow ‘downhill’, Peter von Rittinger turned an expensive wood-based salt processing enterprise into a money maker by using heat pumps to desiccate salt brine. In the 1970s during the oil embargo, modern heat pump sales increased by 500% as heating and cooling costs squeezed homeowners. The innovation of ductless heat pumps in Asia created an alternative to costly kerosene space heaters and PTAC units. The energy efficiency of heat pumps directly translates into financial savings; why does the U.S. market still pale in comparison to the rest of the globe (Figure 1)?

3 min read

Good Construction = Hard Commissioning

By Rick Stehmeyer on Feb 15, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Sometimes, acting as a commissioning authority day in and day out can weigh on you when you hit a streak of projects with dozens of issues that need correction.

3 min read

More Issues with the Energy Code – Lighting is Running Rampant

By Jennifer Chiodo on Jan 18, 2017 10:00:00 AM

I’ve been writing for a few years about the deficiencies in current energy codes regarding commercial and industrial (C&I) lighting efficiency requirements.  The problem isn’t fixed, even though I hear people decrying how the code is so stringent, they won’t be able to design buildings that exceed it. 

3 min read

Optimizing Air Handling Units for Healthcare

By Walker Calderwood on Jan 11, 2017 10:00:00 AM

As I discussed in a previous post, “Optimizing Air Handling Units for Energy Savings or Improved Comfort,” energy savings can be realized by adjusting the amount of outside air that is introduced to an air handling unit during normal operation.  In that article I referenced ASHRAE 62.1 to determine what the correct amount of outside air an air handling unit should mix with the return air stream.  This same principle applies to air handlers in healthcare, and in many cases, there is an even greater opportunity for savings in healthcare applications.

3 min read

Football Stadiums and Energy Efficiency. Fantasy?

By Katie Mason on Dec 21, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Given that we're solidly into football season, we thought it was a good time to revisit this post by Katie from last year about stadium energy efficiency. Enjoy.


Originally Posted November 12, 2015

After recently attending a New England Patriot’s football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, I was overwhelmed by the size of both the structure and the population density served during the four plus hours that the game is taking place. The relatively new Gillette Stadium is also a completely open configuration located in a cold climate. Unsurprisingly, my thoughts immediately turned to energy consumption and sustainability.

4 min read

Rethinking Server Room and Small Data Center Configurations

By Eveline Killian on Dec 14, 2016 10:00:00 AM

With the growth of the Internet and our undeniable dependence on electronic data, comes the reality that data centers are estimated to consume 1.5% of the total world power – and this continues to rise rapidly. Large data centers are certainly the drivers behind these numbers, but most small companies have server rooms or small data centers that, collectively, contribute to a significant portion of this country’s costs and environmental footprint. Outside the IT opportunities of virtualization and server consolidation, there are few things the facilities department and management of a business can do to reduce this overhead and environmental cost. But as with many things, if we all do a small part it will end up making a big difference.

3 min read

Winter Olympics 2050 — Dubai, UAE?

By Ben Fowler on Dec 8, 2016 10:00:00 AM

I originally posted this in 2014. But, with Killington recently hosting a World Cup race in November, and given how much they relied on artificial snow, it seemed appropriate to bubble it back up. Snowmaking can be an extremely energy-intensive activity. With fewer solidly snowy winters, can skiing be sustainable [PDF]?

-Ben

The 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia are located at one of the warmest locations in the history of the games. Setting aside for now the slow creep of a warming climate, Sochi, located at the eastern shores of the Black Sea, is a humid subtropical climate with an average winter temperature of around 50F during the day and still above freezing at night. In the higher elevations in the nearby Caucasus Mountains, where the events are taking place, daytime temperatures still average above freezing during the day. So, while it is a far better location for the actual “winter” portion of the games than the palm-tree-lined streets of the city of Sochi proper, it still is not the ideal location to host the Winter Games.

2 min read

LED Lighting as the Future of Demand Management

By Jennifer Chiodo on Nov 30, 2016 10:00:00 AM

I had hoped to share my recent sci-fi story about future decisions that might need to be made around a demand-constrained grid in the era of extreme heat waves and self-driving electric vehicles.  But, fiction is not the point of this blog.  If you want to receive a copy of the story, feel free to request it – we monitor comments.  In this post, I’ll discuss a little of the back-and-forth we’ve been having regarding the New England Grid [PDF] and demand constraints. 

3 min read

How Demand Limiting Can Help Control Energy Costs

By Walker Calderwood on Nov 23, 2016 10:00:00 AM

As a follow up to my previous blog post on peak shaving, this week I’m going to cover demand limiting.  This is another peak shaving strategy that we are also using on the project I mentioned in my last post.  Demand limiting is different than energy storage in that instead of using the same amount of energy from different sources than the grid to peak-shave, the amount of energy being used is limited to achieve the same peak shaving goal.  I would like to note that there is no reason these two strategies can’t be used together - we are actually using both strategies on a current project to achieve the customer’s peak shaving goals.

9 min read

RS-485– Part 3: Red Flags and How to Avoid Them

By Rick Stehmeyer on Nov 17, 2016 2:00:00 PM

Note: This is Part Three in a series of posts on RS-485. | Part 1 | Part 2

In part 1 and part 2 of this series on RS-485 we covered the basics.  Let’s take some of that knowledge and talk about what most often goes wrong with RS-485.  I want to give you the ability to red flag common mistakes and some knowledge that will help repair the most common issues.  I am going to take some of the knowledge we gained from the last two posts and put it into context for both existing RS-485 installations and new ones.   I’ll discuss this in the form of red flags that will trigger the discussion.

2 min read

ASHE Construction in Healthcare Workshop

By Katie Mason on Nov 10, 2016 12:00:00 PM

I recently attended the Health Care Construction (HCC) Certificate workshop in Seattle, Washington. This event, organized by ASHE (American Society for Healthcare Engineering) and WSSHE (Washington State Society for Healthcare Engineering), was directed towards contractors, facility managers and construction project managers in healthcare. ASHE offers many certifications, workshops and education opportunities for different audiences in healthcare. This post will discuss this workshop and a few points I found particularly important (there were many!). 

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HFC Refrigerants Are on the Way Out

By Ben Fowler on Nov 7, 2016 12:00:00 PM

An Amendment to the Montreal Protocol

Last month, representatives from over 170 nations gathered in Kigali, Rwanda to negotiate and ultimately agree to an amendment to the Montreal Protocol—the landmark international treaty, signed in the late 1980’s, which led to the phase-out of the manufacture and use of ozone-layer-depleting chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants (CFCs). The 2016 amendment focused on phasing out hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants (HFCs) which, while safer for the ozone-layer than CFCs, are themselves very powerful greenhouse gasses with far more global warming potential than CO2.

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Saving New York City from Rising Sea Levels

By Eveline Killian on Oct 26, 2016 12:00:00 PM

I fell asleep to a TED Talk while visiting New York City the other night, but a startling statement brought me back to consciousness.  New studies predict the oceans could rise by close to two meters (more than six feet) by the end of the century.  That’s double original estimates and only 83 years from now - in our kids’ or at least our grandkids’ lifetimes!

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Turning Big Data into Actionable Intelligence

By Jennifer Chiodo on Oct 12, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Energy efficiency program evaluation sounds so arcane, most people, I’m sure have no idea that there are large cohorts of people (cohort is a word we use frequently in evaluation) who spend their lives verifying the results, the savings, from energy efficiency programs.  Because energy efficiency program evaluation (evaluation hence forth in this blog) is outside the realm of day to day life, most of us are completely unaware it exists.  This post is about my vision for how evaluation and real life (in the commercial, institutional, industrial (C&I) building operations world in which I work) could intersect in ways that could make buildings, programs and evaluation better and lower costs for ratepayers. 

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Peak Shaving To Save Money on Your Facility’s Electric Bill

By Walker Calderwood on Oct 7, 2016 9:30:00 AM

On a current project that Cx Associates is consulting on, the client has a goal of reducing their building’s peak demand charge.  For commercial customers, peak demand charges are usually charged based on the peak kW demand of the building or facility during a certain time (e.g. 1-4 PM) of the day.    If there is a peak kW outside of this specific time frame, there is no “peak demand charge” from the utility for this peak kW.

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Ireland’s Energy Sources: How Green is the Emerald Isle?

By Katie Mason on Sep 28, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Inspired by a recent vacation to Ireland, I was compelled to research Ireland’s energy sources and what forms of renewable energy they are utilizing. Ireland is not a large country (slightly smaller than Indiana, geographically) and is not densely populated with the exception of a few cities. My vacation toured the southwest/western coast as well as Dublin on the east coast. In this blog post, I will discuss what I learned about Ireland’s energy sources and how the country is utilizing renewable energy.

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What is RS-485? – Part 2

By Rick Stehmeyer on Sep 21, 2016 10:01:00 AM

Note: This is Part Two in a series of posts on RS-485. | Part 1 | Part 3

In Part One One of this series of posts on RS-485, I gave a high level introduction to the structural and electrical components of RS-485 networks.  This week I’ll elaborate on those concepts and delve a little more deeply into some of the industry terminology and how it applies to those concepts.  As always, please feel free to drop a comment if you have any questions or want further discussion on any of this information.

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Impact of Energy Efficiency on the Electric Grid

By Eveline Killian on Sep 14, 2016 3:00:00 PM

For more than a decade, Vermont has been contributing energy efficiency to the New England electricity grid in the Forward Capacity Market (FCM).  As a consumer, whether business or residential customer, we think of efficiency improvements as a personal gain, reducing our overhead costs, improving our building’s performance and helping our own pocketbook. Seldom do we think about the impact of energy efficiency on the electric grid, where it actually has a trickle-up impact of our actions onto the bigger picture.  But energy efficiency is part of the “supply” for the grid, just like oil, natural gas, solar and other sources.  Ben Fowler’s post last month showed a graph of the Generation Fuel Mix of the Philadelphia electric utility.  What that doesn’t show is how much is taken off the grid by energy efficiency projects. States take this unrequired energy into account in planning of future energy and infrastructure needs. This has led to avoiding building or expanding substations, transmission lines, and power plants. 

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What Is RS-485? – Part 1

By Rick Stehmeyer on Sep 9, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Note: This is Part One in a series of posts on RS-485. | Part 2 | Part 3

What is RS-485 and what does it have to do with buildings or building controls?  If you’re asking this question either you’re just curious, or maybe something isn’t working quite right and you’re Googling to find an answer.  Either way, I plan on giving you a high level understanding of RS-485 in this post, and how having a better grip on how it works can help building operators and controls contractors control their building more effectively. 

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Applying Commercial AC Features to Residential for Cleaner Energy During Peak

By Ben Fowler on Aug 31, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Recently, I was down in Philadelphia visiting family. Being late August, it was 95°F out with a dew point in the low 70’s. Overwhelmingly hot was an understatement, but I do know these things are relative. The residential window air conditioning unit (or as we like to call them in the office, “window shaker” for I think obvious reasons) was running full-tilt and not keeping up. The compressor hadn’t paused for the over an hour. Meanwhile, PJM, the Independent System Operator (ISO) serving the large mid-Atlantic/Central US region including Philly was projecting a 142 gigawatt afternoon peak electric load, with more than 1/3 of this load met with “dirt burners,” more commonly known as coal power plants. See the table below for the generation fuel mix and real time and projected load stats. This kind of info is provided on all the ISOs I’ve checked, which is interesting for us energy geeks. Looking at the data, it made me think I should have just shut the thing off.

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Three Things to Check Before Deploying Energy Meters

By Walker Calderwood on Aug 24, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Metering equipment, such as light loggers, temperature loggers, and AC current loggers can be very useful tools and sometimes necessary in the world of energy efficiency consulting.  They can provide useful data on how equipment is operating and performing.  I have written about metering in previous blog posts including one called “EM&V Metering: Right Place, Right Time, Right Duration” where I described the importance of identifying the correct way of deploying meters.  In this post I am going to discuss the importance of verifying that meters or loggers are working correctly even before a metering plan is developed or the devices are deployed, as well as the importance of ensuring that the correct sensors are chosen for the application.

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Energy Burden is Just One Indicator of Inequality

By Jennifer Chiodo on Aug 17, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Many of the readers of the Building Energy Resilience blog may not know that when I started working in the field of energy efficiency, my focus was on multi-family housing serving people with low incomes.  ACEEE recently published this study on the income burden for low-income households.  The energy burden is the percent of income paid for energy.  It turns out that low-income households have two times the energy burden of the median household – paying over 7% of annual income in energy costs.

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Construction of the 2016 Rio Olympics

By Katie Mason on Aug 10, 2016 1:00:00 PM

While watching coverage of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, I started looking into what it took to create the venue which accommodates many of the events. Similar to every Olympic game, Rio had a short period of time to build the extravagant stadiums and the other venues required. In this post, I will discuss what it took to construct this venue and some challenges with this particular location. 

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Do Chilled Beams Save Energy Over VAV Systems?

By Eveline Killian on Aug 3, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Chilled beams have been common in European building HVAC systems for decades, but they are just getting popular in the U.S.  These units fit in a drop ceiling or can be hung flush to the ceiling and contain a chilled/hot water coil and, in the case of active beams, a duct bringing in ventilation air.

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BACnet vs LON – A Network Data Comparison

By Rick Stehmeyer on Jul 27, 2016 10:00:00 AM

If you’ve worked in the Building Automation Systems (BAS) industry, you’ve probably heard of LonWorks, BACnet, and Modbus.  These three open system networking technologies have been the foundation of most building automation systems over the last decade.  They allow devices from different manufacturers to communicate data without issue (most of the time) so that a building’s chiller, boiler, and pumps may all work together as one system to give a building owner an integrated system that enables a high level of functionality. 

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Bill Gates’ Environmental Math and Getting to Zero CO2

By Rick Stehmeyer on Jul 20, 2016 10:00:00 AM

I love simple concepts formulated using basic math.  And even though I love all mathematics, I’ll be the first to admit that my math skills could always be stronger, so I am always trying to learn. I guess that’s why the basic formulas for really complicated concepts really resonate with my inner nerd.  The Drake equation as a model for explaining the Fermi paradox is a wonderful example of these.  Recently Bill Gates released a short speculation on YouTube regarding energy and CO2.  This too really resonated with me as it’s an area where I see our industry really affecting change.

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Leveraging Building Automation Systems During Construction

By Ben Fowler on Jul 13, 2016 10:00:00 AM

We are in the process of wrapping up an energy efficiency and building automation system upgrade project at an office building. The project involved converting an older boiler/tower heat pump loop system with constant speed pumping to variable flow, and the installation of a modern building automation system (BAS) with new energy efficient control sequences. The project has been a big success however, the project team experienced some challenges in really “dialing in” the controls. The main obstacle is that remote access to the BAS had not yet been established. Having remote access to building controls during the later stages of construction provides many benefits—including being able to monitor system performance remotely, review alarm logs and historical trends to identify problems, and even make adjustments on-the-fly to tune system parameters correctly. Without remote access we would have had to drive to the building, request access to a network closet from the property manager, plug into the server in a closet, and then spend time in a tight space trying to accomplish our goals before unplugging and heading back to the office. Needless to say it is not convenient to do frequently, and is expensive.

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Making Meetings Work For You

By Jennifer Chiodo on Jul 6, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Are meetings a waste of time? Deriding them as such is common.  But with some upfront effort, meetings can deliver outcomes that would otherwise take much longer to achieve. 

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Using a Fan Array for Air Handler Redundancy

By Walker Calderwood on Jun 29, 2016 10:00:00 AM

On a recent project at a large hospital Cx Associates examined the feasibility of consolidating two air handlers into one single air handler.  One of the air handlers is nearing the end of its useful life, and is the reason this project was brought to Cx Associates.  While making an in-kind replacement was looked at, the replacement of this air handler presented an opportunity to replace another that was also aging, and located in a position that would be difficult to replace in the future.  By combining the two air handlers into a single air handler there was an opportunity to essentially upgrade two air handlers at once at a lower cost than replacing them individually at different times.  Maintenance advantages can also be realized by reducing the number of air handlers to maintain in the facility by one.

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Construction Project Management Challenges in Healthcare Facilities

By Katie Mason on Jun 22, 2016 11:36:49 AM

In a recent blog post, I shared my experience as an Owners’ Project Manager for a mechanical system upgrade in an office building for a large organization in Burlington, Vermont. This role has provided me with several new related projects in a healthcare facility, each varying in type and having a very different effect on the overall environment of the organization. In the healthcare environment, I have become familiar with its unique construction challenges. This post will discuss a couple of these challenges and approaches for preventing these challenges from adversely affecting the overall success of the project.

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Can Solar Photovoltaic Subsidies Be Justified?

By Eveline Killian on Jun 8, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Vermont is a small, hilly state in the northeast corner of the US, and is often claimed to be the “second cloudiest” state in the nation (a subjective statistic). Although our state has been adopting solar in leaps and bounds, there is a debate over whether solar is an applicable technology in our state and, nationally, if solar should be subsidized now that the production costs have decreased dramatically. I decided to research the history of subsidies and production costs of various fuels to determine if solar deserves to be an incentivized fuel source for electric generation.

Image via Wikipedia.

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Building Monitoring with Energy Management Information Systems

By Rick Stehmeyer on May 25, 2016 10:00:00 AM

My whole life I’ve been a computer geek.  Ever since I got my first TI-99/4 I started realizing that computers were a blank canvas of technology that I couldn’t resist drawing on.  This passion carried me into Information Systems for my degree in college.  In college I received an internship at a local Building Automation Systems (BAS) contractor programming HVAC systems.  Through that internship I learned the value of using networked computer systems to generate actionable information, and how to automate a decision process from that information. 

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The Future of Lighting

By Jennifer Chiodo on May 18, 2016 10:00:00 AM

In 2020 federal standards will go into effect that will render lighting energy efficiency measures for screw-in lamps (standard A-lamp light bulbs) extinct.  This will have a big impact on residential energy efficiency programs, but what about the programs and savings for the commercial market?  Most of the commercial and industrial built environment is illuminated by linear fluorescent lamps.  While the baseline efficiency mandated for these lamps does continue to improve, the advent of LED lighting presents a major opportunity to re-light commercial and industrial spaces, potentially increasing lighting savings in this market just when savings are disappearing in the residential market.

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Optimizing Air Handling Units for Energy Savings or Improved Comfort

By Walker Calderwood on May 11, 2016 10:00:00 AM

In commercial buildings all air handlers, whether they are mass produced roof top units or custom built indoor units, are built and installed with an outside air intake and damper.  This outside air intake and damper has a large effect on both the energy use of a building and the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of a building.  When performing retro-commissioning, Cx Associates often finds these outside air dampers are not adjusted properly (or are broken entirely) leading to either high energy use or poor IEQ. By optimizing air handling units, energy savings or improved comfort (or both) can sometimes be achieved.

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The Future of Demand Response After FERC v. ESPA Decided by SCOTUS

By Ben Fowler on Apr 27, 2016 10:00:00 AM

On January 25, 2016, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled on Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) v. Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA). The ruling, which was 6-2 in FERC’s favor, is great news for the bright future of a practice which can help grid operators better match electrical grid power supply and demand in real-time, known as Demand Response.

power-poles-503935_1280-1.jpg

What is Demand Response?

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Energy Visualization Through Building Data Analytics: Knowledge is Power

By Eveline Killian on Apr 20, 2016 10:00:00 AM

There are two ways to operate a building: passively or actively. Operating passively means the building performs its intended function – the lights are on and the building is temperate – but no one is monitoring and analyzing the operating costs or planning for equipment issues.  Actively operating a building involves close monitoring of the building operating costs, thoughtful maintenance of building systems and their operating schedules, and capital planning for future equipment replacements. There is a new (relatively inexpensive) tool emerging on the market that can help both of these types of building managers move toward simple, effective, and knowledgeable operating oversight.

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Death of a Controlsperson

By Rick Stehmeyer on Apr 13, 2016 10:00:00 AM

A friend of mine recently sent me an article from the Automatedbuildings.com online magazine entitled “Death of the Controls Industry” written by Therese Sullivan (Principal of Building Context Ltd).   The article contains summary of a presentation given by Darren Wright, Director at Arup.   Darren Wright makes the case that we have a major problem in the building energy market, and it’s directly attributable to the controls business model still not being open source. 

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A Schematic Is Worth a Thousand Words

By Rick Stehmeyer on Mar 30, 2016 10:00:00 AM

When you’re asked to review someone else’s building automation system (BAS) programming, it’s a bit of a daunting task.  This is because those of us who program building systems (or really any computer-driven system) for a living figure out that there are a million different ways to capture the same process in any given programming language. Usually no two people will do it the same way.

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Asset Management: a Transportation Systems Engineering Perspective

By Brent Weigel on Mar 23, 2016 10:00:00 AM

For many building operators and facility managers, it is generally accepted that there is too much to do, and not enough time or money to do what needs to be done. Facility management staff often fall into a routine of “putting out fires,” which takes time and resources away from preventative maintenance activities. The symptoms of this routine are a high percentage of expenditures for equipment failures and a large backlog of deferred maintenance. When I see the scramble of “putting out fires,” I often wonder what could be done differently to help stop the pattern of equipment failures and deferred maintenance.

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The Importance of Communication in the Commissioning Process

By Walker Calderwood on Mar 9, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Building commissioning has become more common on commercial construction projects over the last few years due to the many benefits the commissioning process offers, and in some cases due to new building codes.  During this time owners, architects, engineers, contractors, and construction managers have become more familiar with what commissioning is, and how it affects them.  However, it seems that it’s still often unclear to project teams exactly how to integrate the commissioning authority (CxA) and commissioning process into the construction process.  I believe the first part of the integration begins with communication between the CxA and the rest of the project team. The importance of communication in the commissioning process cannot be overstated.

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What is the Roof Top Unit Challenge?

By Katie Mason on Mar 2, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Recently I researched the “Roof Top Unit Challenge” which was created by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). What is the Roof Top Unit challenge? Launched in January 2011, the DOE released a design specification or commercial RTUs (Roof Top Units) with capacities ranging between 10 and 20 tons. RTUs built to match this specification are expected to have reduced energy usage by as much as 50% compared to a code compliant RTU. There is a large dependency on the building type and location of the RTU in relation to amount of energy savings. Since January 2011, top performing RTU manufacturers are working to design units that meet this specification. In this post, I will discuss what it takes for a unit to be part of the RTU Challenge and which manufacturers have models that are designed to meet this performance specification. 

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Importance of Healthcare Room Pressure Relationships

By Ben Fowler on Feb 23, 2016 10:00:00 AM

During recent functional testing of HVAC systems at a healthcare facility, part of our testing scope was to verify room static pressure relationships between adjacent sterile and contaminated spaces. In healthcare settings (and other settings where contamination control is critical) spaces can be designed to have more or less space pressurization with respect to one another—the result is that any air movement between spaces is in the direction from clean to dirty, and not the reverse.

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Why Over Lighting is a Problem Worth Fixing

By Jennifer Chiodo on Feb 10, 2016 10:00:00 AM

I remember someone telling me once that the compact fluorescent (CFL) twisty bulb was “sexy.”  They were convinced the product would have market appeal.  I have yet to meet someone who actually likes the light that comes from CFL bulbs.  Now, LEDs are another thing entirely.  They do have market appeal and we can see that manufacturers are working hard to develop products that capture consumer interest at prices that make us buy. 

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Inigo Montoya and the Definition of Open Systems

By Rick Stehmeyer on Jan 27, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Recently there has been a lot of talk resurfacing about what defines an "open system."  It is a concept that has been debated and sold for well over a decade in the HVAC automation industry.  There still seems to be some ambiguity about what this really means.

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Managing the Growth of Building Energy Management Systems

By Brent Weigel on Jan 20, 2016 5:50:34 PM

A recent blog post in Energy Manager Today highlights the increasing demand for, and utilization of, building energy management systems. The market for building energy management systems (BEMS) is expected to more than triple in size in less than 10 years. Furthermore, the use of BEMS may expand to include the significant energy consumption of transportation access to/from buildings (a topic I have blogged about previously). A BEMS can enable effective energy management if it provides the right information to the right people at the right time.

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A Surprising Peak Electric Demand Contributor

By Walker Calderwood on Jan 13, 2016 10:00:00 AM

On a recent project we were tasked with trying to reduce the peak electric demand of a building that already had a relatively low summer peak demand of around 40-45 kW and even lower winter demand of around 25 kW.  Immediately ideas jumped into our head that we should look at the four installed rooftop units and the commercial kitchen equipment as sources for peak electric demand savings.

Meter First

Before we began any analysis though, we metered the feed of nearly every electrical distribution panel in the building to check for any anomalies.  We found what was expected – the kitchen and RTUs accounted for a large amount of the electrical demand.   However, when we compared this data with the utility meter (total power of the building) data for the same time period we found that one feed we did not meter turned out to be an important one.

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A New Perspective as a Project Manager on a Mechanical System Upgrade

By Katie Mason on Jan 8, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Over the past six months, I have been taking on a new role at Cx Associates as an owner’s Project Manager for a large organization in Burlington, VT. This has given me the opportunity to be part of a construction team - not as part of the commissioning firm, but rather by working for the owner in overseeing the project in its entirety. One of my current active projects is an HVAC mechanical upgrade in an office building known for occupant comfort issues. In this post, I will describe one of the difficulties we needed to overcome with this particular project, as well as a helpful tool that has been very useful for me as a Project Manager.

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Pneumatic Transport Systems: Actually a Series of Tubes

By Ben Fowler on Dec 23, 2015 10:00:00 AM

In the mid-2000s, the late US Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) famously used an analogy for the internet as a series of tubes. The full analogy was a bad one, and was concerning since it revealed to the tech savvy public how little the congressional entities in charge of creating policy actually understood the technology to which they were attempting to tailor policy. Incidentally, the needle has not moved much in this area in the intervening decade (crypto back-door arguments being a prime example), but that is a blog post for another time.

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Retrocommissioning 2.0

By Jennifer Chiodo on Dec 16, 2015 10:00:00 AM

Retrocommissioning (RCx) or Existing Building Commissioning refer to a technical process that retrofits and tunes building HVAC control systems so that buildings function more efficiently and effectively.  The RCx process has historically included three primary phases:

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Move Over Governments – Corporations are Leading on Climate Change

By Eveline Killian on Dec 9, 2015 10:00:00 AM

During the Kyoto Protocol meetings, the world thought governments were going to lead the carbon-emission reduction efforts. But the foremost carbon-emitting countries (US included) didn’t sign this protocol and, until recently, seemed content with sidestepping any commitments.  Now 25 years later, the world itself is calling for change, and governments are finding grassroots support from the public as they go into the Paris Climate Change discussions.  Companies world-wide are initiating energy and waste reducing measures and promoting renewable energy procurement themselves, without mandates, because they see the economic benefits.  The tide has turned.

Topics: Public Policy
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Impacts of PID* Tuning

By Rick Stehmeyer on Nov 25, 2015 10:00:00 AM

I’ve noticed a common problem across a range of buildings due to the idea that all PID controls behave the same.  The result of this misconception rears its ugly head in poor tuning and poor implementation of PIDs that can cause your HVAC system to perform poorly for years.  The PID is a great means to realize your design intent, if you know how to properly spell out for your controls contractor what it is you’re looking for.   But before that, let’s get the basics down first - What is a PID?

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The False Tradeoff between Energy Efficiency and Building Performance

By Brent Weigel on Nov 19, 2015 10:00:00 AM

Energy efficiency upgrades are widely recognized by facility managers as good investments with the potential for short payback periods and attractive lifecycle costs. However, energy efficiency investments are also often viewed as an added expenditure in competition with capital investments in infrastructure driven by end users and/or the mission.  Some managers may fear a tradeoff between energy efficiency investments and other improvements in building performance, such as better indoor environmental quality (IEQ) or lower maintenance costs. In my view, the tradeoff between energy efficiency investments and other improvements in building performance is a false dichotomy - energy efficiency investment opportunities can reduce costs while enhancing building performance to better satisfy end users and the mission. 

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Common Issues with VRF System Installation

By Walker Calderwood on Nov 4, 2015 10:00:00 AM

Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) systems are becoming an increasingly popular HVAC solution for commercial construction projects around the country.  They offer many benefits that can be realized by architects, engineers, contractors, and end users. Some of the benefits include energy efficiency, flexible installation, and local controls for end users. I began my career by spending two years as sales rep for a VRF manufacturer, and the following are some observations I made during that time about issues which commonly caused problems during installation.

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Prices Keep Falling for Large-Scale Solar PV. So what?

By Ben Fowler on Oct 21, 2015 6:00:50 AM

In the five years or so between the late 2000s and 2014, prices for large-scale solar photovoltaic (aka “solar PV” or “PV”) power generation installations have fallen by 50% due to reasons including incremental technology improvements, higher production volumes, more efficient manufacturing, and more efficient and competitive installation. The news of falling large scale solar PV costs is not new to those who follow these kinds of things, but the continued drastic decline in prices has brought us to a point worth noting. A recently released Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) report on this subject titled Utility-Scale Solar 2014[1], found that the 20th percentile of utility scale PV project costs (the least-expensive 20%) were installed for around $2 per WattAC. Some notable recent utility-scale PV power purchase agreements (a.k.a “PPAs”, which are contracts between producers and buyers of power typically for a fixed price per megawatt) in the Southwestern US have been for prices as low as $40/MWh—the study notes that at this price, solar PV is competitive with the fuel-only component of operating a natural gas plant (i.e., ignoring gas generation fixed capital costs such as the power plant itself!).

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Toxic Living Environments – Why Are They Legal?

By Jennifer Chiodo on Oct 14, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Last night I got to spend time with two of my closest friends. We were showing off the well-insulated basement of our new home, and my friend relayed the story of his contrasting clients. For one client he is upgrading the basement and planned to use closed cell spray foam as the insulation material. The client became concerned about off-gassing just before the application and put the project on hold. A different client (an elderly couple) is selling their home and moving into a new trailer. Tom went to install the baseboard trim for them as a favor. When he arrived on site he found the new trailer to be virtually uninhabitable for him and his crew without the windows open. On the kitchen counter he found this label:

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Is the Energy Efficiency Field Growing Up?

By Eveline Killian on Oct 7, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Is the energy efficiency field growing up? I am cautiously optimistic that the answer to this question is “yes.” From the discussions of the major carbon producers - China and USA – regarding limits to their emissions, to building codes ever increasing minimum building efficiencies, and efficient technologies being accepted by the market, it seems promising. Another positive sign is that energy efficiency programs are starting to go deeper into more complicated measures. This means we’re moving energy efficiency programs past the “low-hanging fruit” that the market understands, and administrators are looking towards new areas and technologies.

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More Tech, More Energy Loss – A Shift in the Wrong Direction

By Matt Napolitan on Sep 30, 2015 6:00:48 AM

Technology and innovation have brought us great advances in energy efficiency. As examples, just look at the shift from incandescent lights to fluorescent lights and now to LEDs, or the move to variable air volume (VAV) air distribution systems from constant volume during the energy crisis of the 1970s. Those two evolutions alone have probably saved yotawatt[1] hours of electricity since they were introduced. The trend continues today with things like advanced building lighting controls and energy recovery air handlers.

5 min read

OAT (Outside Air Temperature) Reset Is Like Your Hammer

By Rick Stehmeyer on Sep 23, 2015 6:00:00 AM

You might have heard of Maslow’s hammer, that old adage “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” In my experience I’ve seen the practice of outside air temperature (OAT) reset, which is shorthand for a method by which building systems are “primed” to deal with real-time outdoor air conditions, treated as that hammer. I’ve found it in the common sequence of operations (building technology speak for the computer programs which make building systems operate) designed to control everything from supply air temperature from a VAV box, to resetting the valve positions on fin tube radiation zones.

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Setback Strategies for Unoccupied Healthcare Operating Rooms

By Brent Weigel on Sep 16, 2015 6:00:00 AM

In a previous blog post, I discussed the efficiency opportunity for airflow setback in healthcare operating rooms (ORs). Airflow setback is one of the more significant opportunities for energy savings in unoccupied ORs, and is included in the American Society of Healthcare Engineers (ASHE) white paper [PDF] on OR HVAC setback strategies. ASHE’s “Operating Room HVAC Setback Strategies” provides guidance that warrants consideration by facility engineers. In this post, I would like to highlight and qualify some of the important insights from ASHE regarding OR HVAC setback strategies.

2 min read

Common Pre-Functional Testing Checks

By Walker Calderwood on Sep 10, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Pre-Functional testing is a vital step in the commissioning process, where issues can be identified and corrected during equipment installation. It is important to catch issues at this phase in the construction process as issues are often able to be resolved faster, easier and cheaper than if they were identified after construction is complete. Some of the equipment checks may seem a bit obvious and somewhat redundant, but we verify them on every commissioned project—and you might be surprised to learn how often these basic checks uncover deficiencies.

3 min read

Customer-Facing Tools to Manage Energy Use

By Jennifer Chiodo on Aug 26, 2015 9:30:00 AM

Commercial buildings have complex systems, end uses, and operations making managing their energy use a challenge. “Big data” is the trend in the building energy industry, but operators do not have time to analyze operating data. We need to provide building operators with easily digestible information including:

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Legionnaire’s Disease and Cooling Towers: Risk Management

By Ben Fowler on Aug 19, 2015 6:00:00 AM

On August 6th, the Commissioner of the New York City department of health issued an order[1] to all commercial building owners/operators in the City requiring the adoption of a new standard, issued in June 2015 by ASHRAE[2], titled Standard 188 - Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems. The order to adopt this standard was in response to the recent Legionellosis outbreak (also known as Legionnaire’s Disease), which has resulted in 12 deaths, sickened more than 100 people, and is believed to have originated from a rooftop cooling tower above a deli in the South Bronx[3].

4 min read

Battle of the Office Thermostat – Fanger Who?

By Matt Napolitan on Aug 12, 2015 6:00:00 AM

It’s that time of year again – summer – season of vacations, sunscreen (for me at least), mowing the lawn and (queue ominous music) the dreaded “Battle of the Office Thermostat.” We all know what this is. You go to work in an office and, if you’re a woman, when the man sitting next to you is perfectly comfortable you are teeth-chattering freezing. If you’re a man and the woman next to you is comfortable, you feel hot and stuffy. Disclaimer – I am a man. Second disclaimer – I don’t wear skirts and sandals to work, even if it’s 90 degrees outside.

3 min read

Why Third Party Energy Efficiency Program Evaluations?

By Eveline Killian on Aug 5, 2015 6:00:00 AM

The effectiveness of an energy efficiency program is measured in large part by the actual savings realized by the efficiency measures installed. Every program is accountable to the state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) and utility rate payers, to ensure that public money is being invested wisely. The wise investment of public money is dependent upon how the efficiency measures are installed and operated.

3 min read

Pitfalls of Evaluation, Measurement and Verification

By Brent Weigel on Jul 29, 2015 7:00:00 AM

Evaluation, measurement and verification (EM&V) studies can provide a special opportunity for uncovering what is and is not working in an energy efficiency program. Energy efficiency program administrators look to EM&V studies to find out how their efficiency programs can be improved. To effectively identify opportunities for improvement, it is important for efficiency program administrators and evaluators to avoid the pitfalls of evaluation, measurement and verification.

3 min read

ASHRAE Guideline 36 – The Next Generation Control System

By Rick Stehmeyer on Jul 22, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Recently I wrote a Building Management System (BMS) controls specification for a customer who needed a controls upgrade. It was an excellent opportunity for me to flex a new engineering perspective and see what energy savings I could squeeze out by retrofitting an existing mechanical system with a new control system. When it came to the sequence of operations, I decided to consult ASHRAE Guideline 36.

3 min read

EM&V Resources: Many Minds Are Better Than One

By Jennifer Chiodo on Jul 16, 2015 12:10:00 PM

I find myself using a variety of resources to support my energy program evaluation, measurement, verification, research, and development activities over the course of the year. The Internet offers what can seem like an overwhelming wealth of information to use when you want to be sure you are following best practices, are keeping current with the knowledge in the industry and to inform your work more generally — but there’s also a lot of noise out there. Much of the best evaluation work and resources available are the work of teams that include technical, social science, and regulatory experts who collaborate to develop guides, studies, and data to further the effectiveness of energy efficiency programs and third-party evaluations. I’m guessing that for many of our readers that is your goal too, so here are my top three EMV resources picks — and why.

3 min read

Measurement Tools for Energy Audits and RCx

By Walker Calderwood on Jul 8, 2015 10:15:00 AM

Engineers and energy managers use many different types of instruments to help identify energy efficiency opportunities in an existing facility. Loggers that have been discussed in previous blog posts are a good way to assess how building equipment performs over time, but I am going to talk about some measurement tools for energy audits and RCx (retrocommissioning) that can be used to instantaneously identify potential issues that can lead to higher than needed energy use.

3 min read

Creating a Bid Document for a Ventilation VAV Retrofit

By Katie Mason on Jul 1, 2015 12:00:00 PM

After completion of an ASHRAE Level 2 Energy Audit, a building owner is faced with the question of how to move on to the implementation phase of the identified energy saving opportunities. The audit report provides estimates for annual energy savings for each opportunity, as well as the simple payback to help determine if the measure is financially feasible. However, the audit does not design a measure in enough detail that a contractor can accurately bid or install the measure so that the savings are realized. Therefore we suggest that the building owner hire a technical consultant (designer or commissioning engineer) to develop a bid document that details the design of the measure. This technical consultant must understand the owner’s goals and expectations for the project.

7 min read

Top Apps for HVAC and Energy Analysis: 2015 Update

By Ben Fowler on Jun 24, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Back in 2012 I polled our office to find out what mobile apps for HVAC and energy analysis our engineers were experimenting with in the field or back at the office, and summarized those results in a blog post Top Apps for HVAC and Energy Analysis. I also wrote an update to that post in 2013. As you’re undoubtedly aware, things change quickly in the tech sector—and the app marketplace for engineers and commissioning folks is no exception. Given that it’s been two years since I last dug into this topic, I figured it’s time to see what’s new. As with the last posts, I have two caveats before we begin: first, while these apps can be very useful, we still don’t use them for critical analysis, but more as a very powerful back-of-the-envelope equivalent. Critical analysis still happens desk-side for us. Second is that we are an office with a mix of smartphone platforms—a little more than 50% use Apple’s iOS with the balance using Android. We also have a couple of iPads for field use. For simplicity in writing this, I’ve focused on iOS apps—but for most of these, Android versions are also available in the Google Play store.

6 min read

Pitfalls of Canned New Construction Specifications

By Rick Stehmeyer on Jun 17, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Recently I have performed new construction commissioning services on a project with a job specification document that was over 1200 pages in length. As you can imagine, it was very comprehensive. However, I found that it was comprehensive in all the areas that it didn’t need to be, and not specific enough where it mattered.

4 min read

Understanding Flow Meters: What You Need to Know

By Eveline Killian on Jun 10, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Commercial and industrial businesses spend a great percentage of their building costs on creating hot and cold water and pumping it around their facility. This infrastructure includes chillers, boilers, cooling towers, and pumps used for heating, cooling, process cooling, and domestic hot water. Considering how much money is spent on this portion of the business, it is not surprising that there is an increased focus on determining the correct amount of water required to meet the needs of the business. This blog post aims to explain the differences between the various flow meters currently on the market.

2 min read

Right-Sizing Combined Heat and Power Systems

By Brent Weigel on Jun 3, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Combined heat and power (CHP) systems provide a great opportunity to reduce facility energy costs, to increase the productive use of fossil fuel energy, and to provide distributed generation for the electric power grid. Efficiency programs are providing incentives that make CHP systems increasingly viable and attractive for facility owners and operators. But when you make the choice to install a CHP system, you want to be well-informed of the risks to achieving the expected system performance.

2 min read

Why Energy Efficiency Process Evaluation Needs Market Smarts

By Jennifer Chiodo on May 27, 2015 6:30:00 AM

Generating Market Demand

The purpose of energy efficiency programs is to cost effectively generate market demand for energy efficiency that would not be achieved without market intervention. An energy efficiency process evaluation investigates the effectiveness of programmatic interventions through qualitative and quantitative analysis. Marrying the analytical engineering-based approach of impact evaluation with the typically more social science orientation of traditional process evaluation can generate useful, actionable results to help program administrators improve market interventions to increase participation, depth of savings, and market transformation.

2 min read

Building Commissioning: Whose Role is it Anyway?

By Matt Napolitan on May 20, 2015 4:00:00 AM

Whether your project is new construction, a retrofit, a major renovation, or a focused building upgrade, my success as a commercial building commissioning provider relies heavily on the active participation of other team members. Despite having clear specifications, providing a thorough building commissioning plan, and explaining the process at a kickoff meeting with the owner and affected contractors, we often find that due to the complexity and fast pace of contemporary construction, team members are unclear as to their role in quality assurance and the commissioning process.

3 min read

EM&V Metering: Right Place, Right Time, Right Duration

By Walker Calderwood on May 13, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Continuing on an earlier blog post on Evaluation, Measurement and Verification (EM&V), a vital source of information for the EM&V process comes from metering. As mentioned in Katie’s recent blog post, there are many types of meters that can be used to collect data for analyzing energy savings. Using the right type of meter is important, but ensuring your engineering team installs it in the right place at the right time for the right duration is also critical to ensuring that the data collected by the meters is both valid and beneficial for the energy analysis for which it will be used.

4 min read

Using the LEED Dynamic Plaque for Building Performance Monitoring

By Katie Mason on May 6, 2015 6:00:00 AM

For both new building commissioning and existing building retrocommissioning projects, I always stress the importance of verifying that the claimed savings are realized through building performance monitoring (trending) using utility bills, sub-meter data, smart meters, or directly through a building management system (BMS). I also encourage you as a building owner to use a benchmarking tool, such as Energy Star Portfolio Manager, to monitor the overall energy usage of the building over time. While studying for my LEED Green Associate (GA) exam, I came across a new performance monitoring system released last year by USGBC called the LEED Dynamic Plaque. My aim in this blog post is to introduce the new USGBC platform and describe how it can help you to monitor your commercial building’s performance and work towards a more efficient and sustainable building.

3 min read

Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Wireless Temperature Sensors

By Ben Fowler on Apr 29, 2015 6:00:00 AM

A handful of years ago we worked with a local organization to help upgrade a portion of their building’s legacy pneumatic building controls to a modern building management system (BMS). We performed the project work in a partnership with a local controls contractor as well as with the building owner’s local energy efficiency utility (that provided financial support because the work also provided the opportunity to save a large chunk of electrical and gas energy). The project was overall a big success—saving 20% on the owner’s annual electric bill and 10-15% on natural gas.

3 min read

BAS Trend Data is the Ultimate Retrocommissioning Tool

By Rick Stehmeyer on Apr 22, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Building automation systems (BAS) have been around since the 1980s. They, like any other computer based technology, have evolved several times over parallel to the widespread adoption of information systems across all industries. Their key benefits are understood to be primarily HVAC system control, automation, and HVAC system optimization. But with the advent of systems being more distributed and more open over the last decade, there has been one benefit that gets overlooked a lot: BAS trend data.

4 min read

3 Ways to Increase Your Retrocommissioning Project Success

By Eveline Killian on Apr 15, 2015 6:00:00 AM

In business, as in life, there is risk with every complex project you begin. In retrocommissioning (RCx) projects, the main risks for commercial building owners and managers are threefold: the savings will not be realized, the scope will increase, and the savings will not be persistent after the job is complete. These issues are also on the minds of every engineer who accepts a retrocommissioning project. Managing the level of risk is complicated to say the least, but there are common sense ways to protect yourself, your partnership with the retrocommissioning engineer, and the project.

3 min read

The Promise of an Open Platform for Building Controls

By Brent Weigel on Apr 8, 2015 6:00:00 AM

I'm seeing the promise of an open platform for building controls. It was encouraging to read recently that ABB, Bosch, and Cisco are starting a joint venture to develop an open platform for smart home devices. The intent of the open platform is to “enable . . . simple exchange of data between different manufacturer’s devices”, and to “provide a range of services related to household devices, in areas such as energy management, security technology, and entertainment.” The residential market is step one.

2 min read

Chillers Offer Big Savings with Retrocommissioning

By Walker Calderwood on Mar 18, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Retrocommissioning (RCx) is a great way for facilities owners and managers to improve energy efficiency and performance of existing building systems without incurring large capital costs. Some projects result in such great savings that simple payback can be less than a year. The RCx process involves assessing the operating performance of existing equipment in a facility, and then making recommendations to improve the performance based on the results of the assessment. These improvements are typically done by making adjustments to how the equipment is controlled.

4 min read

How to Get the Most from Your Building Using Energy Metering

By Katie Mason on Mar 11, 2015 6:00:00 AM

Today there are a multitude of energy metering devices, (or data loggers), available to enable the analysis of building systems functionality. There are many different types of data loggers, each with a different purpose. To get the most from your building using energy metering, you need to narrow your options with your overall goals in mind. Before we install meters on a system, whether it’s an electrical system, HVAC system, or domestic hot water system, we first determine what type of data we need and what the data will be used for. With this information, we put together a metering plan that will produce the data necessary for the analysis. For this blog post, I am going to provide two specific examples of systems/equipment we metered, including why we were performing the metering, how we did it (what types of meters), and what the findings were. Both of these examples showed the equipment being metered was not working as intended.

5 min read

How to Retrocommission Fan Systems for Sweet ROI

By Matt Napolitan on Mar 4, 2015 5:00:00 AM

A good retrocommissioning (RCx) project will result in at least one of the following:

3 min read

How to Increase Adoption of Retrocommissioning Through Energy Efficiency Programs

By Jennifer Chiodo on Feb 25, 2015 5:00:00 AM

The number one barrier to retrocommissioning is the upfront cost of the engineering study. In general, building owners cannot easily determine the potential value of such studies or understand the quality and content that is necessary to support an energy efficiency investment. This makes many customers reluctant to invest $20,000-$70,000 in an engineering study.

3 min read

The Retrocommissioning Process: Where To Start?

By Ben Fowler on Feb 18, 2015 5:00:00 AM

As a company that does a good amount of retrocommissioning (RCx) – the commissioning process applied to existing buildings – when taking on a new project we are often faced by a question asked by both ourselves and our clients: “Where do we start?”

2 min read

Big Energy Savings from Small Building Retrocommissioning

By Eveline Killian on Feb 11, 2015 5:00:00 AM

Part of a marketing stumbling block in our commissioning field is the lack of quantifiable benefits to our work. People understand commissioning will enable their systems to work more smoothly, generating less maintenance issues and longer equipment life. People understand that commissioning will benefit their building with more comfort for their tenants and finer temperature and humidity control for their processes. But quantifying any energy reduction attributed to commissioning is usually not in the project’s budget and is all too often forgotten when everyone moves on to new projects.

4 min read

Building Systems, the Internet of Things and Security

By Rick Stehmeyer on Feb 4, 2015 5:00:00 AM

Modern web-accessibility of building control systems is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing if you’re the facilities manager and you live an hour away from the building you’re responsible for and there is a problem in the middle of the night. Simply fire up the ole home computer, connect to your building, issue a few overrides, clear an alarm, go back to sleep and deal with it in the morning. So what’s the downside?

2 min read

Process Evaluation for Efficiency Programs

By Brent Weigel on Jan 28, 2015 5:00:00 AM

Most state and utility energy efficiency programs undergo a “process evaluation” to assess how well the programs achieve their objectives, and how the programs could do better. Process evaluations can provide essential feedback from the perspective of program administrators, end-users (e.g., households and building owners) and suppliers (e.g., mechanical and lighting contractors). Feedback is great for improvement, right? Well, yes, if you can act on it, and if acting on it will have impact.

3 min read

Energy Benchmarking for a Healthcare Network

By Katie Mason on Jan 21, 2015 5:00:00 AM

In a previous blog post, Jennifer Chiodo discussed why energy benchmarking is beneficial for everyone, whether it’s for a residential building or a commercial building. Benchmarking allows you as the building owner to not only understand how your building is doing from an energy standpoint over time, but it also compares the building to other similar buildings in its class. Using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager online benchmarking tool, you can monitor a building’s energy usage over time by setting goals and comparing the overall energy use intensity to a baseline year.

3 min read

Retrocommissioning to Make Building HVAC Systems Work Better

By Jennifer Chiodo on Jan 14, 2015 10:00:00 AM

The term retrocommissioning, (commissioning for existing buildings), frequently rises in conversations when commercial building owners, operators and facility managers gather to talk about how to make their HVAC systems work better. There are many reasons why.

2 min read

EM&V: Determining Energy Efficiency Program Performance

By Walker Calderwood on Jan 7, 2015 5:00:00 AM

Have you ever wondered how utilities and energy agencies run energy efficiency programs for installing recommended products such as variable frequency drives and LED lighting? Evaluation, Measurement and Verification (EM&V) is a crucial part of evaluating energy efficiency programs. EM&V provides an assessment of how well the program is performing. This goes beyond assessing the performance of the installed energy efficient measures; it also provides an assessment of how customers perceive and use the program. EM&V makes energy programs sustainable by providing feedback through multiple and diverse sources of information.

3 min read

HVAC and the Aircraft Cabin Environment at 30,000 Feet

By Ben Fowler on Dec 24, 2014 5:00:00 AM

With the holiday season in full swing and airline travel at one of its annual peaks, I thought I’d take the opportunity to geek-out on the subject of HVAC systems on commercial airplanes.

4 min read

Controlling Operating Room Temperature and Humidity, and Managing Expectations

By Brent Weigel on Dec 17, 2014 5:00:00 AM

Proper ventilation, airflow, temperature, and humidity are needed for successful surgical operations. The design requirements for these parameters in healhtcare settings are defined by ASHRAE Standard 170, and are generally straightforward. However, OR (operating room) users often try to operate OR HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) systems at temperatures and humidity levels outside of the standard design range. A better understanding of OR HVAC parameters would help OR designers and users achieve more effective OR functionality.

5 min read

Wireless Technology Infiltration into HVAC Automation

By Rick Stehmeyer on Dec 10, 2014 5:00:00 AM

Wireless networks are everywhere in 2014. I have on my person 3 wireless networks happening at any given moment (4G LTE, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi). I am a walking source of radio everywhere I go. And this is only the beginning. As more wireless devices proliferate for personal and commercial use, the spectrum will only grow more crowded and complicated. Are you prepared as wireless technology penetrates the HVAC automation market? Do you understand how radio propagates with respect to data and networks? I hope to scratch the surface and share some of this with you in the following paragraphs.

3 min read

Testing an Emergency Power System for a Data Center

By Katie Mason on Dec 3, 2014 5:00:00 AM

For a recent commissioning project, part of our scope of work was to test an emergency power system for a data center. Because this data center was a very important part of the client company’s work, the system and all components needed to work as intended by the design, and it was crucial that it be tested with all aspects involved before the data center was utilized. This was to ensure there would be no loss of power to the data center servers if any issues were identified. In order to properly test this mission critical system, we not only needed to understand how each component worked, but we also needed to put together full testing documents that included the relationship between all of the components. To make the entire process more fluent, we suggested a coordinated effort for creating documents and testing the system.

2 min read

The Importance of HVAC Preventive Maintenance

By Walker Calderwood on Nov 26, 2014 5:00:00 AM

Despite my relatively short amount of time working in the building commissioning field, I have been able to witness firsthand the serious consequences resulting from a lack of HVAC preventive maintenance (PM) in a facility. From dirty filters and coils to broken outside air dampers, lack of PM can lead to premature equipment failure, poor indoor air quality, an assortment of other problems, and usually increased energy and maintenance costs for a building owner. Indeed, it can be challenging for a facilities team to stick to a preventive maintenance plan after they have fallen into a reactive maintenance mode, but the advantages of a more proactive approach can be beneficial to everyone on the facilities team, as well as the building owner.

3 min read

Is a Net Zero World Even Possible?

By Eveline Killian on Nov 12, 2014 5:00:00 AM

I take climate change very seriously and do what I can in my personal life and through my career in energy efficient building commissioning to mitigate my impact on the environment. But I am also cautious of doomsayers who call for unrealistic achievements or all is lost. So I was motivated to do some investigating recently when I read that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that “global emissions need to hit zero by 2100 to keep global warming below 2°C by the turn of the century.” That struck me as such an idealistic goal. Can we really do that? I decided I wanted to educate myself and, of course, found that this iceberg is deeper than I expected, and the answer is not simple. In this post I’d like to share its complexity and, in a subsequent post, I will speak to my interpretation of realistic goals.

3 min read

Metering Dollars Well Spent: Sizing a Replacement Chiller

By Ben Fowler on Nov 5, 2014 5:00:00 AM

Replacement Chiller Needed – But What’s the Cooling Load?

We were hired recently by a commercial customer to work on the replacement of a ~120 ton chiller plant dating back to at least the 1980s. When we were brought on board, the plan was to install a 165 ton chiller to replace the existing unit. The facility had no building management system (DDC) and therefore the owner didn’t have the ability to accurately assess the building’s actual cooling load. In our experience, many customers in our area who do not have process loads actually have had cooling loads come down over the past 20 years. This trend is likely due to reduced lighting waste heat resulting from lighting efficiency upgrades and improved windows (low-e). We decided it may be a good idea to meter the plant to determine actual loads before sizing the new chiller plant.

3 min read

Is It a Heat Pump, Boiler or Furnace? – A Case for Engineer/Social Scientist Collaboration on Market Research

By Jennifer Chiodo on Oct 29, 2014 6:00:00 AM

Who knows technology?

I should know better than to presume anything when someone is speaking about their “furnace,” because what they most frequently mean is “the thing that makes heat.” I was recently asked about a home heater replacement by a relative who is the chief engineer at a major communications company. His question was, “should I replace my furnace to save energy?” I inquired about the efficiency and he replied 88%, which is pretty good for an oil-fired furnace, so I told them that was probably the best they could do. Then I was asked, “what about our hot water heater?,” which was described as “a tankless type fed off the furnace.” At that point I realized that my friend wasn’t using accurate language and that was causing me to give him bad advice. He in fact has a high-mass oil boiler with an indirect fired hot water tank, and since the boiler is near the end of its useful life, he does have an opportunity to replace it with a higher performance boiler.

2 min read

Efficient Operation of Unoccupied Healthcare Operating Rooms

By Brent Weigel on Oct 22, 2014 6:00:00 AM

Healthcare operating rooms (ORs) are one of the most critical types of indoor environments. That means OR designers and operators tend to pay a high level of attention to OR HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) systems. However, many OR designers and users overlook opportunities to operate OR HVAC systems more efficiently.

3 min read

Performing a Water Consumption Analysis (Part 2)

By Katie Mason on Oct 15, 2014 6:00:00 AM

In a previous blog post, I discussed our process for constructing a scope of work to perform a campus water consumption analysis. At the time, we knew a minimal amount about the existing metering system. A site visit was conducted to allow us to put our eyes on each meter listed for the campus. After this was completed, we were able to provide helpful information to our client regarding the current water consumption and metering system as well as next steps for reducing their consumption using a greater level of water use monitoring.

2 min read

Is a Cold Weather Heat Pump Right for Your Building?

By Walker Calderwood on Oct 8, 2014 6:00:00 AM

Before joining Cx Associates I worked as a sales engineer in western New York, with a specialty in Variable Refrigerant Flow and Ductless Split systems. With the new popularity of these systems across the country there are still many questions facilities managers, engineers, and contractors have regarding their cold weather performance. There are several important aspects of these systems to keep in mind before deciding whether they are right for your facility or project that requires cold weather heating.

3 min read

Proven Energy Savings through Building Retro-Commissioning

By Eveline Killian on Oct 1, 2014 6:00:00 AM

The least utilized part of the building commissioning process is the act of going back to a completed project and proving the monetary value of the commissioning work. This is an added cost but is very important for the building owner as well as the commissioning agent to ensure changes were implemented correctly. Fortunately, we have many affordable options these days to measure the energy consumption of our building equipment before and after our commissioning work. Armed with this real-life performance data, we can present the owner with hard evidence of the value of fine-tuning a building’s mechanical system. We recently did such a review of two buildings which underwent building commissioning in the past 18 months. By analyzing the data, we found savings for these buildings range from 18-30% with relatively short payback periods.

3 min read

The Hand-Off-Auto (HOA) Switch and Efficiency

By Ben Fowler on Sep 24, 2014 6:00:00 AM

I recently had a meeting with one of my favorite long-term clients. We met to discuss some upcoming work, and while there, I poked around in the chiller plant mechanical room to see how things were running. We were involved in design review and commissioning for the new chiller plant, and have been impressed with its efficiency. It’s a water cooled chiller with high efficiency, magnetic bearing compressors and all the bells and whistles. In the past, we’ve metered consistently high performance out of the chiller plant as a whole, saving the client many thousands of dollars per year in electrical savings.

4 min read

Is Big City Engineering Better than Local Engineering?

By Jennifer Chiodo on Sep 17, 2014 6:00:00 AM

My business partner, Matt Napolitan and I each spent 10 years working at major, international engineering firms. I worked for nationally ranked 11th Syska Hennessy Group in their San Francisco office and Matt worked for 14th ranked Buro Happold out of their New York office. We now operate a 10-person engineering consulting firm in Burlington, Vermont. We know both large, big-city engineering and local, Vermont engineering.

3 min read

Accounting for Uncertainty in Energy Savings Estimates

By Brent Weigel on Sep 10, 2014 6:00:00 AM

Let’s be honest with ourselves: when it comes to estimating the potential energy savings of proposed energy efficiency/conservation measures (EEMs/ECMs), there is uncertainty. Assumptions and uncontrolled variables can make or break the preliminary estimates for an EEM/ECM. For example, a $5,000 lighting controls EEM/ECM may offer annual energy savings of $1,000/year (5 year simple payback) if a facility is unoccupied for 4,000 hours per year, or only $750/year (7.5 year simple payback) if the same facility is unoccupied for only 3,000 hours per year. Unknown and uncontrolled variables, such as building occupancy and use, introduce considerable uncertainty to estimates of energy savings.

3 min read

Carbon Monoxide and Parking Garage Ventilation Systems

By Katie Mason on Aug 27, 2014 6:00:00 AM

When it comes to enjoying the many positive features of an enclosed parking garage, most users will not think about the type of ventilation system in place. But an enclosed parking garage poses an issue with carbon monoxide (CO), a very harmful toxic gas that is created when “fuels burn incompletely – most vehicles have an internal combustion engine where this occurs”[1]. Known as a “silent killer,” CO has no odor or color, but can very quickly poison a person before they even sense anything is wrong. Because of this risk, it’s especially important to make sure there is a proper ventilation system in any enclosed area where there is a potential for formation of CO. In this blog post, I will discuss the pros and cons of two current system designs that are typically used. When an engineer designs a ventilation system for an enclosed garage, they carefully calculate how much CFM is required based on square footage and quantity of operating vehicles. Depending on climate and location, the applicable standard/code for ventilation must be carefully followed to ensure the minimum requirements are met.

3 min read

On Building Commissioning, Quality and the Software Industry

By Ben Fowler on Aug 6, 2014 6:00:00 AM

The software business and the commercial construction industry wouldn’t seem to have a lot in common. Just start with the workers: geeks in cubes versus people in hard hats and steel-toed boots. But going beyond the obvious differences, both industries operate with many of the same challenges and pressures. Let's start with the similarities and then look at how the building commissioning process may offer valuable lessons for the software industry.

2 min read

Smart Residential HVAC Monitoring

By Brent Weigel on Jul 30, 2014 6:00:00 AM

There seems to be a parade of “smart” devices in the marketplace today, and residential HVAC providers are offering new opportunities to be “smart.” Pretense aside, there are some interesting benefits and risks associated with recent offerings for residential HVAC monitoring.

3 min read

US Ranks 13th out of 16 in Energy Efficiency

By Jennifer Chiodo on Jul 23, 2014 7:00:00 AM

Energy efficiency is a tremendous opportunity that we are squandering at the federal level. While many states have adopted aggressive energy savings goals and have committed the necessary resources to advance both policy and practice toward meeting those goals, little federal action has been taken to advance building and transportation efficiency. The ACEEE’s 2014 International Energy Efficiency Score Card ranks the US near the bottom of industrialized economies in efficiency. The countries that are doing worse than we are include Russia, Brazil and Mexico.

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