Existing Building Commissioing

What is Existing Building Commissioning?

There comes a time in every project’s life when energy efficiency dwindles and is in need of upgrades and retrofits. Through a systematic investigation process that evaluates operation and maintenance, features of the building that can be improved and optimized are identified. This process is called Existing Building Commissioning (EBCx) and it focuses on energy-using equipment and low-cost improvements in existing buildings rather than capital-intensive retrofits. 

What is the difference between Commissioning and Existing Building Commissioning?

While Commissioning ensures that a new building operates as the owner intended and that staff is trained to operate and maintain its systems and equipment. EBCx seeks to improve how building equipment and systems function together in existing buildings.

The different kinds of problems an EBCx will identify include lighting or equipment that could be turned off when not in use, sensors, and thermostats that are out of calibration, non-optimal air balancing systems, and simultaneously heating and cooling systems or control sequences that are not working as designed.

Many of these are small operations and control improvements that cost little to nothing to alter, yet they are proven to have significant effects. For example, In addition to increasing, current operations sensor calibration also improves effective diagnostic monitoring and testing. 

Why is EBCx important?

All buildings experience performance degradation over time.

Commercial buildings frequently undergo occupancy and operational changes that challenge the electrical, mechanical, and control systems, setting back optimal performance. Within today’s complex buildings, systems are highly interactive and have sophisticated controls that can create a trickle-down effect on building operations. This is where we see small problems having big effects on performance. 

The benefits of EBCx are experienced by everyone in a building. Property owners see reduced operating costs from energy savings and better equipment performance, leading to an increase in net operating income. Savings vary on the building age, size, location, and the scope of the EBCx process. Studies show that the costs of retro-commissioning activities range from $0.13 to $2.00 per square foot, while payback ranges from 0.2 to 2.1 years. Overall energy savings can reach approximately 15%. 

EBCx is a powerful tool when a building owner is aiming for ENERGY STAR certification. There have been recorded cases where buildings earned 10 points or more towards the certification by getting retro-commissioned. 

Alpin worked on a TAMER warehouse in Jeddah, KSA. The Energy Goals of the project were kicked off based on an ASHRAE Level 1 Audit that was carried out which identified the no-cost and low-cost measures along with their payback for TAMER. 

This facility scored 74 on the Energy Star Portfolio Manager® during the performance period which means it consumes 34% less energy than an average warehouse and had consumed approximately 5% less energy than before the project. This benefit will be higher in the following year as not all the retrofits carried out had been in place for the entire year during the performance period. Additionally, an unexpected revision to the electricity rates in Jeddah meant that the project would realize even better financial returns than had been initially envisioned

EBCx also affects occupants and facility management. Adjustments to temperature control and indoor air quality lead to increased occupant experience and building managers receive fewer occupant complaints and are better able to manage building systems.

Persistence of EBCx

We see significant cost savings in the shortest payback period with the correction of operations and control measures. While altering maintenance measures, installation, design, retrofit, and equipment replacement have the longest paybacks. 

Both are essential upgrades in existing buildings because while equipment is installed, repaired, or retrofitted last longer. However, operation and control strategies may be easily overridden or reprogrammed resulting in the benefits of savings not persisting over time.  

On the Alpin TAMER project, as part of the process, an Occupant Survey was carried to address issues of thermal, visual & acoustic comfort, hygiene as well as air quality in a proactive manner. Establishing this feedback system coupled with a plan to address the issues flagged by over 20% of the occupants enabled them to improve employee engagement and satisfaction. Additionally, MERV 13 filters were installed to provide superior indoor air quality through the removal of external contaminants as fresh and clean air is important to ensure the health of all employees.

This illustrates that EBCx is a process worth considering on a recurring basis for any existing building by introducing the ongoing commissioning process, especially if the building’s configuration and usage patterns change often. 

Benefits of EBCx

EBCx follows a four-step process that begins with an in-depth study of water and energy efficiency, operation, and benchmarking analysis of the existing building alongside neighboring buildings that feeds the planning, improvement, and performance phase. 

 Understanding the requirements allows the suggested improvements to be listed from the lowest to the highest priority. It also addresses unrevealed construction deficiencies that will influence strategies for operational improvements. Concluding the EBCx, the documentation of the process, findings, and improvements are then handed over to operator training. 

The aim of the study is to understand beyond the day-to-day maintenance and address the energy costs and resolve operational problems by assessing the existential Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, automation systems, and Building Envelope. Changes in the operations or occupancy might require any corresponding controls to be reconfigured to improve concerns on indoor air quality and building pressurizations. 

In addition to improving energy efficiency, there are many other benefits to EBCx. These include, but are not limited to: 

  • Maintenance: Issues with equipment are identified and solved permanently during EBCx, resulting in long-term savings.
  • Visual and Thermal Comfort: Improvement in lighting, temperature, and humidity are addressed. 
  • Indoor air quality: Updating HVAC operations reduce air pollutants and excessive humidity. This is a key improvement as humidity leads to the reproduction of mold and dust mites, that further cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma attacks.
  • Equipment service life: Optimally operating equipment have an extended service life that allows building owners to delay capital expenditures that result from equipment replacements.
  • Improved productivity: Small details have the power to make big impacts on productivity, such as noise or flickering lights. These are identified in the retro-commission and resolved.

 When is EBCx Recommended?

Here are some situations that indicate that the building is in need of a check and tune. 

  • Recent occupancy change: Different types of occupancy have different HVAC and lighting needs. If a storefront has been converted into an office space, it requires increased ventilation because of the higher occupancy.
  • Increasing energy consumption: Consistently rising electricity and gas bills of a building can be plateaued
  • Increasing occupant complaints: Poor lighting, noisy HVAC systems, poor water pressure, excessive temperature, or moisture extreme are just some of the reasons that occupants might be unhappy. 

 Hiring a commissioning consultant is highly recommended to improve the operations of a building even if there are no mandatory procedures required, the return on investment can be significant, freeing up capital for business operations or for other building upgrades.

If you are seeking Existing Building Commissioning services for your projects, reach out to us on [email protected]