Lipstick on a Pig?

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An Ode To The Building Owner

Commissioning

Building Owner, we feel your pain.  You’re trying to meet occupant needs, incorporate new technology and maintain equipment all while lowering your operational costs.  With older building systems, building maintenance personnel can be overwhelmed or inadequately trained to deal with snow-balling issues that quickly compound.  As issues multiply, staff is often times too pre-occupied with dealing with the daily issues that arise to really address the fundamental problems of system operation.  From simultaneous heating and cooling to variable frequency drives that are locked “on,” these buildings are not only affecting occupant comfort but can also cost the owner some serious cash.

Unfortunately, these exacerbating issues are rarely addressed adequately.  The building exterior is painted but windows and doors are not sealed properly.  The roof is a patchwork of repairs in favor of the perceived expense of a new roof.  Control systems are installed but the staff is never trained on their operation, and the same controls that are meant to save costs and accommodate occupant comfort are simply over-ridden.  In the South, we have an expression for these types of fixes.  It’s called “putting lipstick on a pig.”  As long as building systems are being handled inadequately, occupant complaints are going to pile up and your total cost of ownership will rise.  We guarantee it.

Fortunately, Building Owner, there is a real remedy to the problems that are plaguing your buildings – commissioning.  While your contractors may have left behind a heap of instructions and manuals that have since been accumulating dust in the corner of the maintenance office, if your building was never commissioned, then there is no assurance that individual systems ever performed together as designed.  In an ideal world, building systems function as designed and work together harmoniously; however, we do not live in a perfect world.  Commissioning is the process of verifying that all of the subsystems for mechanical, plumbing, electrical, fire/life safety, building envelopes, interior systems, cogeneration, utility plants, sustainable systems, lighting, wastewater, controls, and building security are working as designed to achieve the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) as intended by the building owner and as designed by the building architects and engineers.  Commissioning is best performed by a credentialed Commissioning Authority (CxA).  The CxA works for the owner and is the owner’s insurance that a building performs as designed.  The CxA will note all deficiencies and ultimately deliver a roadmap to correct these deficiencies through making recommendations for best practices and energy savings.

A study on commissioning performed by the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy found that commissioning is indeed cost-effective for both new and existing buildings over a range of facility types and sizes.  Savings were found not only in reduced energy consumption but also in savings from improved equipment lifetimes, reduced maintenance, fewer contractor call-backs, and other non-energy benefits. Investigators found that commissioning existing buildings achieved median energy cost savings of 15%, with payback periods of 1.1 years*.

The value of commissioning cannot be understated.  It is a valuable resource for problem-prone buildings and can even find energy savings in unremarkable buildings.  The Cx process is the best way to for an owner to ensure that a building is working for its occupants and operating at optimum performance.

*Evan Mills, Ph.D., “Building Commissioning: A Golden Opportunity for Reducing Energy Costs and Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for California Energy Commission Public Interest Energy Research (PIER), 2009: 1
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DSC_0046Raisa Johnson is a Marketing Analyst for Sain Engineering Associates