Tuscaloosa Medical Facility Experiences Energy Savings Due to Building Diagnostics

Studies show most adults only schedule an appointment with their primary physician after they become sick or need critical medical attention. Most ailments are overlooked until we experience extreme discomfort. Modern medicine affords us the luxury of seeking preventive care as a means to reduce the number of critical doctor visits therefore reducing long term costs. This same concept applies to the places we work, shop, live or spend any substantial amount of time. With the latest advances in technology and building science it is critical that facility owners take a proactive approach to maintaining their facilities by investing in a “check-up.”

TASC96 is an outpatient medical center located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The building is home to several independent medical service providers including a sleep center, blood services, administration spaces and surgical suites. TASC96 prides itself on providing an optimum environment conducive to providing quality health services.  To accomplish this, all the critical building systems must work together as one cohesive unit. A failure in any area can result in patient safety issues, loss of production due to downtime and expensive replacement costs. SEA was tasked with evaluating the facility and developing a strategy to improve the performance of the building operations systems.Our team began the process of improving system performance and reducing energy consumption through a “check-up,” optimizing the existing HVAC systems.

Through the application of Building Commissioning principles, the SEA team performed functional testing on more than 40 pieces of equipment, identifying and correcting any issues. Building Commissioning works to identify and solve building system problems at each phase of the facility’s life cycle. Over the life cycle of a commercial building, 30% of the costs go to the actual construction of the building. All other expenses are necessary for Operations and Maintenance (O&M). Commissioning allows building owners to decrease the cost of the O&M portion which is too often overlooked. Proper evaluation can lead to huge savings and assure building owners are getting the best performance out of their systems and building.

Issues identified for TASC96 included airflow, outdated HVAC equipment as well as improper use of the condensing boiler. The lower you can get the temperature on a condensing boiler (typically 1300F is desired), the more efficient it is. A condensing boiler essentially recovers a portion of its waste and reuses it, whereas a regular boiler allows that waste to go unused. At TASC96, the boiler always ran at a temperature of 1500F so it operated like a regular boiler and didn’t achieve the savings associated with a condensing boiler.

The process included speaking directly to the stakeholders affected by the performance of the building systems and asking them what their issues are. Are there comfort issues related to temperature? Are you hot while your coworker is cold? How is the air quality? Are there recurring maintenance issues with no real solutions? Do these issues affect the quality of service you provide to your patients? SEA worked closely with the doctors and other tenants throughout the building to address these needs through discussing temperature control, humidity and other challenges. While our primary goals are reducing energy and increasing comfort, we are mindful of critical areas, such as operating rooms, where the slightest change can have adverse effects.

As a direct result of our efforts, SEA’s conservative projection of total annual savings for the owner is $45,000 over the first year alone. The first month and a half of SEA’s new measures being implemented, we reduced the power bill by 30% and the gas bill by 40% compared to the past three years.

According to the U.S. General Services Administration, building commissioning can result in energy savings of 20-50% and maintenance savings of 15-35% depending on building type. A headache is normally an indication of something more serious, requiring the advice of an expert. Be sure to consult a qualified expert who understands your facility’s warning signs and can recommend the right solutions.