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Pitch Perfect: Keep Your Building in Tune

Key Points
  • Re-tuning a building's operation to meet actual conditions can reduce energy costs.
  • Training staff, as well as educating builders and owners, is key to success.
  • Simple changes, like lowering temperature set points, can have big returns.

In many ways, buildings need to keep time, just like an orchestra. Occupancy levels go up and down, weather fluctuates daily, sensors go out of calibration and equipment no longer operates to its design performance, creating discord. Re-tuning your building to accommodate these changes provides an economical way to significantly reduce operating costs and restore harmony.

Parmenter Realty Partners (PRP) investigated an under-performing building. The company's re-tuning process involved:

  • Reviewing trending data of 200 recommended points
  • Training staff from various locations
  • Performing a live review of the building automation system
  • Inspecting interior and exterior spaces, examining the roof
  • Using infrared scanners to locate air infiltration
  • Measuring temperatures at glass surfaces
  • Reviewing mechanical plans to understand the original design
  • Developing list of repairs and reviewing with vendors and engineers
  • Testing all systems for three to four days

Staff quickly found the sour notes: a malfunctioning economizer, improperly positioned and out-of-calibration sensors, inoperable valves and clogged filters. After re-tuning was completed, tenant complaints about comfort dropped and energy consumption decreased by 10 percent compared to the previous year.

PRP discovered that not having a qualified chief engineer was a major handicap. PRP now provides training for all engineering staff, as well as educating owners and asset managers.

Vornado, a realty company, trained building operators to re-tune controls and other building components. In the three months following, Vornado saved an average of 27 percent on heating costs and three percent on its electricity bill after:

  • Lowering the set point of the hot-water supply temperature
  • Reducing the static pressure on the main duct and branches
  • Changing the set points on fan discharge and chilled water supply temperatures
  • Lowering the temperature of the condenser water supply
  • Using motion sensors in the conference rooms to switch to night mode

Hitting the right note

Successful re-tuning depends on a number of factors. To get the best results, follow these tips:

  • Provide thorough training of operations and engineering staff
  • Have a trustworthy mechanical engineer guide retrofits
  • Understand original design before making upgrades
  • Collect as much data as possible, including previous work orders
  • Make sure qualified vendors work on systems
  • Have enough technical resources to implement corrections
  • Implement changes one at a time using maintenance personnel
  • Engage and educate occupants to change their behavior
  • Continue making adjustments year round

For information and resources, see Building Re-Tuning from the U.S. Department of Energy.