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Is Your Building Operating Like It Should?

Key Points
  • Recommissioning helps ensure that building systems are operating according to current needs.
  • The recommissioning process includes cost-saving tuneups to energy-using equipment and systems.
  • Recommissioning can result in average energy savings of 15 percent.

Office buildings
As buildings age and usage changes, overall performance can degrade. Common problems include excessive maintenance costs, high utility bills, poor indoor air quality, and high tenant turnover.

Recommissioning takes a holistic view of building system performance, addressing these problems in ways preventative maintenance tuneups cannot. It allows you to analyze energy-using systems from a whole-building perspective, identifying the most effective cost-saving opportunities.

Why recommissioning?

Recommissioning determines if facility systems are operating according to the needs of the current owners or occupants and to identify operational and maintenance improvements. Benefits of recommissioning include improved equipment performance, increased asset value, lower energy costs, and better indoor air quality.

Recommissioning typically involves a four-step process:

  • Planning. The recommissioning team develops a set of goals and establishes a timeline for implementation.
  • Investigation. The team gathers information about building systems and equipment and prioritizes measures for improvement.
  • Implementation. Improvement measures begin with those that can be implemented quickly and are easy to track.
  • Continuation. Ongoing monitoring and periodic reviews track the progress of improvements and ensure that building systems continue to operate in their optimized state.

Major systems covered in the recommissioning process (lighting, HVAC, supplemental loads) contribute significantly to energy costs. A study led by the U.S. Department of Energy found that recommissioning can result in average energy savings of 15 percent and a payback of less than one year.
Energy audit
Cost-saving tune ups

The implementation of energy-saving measures will depend on the outcome of the planning and investigative phases; the following tuneups for building operations and maintenance are effective at saving energy and money.

Lighting. Over time, lighting systems can become less efficient and effective. These low-cost measures can help to improve performance:

  • Clean existing fixtures and replace burned-out lamps. This can significantly increase light output without a costly upgrade. Establish a program of regular cleaning and maintenance.
  • Measure light levels to ensure that they are appropriate for the application. The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) publishes recommended light levels for different tasks.
  • Ensure that dimmers, occupancy sensors, and other lighting controls are properly calibrated and adjust as necessary.

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). System controls and components present numerous savings opportunities when cleaned and maintained correctly. The following list will get you started:

  • Inspect and clean all heat exchange equipment. These include air handlers, fan coil terminal units, and baseboard radiators.
  • Check indoor and outdoor thermostats and sensors to ensure that they are calibrated in accordance with building design specifications.
  • Inspect damper and valve controls and make sure they are functioning correctly. For example, dampers that are stuck in one position can waste energy and reduce indoor air quality.
  • Review building operating schedules and adjust heating and cooling controls to condition the building during occupied hours.
  • Clean boiler and/or chiller tubes. Cleaner tubes improve efficiency by providing a smoother surface for heat transfer.
  • Replace failed steam traps. Boiler steam traps stuck in the open position allow steam to escape, wasting energy. Check for and replace failed steam straps and establish a regular steam trap maintenance program.

Supplemental loads. These loads include secondary contributors to energy use, such as office equipment and areas of potential energy loss, such as the building envelope (wall, windows, doors, and roof). Tune up opportunities for these loads include the following:

  • Enable power management settings for office equipment to avoid wasting energy when equipment is not in use. Network printers together to save energy and money.
  • Check and seal air leaks with appropriate materials, such as caulking for windows and weatherstripping for doors. Inspect the insulation and make sure levels match those recommended in ASHRAE Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. 
For more information about the energy-saving benefits of building recommissioning, see the ENERGY STAR Building Upgrade Manual published by the U.S. Department of Energy.