Why ongoing commissioning can lead to better-performing buildings

Why ongoing commissioning can lead to better-performing buildings

In today’s economy, the term “cost reduction” is in every manager's daily discussions. Companies need to significantly reduce waste to stay competitive and continue growth in this challenging economic climate. This context brings multiple challenges and headaches for leaders when it’s time to take decisions and move forward.

The building management industry is no different to this reality. Facility managers and building operators struggle to make informed decisions. A big part of their dilemma resides in the building itself. Essential but expensive, energy costs are one of today’s biggest challenges for facility management professionals. They continuously need to develop strategies to cut down wasted energy sources to reduce their baseline operating costs and meet state regulations. Having to deal with various types of data -- from energy to occupants' requests to maintenance and operations -- these managers are trying to do more with limited resources.

This usually results in expensive investments in “greener” equipment for the buildings which are expected to save energy during a short-term period. Improved lighting products, efficient chillers and greener HVAC systems can have an immediate impact on efficiency. Although these large capital investments can bring savings to the building's monthly energy bills, they require multiple resources and do not always bring long term results as they are intended. Why? Because adding technology to the building system does not automatically result in efficient operations.

Ongoing Commissioning

In order to achieve objectives and identify smart solutions, facility managers must implement better technologies along with a new management culture built on best practices. Ongoing commissioning is an innovative approach to managing buildings. It always improves their energy consumption and shifts their operations to today’s performance standards.

Ongoing commissioning is a four-step implementation process followed with a step-by-step continuous improvement cycle. Implementing this system within operations is the most important step in creating a smart building. And to achieve a level of excellence, all processes, including the Building Automation System (BAS), must also be analyzed, improved and monitored.

Photo of businessman looking at building provided via gui jun peng/Shutterstock

Step 1: Benchmarking

The first step in implementing an ongoing commissioning process is to benchmark the building's actual performance. This can be done in multiple ways. More affordable solutions consist in utility bill analysis or a detailed building inspection using standard questionnaires such as ASHREA, BOMA, Energy Star® and LEED. These tools can help the team decide what to measure and why. Hardware and software solutions like energy management system (EMS) are also available to monitor energy. If the team needs more data and support, measurement and verification analysis companies (M&V) can be contracted to install measuring devices, collect data and share expertise during the analysis. Although this alternative is more expensive, the team has access to training and the sub-contractor can substantially facilitate the project.

Step 2: Objectives

Once the baseline is settled, the building owner or the management team must establish a first set of objectives to define the vision of the team and the project scope. Then, the team determines the key performance indicators (KPI) to monitor their progression in achieving their objectives.

Step 3: Action

With the project scope and targets defined, the team is able to take action on the building management process and its mechanical systems in order to improve overall building performance (KPI). The most complete solution is to undertake a complete re-commissioning of the building which impacts all the building systems at once in order to reset the building capabilities and start optimization with ongoing commissioning. This solution is more expensive, but can unlock a structure's full savings potential. As an alternative, the team can also select opportunities from the benchmarking data and take local action on specific equipment to start generating savings.

In order to get more information from the building, fault detection and diagnosis software are powerful tools to analyze the building 24/7 and provide all the required information on where, what and how to improve mechanical system performance in relation with a building's environment. Accessing this level of information is a critical step to start ongoing commissioning. More and more building managers use energy monitoring applications which give detailed information about daily energy consumption. Although using this software is a good start, they do not provide all the information required to quickly identify any problems in a building's mechanical system. Without such information, teams are forced to use quick fixes instead of correcting the root cause of the problem. By using a fault detection-based solution instead, problems can be solved more efficiently.

Now that facility managers have more visibility on a building's performance, investments can be made to buy new sustainable products and equipment to bring the building up to current standards. These asset changes help ensure the building operates as designed and improved.

Step 4: Continuous improvement cycle

To achieve the full benefits of ongoing commissioning, the team has to be involved in a daily effort to improve efforts. Reviewing previously established KPI and taking action at every gap to identify the proper corrective action unlocks the team full potential at reaching operational excellence. Computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) are also useful tools to help the team manage internal activities. Some CMMS also include more advanced business features such as accounting, inventory, project management and budget, which simplify management tasks.

Continuous improvement of maintenance activities is a crucial step in reducing the energy consumption of the building. Implementing a robust preventive maintenance process with efficient scheduling ensures proper monitoring and prevents breakdowns or malfunctions due to excessive wear of equipment. Using CMMS and fault detection tools on a regular basis feeds processes with actions and improvements to implement within a building's systems. Each problem raised is an opportunity to learn from and gain experience – as well as collect useful data – about a building's history.

Ongoing commissioning: A management solution

Today’s economy forces companies to do better every day with less or fewer resources. Ongoing commissioning is a mix of technology and management culture intended to improve building energy consumption during its entire lifecycle. It's key to maximizing results and realizing long-term benefits.