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Commissioning Backwards: Optimizing Existing Buildings

Posted by Salas O'Brien on Jul 26, 2018 12:52:00 PM

15120-architecture-blue-269077In recent articles, we’ve talked a lot about the ins and outs of commissioning. This systematic process has clear benefits, and not just for new projects—the owners of older structures may have even more to gain from commissioning than property developers that build new.

While demolishing and starting from scratch might seem like the best option when dealing with inefficient properties, the ecological impact and costs often outweigh the benefits. In many cases, existing building commissioning (EBCx) can help buildings reach comparable levels of efficiency without resorting to complete demolition and new construction.

Energy Audits and EBCx Unpacked

An energy audit is the first step to benchmarking and evaluating a building’s energy efficiency against its "peers." These audits can be used to clarify the need for further capital investments, including energy efficiency measures and a comprehensive EBCx program. Audits provide an initial starting point, but an EBCx process will have the greatest impact because it identifies major infrastructure deficiencies from a system performance perspective.

Thoroughly defined, EBCx is a systematic process for investigating, analyzing, and optimizing the performance of building systems through the identification and implementation of low to no cost and capital facility improvement measures and ensuring their continued performance. EBCx improves the accuracy of the energy audit by verifying actual field conditions and ensuring the energy model inputs match true conditions. This process may uncover additional key opportunities for operational improvement, and it will ensure that owners have the full picture when determining which improvements are worth the cost to implement. Backed by verified as-built documentation, our team’s estimations on payback are also vital to this decision-making process and implementation.

Short-term Costs, Long-term Gains

According to a 2005 study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, PECI, and the Energy Systems Laboratory at Texas A&M University, the median payback for EBCx is 8.5 months. With that kind of return on investment, many finance companies now invest in property owners’ upgrades. In our experience at Salas O’Brien, the investment can have huge payback.  

In addition to the potential for optimized efficiency, improved building conditions, and major savings, both energy audits and EBCx can empower project owners to pursue the U.S. Green Building Council’s Existing Building Operations and Maintenance certification (EBOM for short). From the USGBC’s perspective, the greenest building is the building that has already been built—and the council eagerly recognizes existing building owners who achieve optimal efficiency in older structures.

EBCx in Action

Our work on two high rises in Los Angeles shows the excellent potential for high return on EBCx investment. The Century Plaza Towers are some of the most well-known office and residential buildings in the Los Angeles area. When the building owners recognized the need for a central plant upgrade to meet the increasing technology needs of their tenants, they decided to reevaluate their energy usage and pursue LEED for Existing Buildings certification as well. Our team provided commissioning and energy analysis services for this project, and as a direct result of our involvement, the owners saved $900,000 in rebates and immediately payed back their investment in commissioning. 

For property owners who want to lower costs and optimize tenant environments without starting from scratch, the EBCx process offers incredible potential. And it’s the best first step toward a culture of sustainability and ongoing improvement. If you want to find out more about how Salas O’Brien’s commissioning for existing buildings can help your properties, get in touch to find out more.

Topics: Expect a Difference, Commissioning, Energy savings, California

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