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20 min read

SBA 246: How to Retrocommission Buildings

By Phil Zito on Apr 19, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Topics: Podcasts

I've always worked on the outside of retrocommissioning projects as an advisor or a technician. That's why in this episode I'm going to join you in exploring how retrocommissioning works and how to best approach it. 

Along the way we are going to analyze strategies, processes, and tips and tricks to effectively retrocommission buildings.

Click here to download or listen to this episode now.

Resources mentioned in this episode

US VA Retrocommissioning Guide

Department of Energy Operations and Maintenance Guide

NREL Controls Evaluation protocol

Analytics 101

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Show notes

Phil Zito 0:00
This is the smart buildings Academy podcast with Phil Zito Episode 246. Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome to Episode 246 of the smart buildings Academy podcast. And in this episode, we are going to be tackling the topic of retro commissioning. And this is going to be a really interesting episode. Because what I've done is I've went and grabbed several guides that I will be sharing at podcast that smart buildings academy.com, forward slash 246. And these guides are on the topic of O and M. So operations and maintenance and retro commissioning. You know, as a former building automation technician, I've been involved in both a lot of retro commissioning, a lot of site audits, a lot of energy conservation measures, facility improvement measures, ESCO projects, etc. But I've always just been involved, I was never the person who went and drafted it all together. So I got to see bits and pieces. So I'm going to be doing a little bit of learning alongside you. And while this is going to sound, I probably shouldn't share this. But while this is going to sound really boring, I promise you it will not be boring, we're actually going to read through several documents. Now I'm not going to read them verbatim. But I am going to talk about some of the core concepts share my thoughts and feelings as we move through this. And my belief is that we will both come out of here with a much greater understanding of retro commissioning processes and approaches. And how if you're a building owner, or if you're a tech or if you are maybe a consulting engineer, how you can go and apply retro commissioning processes to your buildings or your customers buildings. So that being said, like I mentioned everything is going to be available at COP cop cast podcast that smart buildings academy.com Ford slash 246. Once again, that is podcast dot smart buildings academy.com Ford slash 246. Let's dive in. So the first document I'm looking at comes from the VA. It's a slightly dated document being from 2014. But it is a beefy document at 128 pages. And it starts to dive into retro commissioning, the first thing I'm going to go to is this kind of retro commissioning

Phil Zito 2:30
process overview and one of the things that you'll see whenever you get into very process oriented, or projects like retro commissioning that stretch campuses and stretch, you know, large amounts of buildings is a mandate and goals and looking at it as more of a project. So that's kind of the first decision and this is from my own experience, right? It's kind of the first decision you need to make as a person going and pursuing retro commissioning is are you doing this at a kind of capital level and it's overarching and stretching across multiple buildings? Are you doing this on a case by case basis and you see retro commissioning right it is focused on going and basically recommissioning the buildings. So, what goes on with retro commissioning is let me back up actually. So, you do a project right you do some new construction, you put a system in place and then you have Point to Point check out you have functional test and you potentially have commissioning and commissioning is just validating that the system operates as designed and it can be multiple different levels of commissioning, right? You can have simple just pen and paper commissioning, where you look through the submittal setup looks good, or you can go all the way to the extreme where you have a commissioning plan and you validate every individual point every individual system, you have to see the system actually progressing through the sequence of operation states, you have to see the failure states etc. So the purpose of retro commissioning is to bring building systems back into those initial performance standards. I think where a lot of people get tripped up is they look at retro commissioning. And they mix retro commissioning with energy conservation and facility improvement measure focused projects. Retro commissioning, at its core is going and making sure that the systems operate, how they originally operated. Now, if you want to expand upon that during the process and add energy conservation measures, you know, like demand ventilation or static pressure, reset, trim and response, things like that. That's okay, but that is taking the system beyond its original design. intent. And you just need to be aware of that and be careful. So I give you all of that just to go and say, you know, as we're looking at this document, it talks about a mandate. And that's important to a certain degree. It's especially important when you're in the government or you're part of a larger organization, and you need to get dollars and focus allocated to that actual building or set of buildings. But if you are in a data center, or if you're in a hospital, where the indoor environment and indoor air quality is critical to the performance of your business objective, then you definitely should be performing some form of retro commissioning on a scheduled basis. And this can break out into as we'll see, as we move through this episode, and this episode isn't scripted. So it's probably going to go all over the place for those of you who are engineers, and that makes you super uncomfortable, I apologize. Trust me, you'll learn a lot stick with it. Even if it feels like we're going down a lot of rabbit holes and ping pong all over the place, you will get something out of this. Alright. That being said, what you may look at from a retro commissioning perspective is less of a process and less of procedural and something like intelligent retro commissioning or continuous commissioning, ongoing commissioning. And we'll talk through kind of what that is as we move a little bit later. So as I mentioned, you have a retro commissioning mandate, right, and this just gains alignment, and it allocates resources, then you set your goals, it's really critical to have goals, when you are doing any form of retro commissioning, retrofitting, you need to have a goal. Usually the goal is just get the system functioning again. Now, how do you do this now that the document goes through benefits, and it talks about the team? I'm not going to go into that just yet. How do you go and make sure that you're meeting your goals? Well,

Phil Zito 7:00
what I like to and this is critical when you do integration, when you do any form of retrofit is you need to have an as is and a to b vision. Now, I would argue that the as is and the to be vision for your building automation system and your hv AC systems etc. Should be similar in most retro commissioning projects. Meaning that your as is, is or sorry, Your to be I misspoke. Your to be should match the designed system. Sorry about that got that mixed up your to be should match the design system. So whatever your design intent was for that building, and its operating conditions, and its energy profile, when it was first created, your to be after you're done with retro commissioning should match that they should be aligned, okay, you can always do energy conservation measures and facility improvement measures later. But initially, we just want to get back to that to be state. And I'll talk later in the episode about some triggers that can go and kind of indicate that, hey, I'm drifting from that to be state. Now, as is is our actual state. And we'll talk about this. And I'm going to give you a very brief and then we'll talk about it in greater detail later. But as is your current state, right. So that is what are what sensors are online and offline, what controllers online and offline, what's been overwritten, what's not overwritten, things like that. And what you need to do is identify that as is state through a site survey. And then you need to go and implement whatever you got to implement to bring the system to the to be state. That's basic architecture strategy for any project that is retrofit in nature is you have an AS IS YOU HAVE A to B, and you need to close the gap through work packages. Now, as it mentions, you should have a retro commissioning team if you're doing this across the campus. But this can be as simple as just having a facility manager and having someone on the contract side. When I say contract side, I mean contractors who can actually go and execute this, I'm going to skip through the contractual relationship aspect because that's more specific to the the VA in the document I'm reading, but we're gonna get to the six phases. We're gonna skip over the contract planning because contract planning is typically specific to the organization. And we're going to go into our cx planning, retro commissioning planning, and this really, right this is where a lot of the work is done. If you get the planning phase done, right. And you get the next phase I'm going to talk through which is the investigation phase done right, then the likelihood of you being able to properly one budget and 2x acute, your retro commissioning projects is much, much higher. So planning, you really want to understand what is the scope? What is the goal? Where are we going to be working, and kind of what are our estimated costs, and who's going to be doing this. So this may look like saying, okay, we're going to do this over the summer, we're going to do these three buildings. And our goal is to bring them back to, you know, to be so designed and installed conditions. And we're going to do it across these pieces of equipment. This is when we're going to do it, this is kind of high level how but not really, too high, or not too deep. So kind of high level, because the How is more gonna come after the investigation phase. So this is going to drive us into the investigation phase. Now, here's the deal. If you're doing this across the campus, it's kind of a chicken in the egg concept, because in order to get a contractor, typically, to execute an investigation, deep dive site survey and analysis of data, you typically are going to have to pay for that, they sometimes will do it

Phil Zito 11:20
if they are in the process of trying to qualify if you are large enough customer, but most of the time, you're going to have to do some sort of role pay you for the investigation. And if we choose to use you, you apply that cost towards the project. Now during this investigation phase, we're going to be going we're going to be walking the site, we're going to be collecting all of our data, we're going to really dig into what is actually functioning and what is not functioning. Now it's at this point that you can go a little bit deeper, if you're looking for potential energy conservation measures, if you're looking for potential facility improvement measures. This is where you can interview facility staff, you can analyze how the staff operates, how they perform, what they do, what the tenant satisfaction levels are. And you can come through potential strategies of facility improvements of sequence improvements of energy conservation measures that you can do. But remember, it all depends on whether you're doing retro commissioning to bring it back to design state, or whether you're doing retro commissioning as part of a greater mandate towards maybe energy conservation or operational staff improvement. So it's at this point that we're starting to gather our documents, you know, it's a standard set that I've talked about in so many podcasts before, right, we want to dive into our o and M's. We want to do an equipment inventory, we want to go and run a system

Phil Zito 12:52
verification for if things are offline if things are overwritten, etc. And then from that, we'll come up with a report of where things are at and where deficiencies the lie. There's so many standard templates for this. If you just Google commissioning test plan, commissioning test, report, things like that, you know, file type XLS x, then you should be able to find plenty of templates that you can use is at this point, we move into the implementation phase. This is where we're actually going to start to execute our work packages. This is usually where we are going to get very detailed. This is where we're going to have a project manager. This is where we're going to figure out how are we going to bring things in line. I typically like to start at the IO level and work my way up. And the reason why is that oftentimes from a funding perspective, we can't do everything in retro commissioning, right? We can't do everything. But if we can just get our sensors accurate like imagine this right you have an air handler you have yo 100 ton air handler, right lot of capacity in that air handler. And it's driving to da te but the DHT sensors bad you are potentially wasting tons of energy and tons of mechanical effort driving towards a discharge air temperature that is bad. So ideally, we want to get our IO fixed first. Then from our IO, we go to controllers then from controllers, we go to sequence of operations. Then from sequence of operations, right, we move up to supervisory level, we move up the visualization. But if we fix our IO, that will take care of a lot of problems. Because remember with direct digital control systems, which in reality is most of what we'll focus on. with direct digital control systems. We depend on the inputs and the outputs. In order to go well primarily we depend on our inputs in order To feed into the process loops that are inside the controllers in order to drive our outputs. So at this phase, we're running through implementation, and then we go into the turnover phase. And then we go into this persistence phase. So the turnover phase really is bringing everyone up to speed, making sure that people understand, you know, this is where the systems that now it's all working. And then persistence is making sure that the system does not break. And this is through, you know, ongoing commissioning, monitoring, based commissioning, continuous commissioning, there's a lot of different terms that can be used. Okay, so, you when you approach this, when you approach this persistence phase, it's really and quite honestly, persistence phase should exist after just a new construction project. But the persistence phase is the key phase to maintaining retro commissioning. This is where and I talked about how you can set up some triggers. This is where you can set up tolerance based alarms when inputs and outputs go out of tolerance range, you can have them trigger alarms, and you can label that alarm out of tolerance. You can have override reports that are sent out, you can have analytics potentially, that monitor you know, for example, if we have da te, and it's controlled by a chilled water valve, and we noticed that our da te is not tracking even though our chilled water valve is opening and closing that analytics can generate a potential valve failure or a plug in the coil. So there's so many different things, triggers, and alerts that we can set up. But we've got to be careful, because what I've seen consistently, especially across many campus environments, I remember I think it was Monsanto I was at, and they had like 50,000 unacknowledged alarms, the time I was there, and their central utility plant that was having chiller alarms and chiller issues, but they weren't notified of it. Because they had 50,000, unacknowledged alarms, I don't know if that is any longer the case that was like a decade ago. But still, it was a tremendous issue for a central utility plant and a space that was real critically important to that customer, it was a very temperature and humidity focused area since they were growing plants. And those require specific temperature and humidity levels. Alright, so as we continue through this guide, it's got some nice little flow charts kind of goes through some things, I'm going to skip

Phil Zito 17:35
forward into the planning phase right here. And it talks about just the stuff you would expect in any planning phase, right, if you've been to any of our project management courses, you know, we talked about having a kickoff meeting, we talked about on the kickoff meeting, making it clear what your scope of work is doing a risk assessment to that scope of work and analyzing any risks that could be causing delays, creating your schedule, going and doing, hey, we're going to do these submittals, we're going to do our site analysis at this time, listing out the clear tasks and who owns them, and the objective. So really, you know, basic stuff that you would expect during project kickoff, right. From there, we move into investigation. And this is where we go and we collect and assemble our data. So how do we do this is usually a combination of a site visit and going and taking pictures or scans of all the equipment plates and making sure that that matches the MEP set that you're working off of, as well as taking the control submittals. And comparing that to the to the implemented system and making sure that the system is tracking to the submittals as well as it being operable. So you'll typically do you know a system report, an override report and offline report, you'll go and just make sure everything is functioning. From there, you generate a punch list. And that punch list is then used to actually drive the further the scoping and the implementation. So at the implementation, this is where we're going to go and build all of our corrective actions. I like to call them work packages. Some folks will call them corrective actions. And it's at this point that we start funding those corrective actions and there's a variety of different funding mechanisms. You could do capital funding, you can do operational funding, you can fund through warranty. If the project still ongoing, you can fund through potential active service contracts. You can even self execute to a certain point. Once you've done that, and you figured out how we're going to fund then you actually have to go and execute and what I like to do personally is I like to run My work packages or my corrective actions, I like to rank them based on the potential impact to dollar amount, as well as the potential impact to the business use cases and the business outcomes that we're trying to achieve. So for example, if we do a analysis of a hospital, and we discover that temperature and humidity are being improperly controlled in an O r, then that's going to have obviously more criticality than a open corridor in the lobby that isn't maintaining temperature and humidity, because people can get infections, people can get all sorts of stuff if we aren't maintaining the proper temperature and humidity in the car. So even though it may cost more for us to repair 100% outdoor air unit, then for us to repair a va vbox. The business outcome, the business impact is obviously tremendously higher, the life safety impact is tremendously higher of servicing that outdoor area in it. So we want to go and focus on that. Obviously, I say obviously, I shouldn't say obviously, because I feel like then that makes you feel like you're dumb if it's not obvious to you. And that's not the case. not at all the case. So I'll try to stop using that word, obviously, it's just a filler word. But what you'll start to see is as you do a project, and as you implement these corrective actions, you don't just want to implement them, you want to make sure that you're doing functional tests that you're doing point to point, you want to make sure that you're actually validating that these corrective actions are making a difference. And then you want to execute a turnover. Right. And so that turnover is going to be where you're doing. Basically, it's it's like in any project where you do a turnover, you have your own manual that you pass off, you have your system operations manual, and then you train the team to actually execute. So whenever you're doing a CFR corrective action, right, then what I really are co are, I don't know why I'm saying CFR. So a corrective action. Whenever you're doing that, you want to also make sure that you're building and cost to train the team, and that you're building and cost to continue to analyze the conditions at that space, or spaces or buildings to make sure that they are not drifting out of tolerance, okay. And you do that through monitoring, and you can monitor through fault detection. So there's really a couple types of analytics. And we've talked about this in our previous analytics episode, which I'll link to at podcast at smart buildings Academy comm Ford slash 246. But we talked about there being reactive analytics and proactive analytics. So reactive analytics allow you to basically analyze performance, they allow you to use regression, which means you can account for temperature, you can account for humidity, occupancy, etc. And then you have proactive analytics, which are more fault detection, they're actively looking at your system, and they are projecting potential degradation and potential issues and bringing that to your attention. So you can have a mix of both, in my opinion, in my opinion, it is better. Ah, this is tough. If you have a facility team that self executes, if you have a facility team that is capable of resolving issues, or you're willing to fund a service response, it's better to have proactive analytics. If not, then it's better to have a reactive analytics, because then you can build punch lists that you can then drive into capital projects, if you can't fund the maintenance of your facility through operational budgets, which some people just simply can't. Alright, so with that, let's move on. I want to look at this other article here, which is from who released this one. This is from the Department of Energy. It's more around operation and maintenance best practices. But we're gonna go to chapter seven, which is on commissioning existing buildings, and they talk through kind of what is commissioning, what are the benefits, what are the findings, and what I want to point us to is the financial aspect of commissioning. So what they talk about is commissioning costs are anywhere from 50 cents per square foot to $3 per square foot, but that the return can usually go and generate substantially higher than that. So they're they're talking about 15% and paybacks of point seven years based on their meta analysis.

Phil Zito 25:01
So, with that being said, What do you do? How do you track this? How do you build a business case around retro commissioning? What do you do? First thing you do, right? Obviously, as I mentioned, you go and gather data. But from a ROI perspective, you want to understand what are the electrical costs, peak electrical cost, the fuel, just what are all of the energy utilization and consumption metrics that you would typically expect? A Energy Manager to know, once you've captured those, you can capture the commissioning cost. And then you can look at the potential to reduce energy consumption to reduce tenant complaints, etc. And you can put a value associated with that, and generate a simple ROI. There's much more to that there's much more to generating ROI. If you're really interested in ROI generation, tied to energy, a course I highly recommend is the certified Energy Manager course by a triple E. That's one of the most valuable courses I've been through in my professional career. And it's something I would recommend people, if they're looking at stepping into the energy space that they consider that five day course, I have no tied to a Tripoli, I actually have no relation with them whatsoever, I just found it at the time to be a very valuable course to myself. So we'll go from there, they have a very similar process, the Department of Energy, which is planning, investigation, implementation and handoff and integration. So their process is only four steps. I feel as if their process is a little light on the reporting and the continued analysis. And so I would encourage you, if you're looking at their process documents, still think about that. An additional thing I do want to mention is that commissioning does not have to be this huge, you know, I'm going to visit every building, I'm going to grab all the plate information. So I can build a digital building our digital twin model, it doesn't have to be I'm going to install our or I'm going to do a site audit of everything you could just simply, especially on newer buildings, implement analytics, and a lot of analytics will do a commissioning analysis on their own. So in some cases, a lot of people ask me like, what is the benefit for analytics? How do I do an ROI on analytics? Well, especially if you have a newer building, and it's got a good density of data, meaning you've got the right amount of data points for your systems, then in those cases, you oftentimes can go and offset the cost of full blown retro commissioning with analytics, and it'll pay for itself. So that's something to consider. It's not always the case. But it's sometimes the case, I really do like this one Department of Energy document because it does get into the math. And it does give you several case studies of retro commissioning projects in place. All good though, be aware that these retro commissioning projects were also tied to some energy conservation measures. So it's a little bit

Phil Zito 28:34
a mixed bag here. Retro commissioning by itself definitely does generate savings. But it usually generates the best savings if it's tied to energy conservation measures. Now we're just talking energy. Now I know everyone's all fired up about energy saved the planet, all that fun stuff. But at the end of the day, as I always say, that's all well and good. But if you can't get people in the building, and they're not comfortable in the building, then it doesn't matter if the buildings efficient, because there will be no building, you know, it'll go out of business. So we also need to be aware of indoor air quality, especially post COVID. We also need to be aware of tenant experience, especially now that a lot of people can work at home. So with that being said, I really encourage you, while energy conservation measures are important, really do consider the facility improvement measure side of retro commissioning, that is also very important. And it's something that is much more difficult to put $1 amount to so how do you do that? How do you take facility improvement measures and put $1 amount to them because the energy conservation measure side has been beaten to death. There's no point me teaching you that you can simply google that and get all the calx you need. But from a facility improvement measure perspective, here's how I look at it. I look at it as three buckets. One is life safety. So if you had an infectious event at a hospital, what would that cost you? What is the likelihood of that happening? And how much can you potentially reduce that by times the cost of that event, and then you get your payback? The same are the times the cost of the event times the likelihood of it happening, and then divide that by the cost to do the facility improvement measure that gives you your payback. same can be said for like data centers, right? What is the cost of downtime, versus the potential facility improvement measure? Now, when you get outside of that things get a little more soft? Like, what is the cost of acquiring a tenant? What is the value of a tenant? And then what is the likelihood of a tenant ending their lease if the environment is not optimal? What is the likelihood of litigation for not doing proper COVID? mitigation? It seems like most folks are avoiding litigation on commercial properties, and government properties. But who knows, that may come down the pipe? And if it does, how much does a potential facility improvement measure that mitigates that risk? cost versus benefit you? That's something you need to consider. Okay, so that being said, that brings us kind of to the end of this episode, I know this was an natural, I don't wanna say unnatural. This was not our normal format. Yo, me reading through documents, and normally a much more scripted than this. But I hope this helped you kind of understand retro commissioning at a high level, please do not hesitate to reach out in the comment section. Wherever you're listening to this. I'd love to engage with you and answer your questions. And if this is a topic you'd like to learn more about, then I encourage you to leave that in the comments. And we'll cover this even further. I think next week, we're going to be interviewing someone from from haystack I believe. And then the week after that, we're going to dive into O and M and we're going to spend a couple days on a couple podcast episodes on omm diving through those topics. Hey, thanks so much for being here. In the meantime, please comment. Let me know what questions you have about this. I'd love to hear from you go to podcast at smart buildings. academy.com Ford slash 246. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks a ton and have a great rest of your week. Take care

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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