Commission This: A Building Operations Challenge

Mon Nov 11, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Commissioning projects deliver huge benefits with a high return on investment; there’s no substitute for being able to walk into a building confident that all systems are fully functional.

Building owners and operators can have a number of reasons for executing commissioning projects on their buildings. They may want to optimize energy efficiency, reduce their Energy Utilization Index (EUI), lower maintenance needs and costs, and/or create a comfortable space for their tenants. Whether performed during the construction phase or in the years following, building commissioning proves to be an effective and high-yielding return on investment for building owners.

Inevitably, building functionality decreases over time, as the normal wear and tear of time and use affects building systems. Mechanical, HVAC, air heating/cooling, water pumping systems, and building automation, among all other building systems, degrade as time goes on. Retro-commissioning (RCx) helps to discover and mitigate the potential controls, mechanical, and operational problems that could exist in aging properties and their respective systems. The energy and sustainability experts at EBI Consulting work to minimize energy use and provide solutions to lower operation and maintenance costs for a diverse range of clients, leading to reductions in buildings’ carbon footprint and improved energy efficiency in an increasingly energy-conscious world.

For one specific client pursuing greater energy efficiency, EBI’s team of engineers and technical experts were able to make a complicated situation a bit easier for all parties. The team completed an array of RCx services on behalf of a federal client on four of their large medical facilities in the southwestern United States totaling over three million square feet.

EBI worked with the project team to develop a comprehensive understanding of the scope of work for each site, then optimized the buildings’ heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems. The team worked to ensure the functionality, sustainability, and efficiency of water and energy consumption for the on-site systems. EBI’s team collaborated with the client to complete all reporting and resulting recommendations to help facilitate the required system updates and changes. To get the job done, EBI worked diligently to foster a positive partnership with all parties involved.


The Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

The client needed to perform RCx services in these facilities to adhere to several federal energy reduction mandates. After a specified period of time, a large number of government-run medical facilities must be retro-commissioned to ensure the functionality and energy efficiency of key building systems—such as water pumping, HVAC, heating/cooling, and other mechanical processes critical in a hospital environment—meet federal standards. As hospitals and medical facilities must run around the clock to treat patients, their building operations also need to perform optimally year-round, in all conditions.

To comply with federal energy reduction requirements, the client reached out regarding a large-scale RCx project covering four hospital facilities in the U.S. Southwest. EBI’s team of skilled energy and sustainability professionals collaborated with the project team to deliver the crucial information the client needed. While three of the sites presented no substantial issues in the assessment process, one facility presented challenges from the outset, requiring the best communication, creativity, and collaboration EBI’s team could muster.


Taking Care of Business

Regardless of the challenges posed, EBI’s team was prepared to accomplish this project and successfully navigate the issues at hand. The project sites were spread out across the southwestern United States and demanded frequent attention and focus. As part of a large portfolio project, partnering with EBI allows small businesses to win larger contracts, and then effectively execute these projects, helping them to grow and expand their business and reputation. EBI has successfully joined forces with many small businesses and contractors to perform various work, creating mutually beneficial partnerships for both the task at hand and for future work.


EBI Team, ASSEMBLE

EBI’s nationwide team was able to allocate and place the proper mechanical and buildings controls experts to accomplish the required work, collaborating effectively to build the right team to achieve the client’s goals.

An important facet of resource management for any firm is building the right team for the client and project at hand. While some energy and sustainability firms assign junior engineers to perform commissioning reviews, EBI ensures that the highest quality professionals perform services for our clients. Additionally, EBI plays matchmaker to pair client and consultant personalities to promote the best working relationship.

EBI’s energy and sustainability group assembled a team of experts for the project at hand, from both a client relationship and overall ability standpoint. The client needed flexibility, open communication, and the ability to fit site visits into a tight window. EBI placed the right project managers on the project to suit the needs and styles of the client, effectively building a team and efficiently scheduling to create the best collaborations for effective solutions and project execution.

The federal entity was informed weeks in advance of project milestones and site visits—developed collaboratively—as well as any challenges that arose. EBI’s flexibility and open communication were key in developing the relationships needed to best execute the project. EBI knew the report preferences of the client, and sent the most effective team for the task at hand.


Go With the Flow

Throughout the project, the EBI team demonstrated its flexibility and ability to coordinate with multiple parties. As previously stated, the team worked closely with the federal client’s team. Schedules were coordinated and updated regularly in order to keep the project on track.

Change orders often throw off a project, postponing or even completely derailing a project. EBI maneuvered its experts’ schedules and communicated with all parties to avoid such delays when the possibility of change orders and delays arose on this project. EBI’s team of consultants avoided change orders where they could and worked through them when they could not to complete high-quality deliverables in a timely manner. This ability to minimize the negative impacts for the client proved essential when handling the particularly challenging assessment of the medical facilities in question.

Unfortunately, access and upgrades to the controls of this building were limited, particularly controls affecting the building automation system, which are key in the RCx review process. The client had recently upgraded the building’s controls software and systems, yet had an overall building system inadequate for the information passed to it through the new upgrade, putting the EBI Team at a disadvantage.

However, the team knew the best option would be to push forward and adapt. EBI’s experts were able to make decisions on the fly and adapt to the changing situations on the ground. The energy and sustainability engineers and consultants were ultimately unable to perform certain tests, but stayed in communication with the client, who ultimately decided to update the project plan to reflect these issues and perform other key tests with what was available. Throughout these developments, EBI’s consultants and engineers kept the client in the loop and kept the project on track despite the roadblocks.

The timing of the work ended up fitting into a tight scheduling window for all three parties. The changing developments plus the need to keep the project on track forced schedulers to coordinate all visits over a two-week period. EBI’s operations team pushed quickly to find available, experienced consultants, who extended their stay over the weekend between the two business weeks to complete the onsite assessments.

The team was able to schedule travel and get members of EBI’s team in the area for the two weeks needed to perform the assessments and finish the required work. While exceptional time and resource management is a crucial component of any successful project, this team went over and above to deliver quality services to the client.


Mission Accomplished

The EBI Team performed thorough examinations and reviews of the federal client’s required building systems and submitted four final retro-commissioning reports on the medical facilities in question and all parties involved, filled with details and recommendations on retro-commissioning needs. The team provided specific systems improvements, enhanced optimum energy output and capacity to help operations execute efficiently and last longer, and allowed the client to save countless man hours and energy in building maintenance.

All in all, a thorough analysis allowed the client to make the best decisions in updating processes and building systems to stay on track with energy and water efficiency, as well as government policies. Through detailed observation, the energy and sustainability team ultimately identified various issues with the client’s building systems and were able to correct them where possible, and offer insight where limitations in the systems upgrade made it untenable. The team successfully corrected problems with system warnings so they would be issued in a normal manner, and improved the overall operation of automation and general building systems at each of the four facilities. The client came away with improved performance for its facilities and systems, as well as greater control over building operations.

Not only did EBI provide dynamic results, but also built effective and beneficial partnerships with all parties, collaborated to develop the best project plan, communicated frequently and openly, and created innovative solutions throughout the entire process, going the extra mile when needed to get the job done.


It’s a Team Effort

EBI’s team is built to handle various types of commissioning projects for large buildings and campuses. In this case alone, the client needed RCx services on four medical facilities, with three of the facilities coming in at more than 800,000 square feet, the largest of which totaled just over one million square feet in that facility alone. Our team provided thorough engineering analysis on the entire portfolio—a total of over three million square feet.

Our energy and sustainability team regularly works with large structures and properties, partnering with colleges and universities, as well as medical facilities, large hospitals, and other organizations with campus-like properties. In addition to a nationwide presence, EBI’s energy and sustainability team possesses the expertise to provide high quality RCx reports and insightful recommendations to the client. Our experts and reviewers are detail-oriented in their observations of facilities and systems, and provide reporting that gives decision-makers the analysis they need to make the best decisions for their business.

Where building owners and operators may not have the time or expertise to effectively assess their building’s systems, it is EBI’s mission to perform expert analysis that gives our clients the actionable information they need to succeed. Our energy and sustainability team honors that in their dedication to their work, checking every sensor, control, heating/cooling mechanism, and airflows to ensure all systems are functional and able to maintain the high performance needed for our clients’ success.

If you are exploring ways to make your building operations more efficient, let EBI’s nationwide team of energy and sustainability engineers and consultants provide the insights you need to meet your goals.


About the Author

Mike EardleyMike Eardley, Director of Energy and Sustainability. Mike Eardley joined EBI Consulting in 2018 as the Director of Energy and Sustainability and has more than 20 years’ experience in energy consulting, commissioning, and mechanical engineering. Mike’s professional industry experience spans higher education, healthcare, laboratory, K-12, and government facilities. He is a professional engineer in Massachusetts and Maine, LEED accredited in building design and construction, and a certified commissioning professional.

Mike has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and a Master of Science in Architectural Engineering from the University of Colorado. He is affiliated with the Building Commissioning Association, the Building Commissioning Certification Board, US Green Building Council, ASHRAE, and the Association of Energy Engineers. He works out of EBI’s Burlington, MA headquarters.