Commissioning is the quality-focused process of verifying and documenting that the building systems are designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained so a facility operates efficiently and meets the functionality as desired by the owner. It takes into account factors such as energy savings, reliability and environmental benefits. Commissioning is beneficial to owners because it creates systems that meet their project requirements and run at peak performance, saving energy and money, requiring less maintenance, and providing the best indoor environment for building occupants.
For existing buildings, a retro-commissioning process is performed to identify systems and equipment that are operating at less-than-optimal performance. Through thorough analyses, upfront costs versus operational savings for upgrading or enhancing the systems to increase performance are determined and presented to the owner.
RTM Engineering Consultants provides both commissioning and retro-commissioning services to improve operations and reduce operational costs in new and existing facilities.
The Commissioning Process
For each project, the commissioning team collaborates with the engineers early on to design the systems, as well as the different components specified for each, so they meet the owner’s requirements. After consulting with multiple vendors, the team then creates a checklist of elements to test during installation and operation to verify that everything is working as designed.
Although RTM sees commissioning as an integral part of a project’s early design, this has not always been the standard in the industry.
“In the past, commissioning had typically started when the design was already complete, and then it was essentially a series of tests to see if everything worked, without any opportunity to improve the design” stated RTM Principal Tim Larson, P.E.
“The problem with this approach is that if systems weren’t designed properly, it’s too late to fix them. So the way we do it now is we get involved during the early design phase as a second set of eyes for the team to ensure the design meets the project’s intent. Then, during and after construction, we inspect and test the equipment to verify that the systems were installed properly and are operating as designed.”
The Retro-Commissioning Process
A retro-commissioning project typically begins with a feasibility study that examines existing conditions, then weighs the potential costs versus the potential savings of any improvements. Owners need to understand the upfront costs and the predicted operational savings over time so they can decide whether retro-commissioning is a viable option. The majority of owners would prefer to see retro-commissioning projects provide payback within five years or less.
RTM is currently working on three retro-commissioning projects at VA medical centers in Wisconsin and Illinois. One project, for example, is upgrading a chiller system that has been in place since the building’s construction. A new, more efficient system will save significant energy and costs over time, offering payback in less than five years.