Retro-commission your lab
building for energy savings
continued from page 3
implement the RCx measures identified?
• Do you have up-to-date building documentation and records available?
• Is your building relatively large or complex? The facility need not be enormous,
but a tiny lab building probably won’t
find RCx as cost effective as a larger
one. Similarly, the more complex the
building, the greater the opportunity for
• Does your facility have a relatively high
Energy Use Index (EUI) compared with
similar facilities, or a low Energy Star
Portfolio Manager rating?
• Is the building free of known major problems requiring large-scale capital repairs
• Does the building have a functional BAS
with direct digital control (DDC)? This
is typically required for utility-spon-sored RCx efforts.
• Are you and your facility operations staff
committed to active involvement?
• Are you willing to endure temporary
disruptions? A good RCx provider will
strive to schedule testing during times
that are least disruptive to lab users, but
some disruptions may be unavoidable.
Affirmative answers indicate that RCx
may be right for you.
THE RETRO-COMMISSIONING PROCESS:
WHAT TO EXPECT
Though every provider is unique, a
standard outline of work applies to most
RCx projects. Major steps generally include
an application phase (if utility funding is
involved), a planning phase, an investiga-
tion phase, an implementation phase and a
• Application/proposal: An application for
outside incentive funding is prepared,
if applicable. General information
about the facility’s systems is gathered;
some basic ideas about the owner’s
implementation budget are discussed;
drawings and operations sequences are
collected; an internal project champion
is assigned; and any contractual and
financial documents are reviewed by the
owner’s financial/legal team.
• Planning: The planning phase includes
an initial site assessment (walk-through),
development of an RCx plan, collaboration with the owner’s operating engineers
and controls contractor (as applicable) to
review current sequences of operations,
general identification of potential operational improvements, identification of
potential energy-saving measures and
development of implementation costs
and energy-savings projections.
• Investigation and recommendations: The
RCx provider works with the owner’s team
to further identify specific opportunities
for improvement, and a detailed site assessment is finalized. Coordinating with the
facilities staff, the provider then develops,
conducts and facilitates targeted functional
performance tests (FP Ts) on the systems
and equipment. Providers typically bring
in their own equipment to verify sensor
calibration, valve and damper operations,
controls sequences and operation of larger
systems, such as condensers and chilled
water and heating. Trending data is collected and analyzed, establishing a baseline.
Since many RCx issues involve the BAS, thorough analysis of schedules, sequences and setpoints is an
important part of the process.
A RCx provider should be solutions-fo-cused, not only identifying issues, but
also suggesting projects to address them,
often termed “retro-commissioning measures (RCMs)” or “energy cost-reduction
measures.” The typical project focuses on
no-cost or low-cost operational measures,
with paybacks usually shorter than two
years. The provider’s recommendations
should include potential energy savings,
implementation costs and a payback period according to prevailing utility rates.
This analysis helps the lab owner pinpoint
the projects with the highest ROI, facilitating good decisions for immediate action
and possible long-term improvements.
Because of the inherently high energy use
of many lab facilities, RCx can be an invaluable tool. Some of the typical results of lab
• Reducing energy use and associated
• Reducing carbon footprint.
• Improving indoor air quality and user
• Eliminating hot or cold spots.
• Solving ventilation and pressurization
• Identifying safety issues and code violations.
• Improving a facility’s Energy Star score
or Green Globes or LEED status.
The good news about RCx is augmented
by the fact, in many areas, local utilities
will fund some, or all, of the cost of a retro-commissioning study—allowing owners to conserve funds for actually implementing some, or all, of the identified
projects. Depending on the work recommended, incentives may also be available
Here are questions that can help you
decide whether RCx might be a good
tactic for your lab facility:
• Do you receive service delivery from a
utility? RCx can still be useful in settings where energy is provided by the
owner’s central utility system, such as
central steam, but incentive programs to
pay for studies may not be available.
• Are you willing to spend any money to