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Think Inside the Box – Create Value in Existing Spaces with Retro-commissioning

Joe Massott, AKF Group


Inflation, recession and retro-commissioning: one of these things is not like the other. Most of these words have become white noise; they are repeated ad nauseam by talking heads on TV, marketing teams and your estranged uncle on Facebook. Retro-commissioning, like the tenacious engineers who perform the associated duties, has gone relatively unnoticed since the start of the pandemic. The time has come to put retro-commissioning back into the spotlight and according to Google Trends – it’s happening. Searches for retro-commissioning flatlined through 2021, but in August searches hit a five-year high (coinciding with the peak of searches for ‘recession’). With interest rates rising and decision makers unsure of what the future of the office holds, there has never been a better time to consider retro-commissioning – take what you have and squeeze every ounce of efficiency out of it.

Commissioning agents and engineers are equipped to dissect (and collect) system data and analyze it with more scrutiny than ever before. This data, run through simulations and optimizations, is then translated back into dollars and cents, into proposed upgrades with maximal payback and operational recommendations for increased efficiency. The US Department of Energy partnered with national labs and leading universities to study the effects of retro-commissioning across a wide distribution of existing buildings. The findings: average energy savings totaled around 15%, with a simple payback period of 0.7 years. The larger and more energy intensive the building, the bigger the payback, but this is only the beginning of the business case for retro-commissioning.

New environmental laws and regulations being passed in states like California and New York are gaining traction at the federal level, and even jurisdictions with relatively lax energy codes are moving to adopt newer codes. Building owners are being held accountable with the potential for large fines for buildings deemed to be in non-compliance. The dedicated Energy + Performance team at AKF Group partnered with the Building Energy Exchange and NYC Retrofit Accelerator to create a carbon emissions calculator, free for all to use, which is a crucial first step in retro-fitting/commissioning buildings subject to NYC’s new Local Law 97. With heatwaves, droughts and blackouts accelerating, preparedness for an uncertain future is crucial for owners’ peace of mind and a selling point for potential tenants. Commissioning agents are an integral part of developing plans, controls and upgrades for systems that can provide stand-by power, demand response or even full island, grid-free operation.

No one can drive a car for years on end without a tune-up, and buildings are no different. If the last time your building was commissioned was also the first time it was commissioned, it’s time to call in the experts and revitalize your assets.

Joe Massott is an electrical engineer and project manager at AKF Group, an MEP/FP Engineering and Integrated Services firm with offices throughout the USA and Mexico.

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