Commissioning (Cx) Not Just for LEED

Posted on May 18, 2010


Energy usage and the industry of energy production can be parsed many different ways in relation to building design, engineering and construction. The currently active LEED programs deal mainly with new construction, although new construction is a very small fraction of the existing inventory of our built environment.

Prevailing thought on how to save energy for maximum impact—on a large scale quickly and efficiently—involves two main concepts:  working small (where control is high) and re-tooling what is existing (lowest cost). Political debates may rage over nuclear power plants, gigantic wind farms or solar fields as long-term solutions to the nation’s energy woes; these can take decades to achieve approvals, funding and get constructed. The reality is that to reduce a nation’s energy usage quickly and efficiently, it is easier to get every household and business to save 5-10% now. Thus the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money floated for investment around your home in things like insulation, windows and high SEER A/C systems.

Saving energy is not popular because it is not sexy; it is not the thing venture capitalists invest in or people discuss in the news. Who wants to renovate when you can buy new?  It is ingrained in our culture. Yet, right here right now we know we can make what we use every day work better. And, this is one reason energy auditors are a booming cottage industry.

If a man is overweight, he cannot lose weight until he assesses his diet (inputs), daily activity and exercise (outputs), and lifestyle (environment). From there he gets an idea of what adjustments to make in all aspects to reach his goal. This is an appropriate analogy for commissioning (Cx).

Commissioning is a comprehensive way of measuring and calibrating the interwoven systems of a facility (inputs, outputs and environment) to make sure they are performing as engineered. It makes sure systems are working together, not against each other, and meeting design standards if a new project, or acceptable benchmarks if existing. It can become quite involved, and certified commissioning professionals exist to help execute this measurement.

Efficiency is the secret savings weapon, and an underutilized one at that, for enormous facilities like hospitals and manufacturing facilities. New factories and replacement hospitals from the ground up are the exception rather than the rule, and even a large addition to an existing campus is a fraction of a facility’s costs. LEED introduced commissioning to the masses with its Energy and Atmosphere prerequisite and Additional Commissioning credit, a credit which many prospective certified projects avoid because “it costs too much”.  Tsk, tsk.

If you have not investigated commissioning for your facility, take a little time to do some research. It will be a worthy investment to get some great ideas by a trained professional, and potentially grab some efficiency savings here and there. If nothing else, you will get a legitimate baseline assessment of everything for benchmarking because future energy costs are expected to head anywhere but down.