Career Profile: An Interview with Three Commissioning/EBCx Specialists

The energy efficiency industry now comprises several experts with the skills and experience to take part in commissioning and existing building commissioning (EBCx), or recommissioning, projects. For certain individuals who work with consulting firms or engineering companies and who are involved in the design and execution of projects, thorough knowledge of the commissioning and EBCx processes and intertwined procedures is required. For others who work for organisations that oversee commercial and institutional buildings, an understanding of the benefits, processes, and outcomes is sufficient to allow them to choose when a commissioning or existing building commissioning  project is needed and to follow and monitor projects as they progress.

 

More about Commissioning

Commissioning is an ongoing process of tuning and calibrating systems to make sure buildings perform as efficiently as possible. It is often stated that executing a commissioning project on a new building can provide 10-15% in annual energy savings by ensuring that the planning, design, construction, installation and testing verification, documentation, and operation of a building meet owner project requirements. Starting at the design stage, a commissioning project continues through the construction stage and ultimately the occupancy stage.

 

Individuals involved in the execution of such a project are often referred to as commissioning agents who review and monitor building plans, test and document systems, and ensure best practices for building operation and maintenance (O&M). There are also others (either contractors or project management team members) that focus on a specific portion of a commissioning project and only design and test the work for which they are responsible (i.e. HVAC systems). Building owners and employees are often responsible for defining building requirements and reviewing commissioning documents.

 

More about Existing Building Commissioning (EBCx)

Often referred to as recommissioning, existing building commissioning (EBCx) is the process of re-optimizing an existing building to ensure building equipment and systems are operating optimally, which leads to the identification of low-cost operational improvements to generate energy savings. It is increasingly utilized as a vital strategy for reducing energy consumption and costs to anywhere between 5% and 20%. 

 

There are six benefits commonly associated with recommissioning projects:

  • Annual energy savings;
  • Improved equipment performance;
  • Lowered operating and tenancy costs;
  • Improved indoor environmental quality;
  • Better O&M practices;
  • Improved building documentation.

 

A good reference on recommissioning and the various roles that individuals play in a project was produced by NRCan. Read more HERE.

 

Curious to know what a commissioning/EBcx agent does?

We asked three professionals who took CIET’s Advanced Course on Existing Building Commissioning (EBCx) and Certified Building Commissioning Professional (CBCP) programs to tell us about their roles and responsibilities. Here is what they had to share:

 

In your opinion, what makes a good commissioning/recommissioning agent?

I will certainly surprise you by saying curiosity and availability! Technical skills are important, but all buildings, support staffers, and available technical commissioning data are different. When agents are available, they can better adapt to the rhythm and availability of your technical personnel. Combining the time and curiosity, and agents are better equipped to understand the subtleties of buildings and daily realities while being capable of finding adapted solutions. Thereafter, technical skills are obviously important, and the database of EBCx certified professionals is a place to find the professionals you need.

 

Buildings account for a sizeable amount of emissions and energy use. How can commissioning/recommissioning work help?

All buildings emit GHGs. Whether new or old, only basic maintenance does not improve building energy performance. Think about your home. Without changes in equipment, the building envelope, thermostats, or habits, you will not save energy. Recommissioning consists of analyses to examine all systems and ask questions about their operations. Let us keep the example of your home: Do you have programmable thermostats? If so, do you change the setpoints according to the seasons? This simple change could lead to energy savings, and this would cost only a few minutes or less for each thermostat.

 

Can you tell us about a commissioning/recommissioning project that had a significant impact on a building?

All recommissioning projects lead to discoveries. Impacts can not only be economic or energy related, but also comfort (temperature, odours, air quality, etc.). There are many examples: Manual vs. automatic schedules pursuant to maintenance or repairs, broken toilet exhaust fans, clogged equipment, component actuators that no longer operate as they should, uncalibrated sensors that yield erroneous data, etc. All these examples can lead to low-cost measures identified during recommissioning. Such interventions seem simple but building operators often do not have enough time or need to manage too many buildings to assess issues in detail. An external or dedicated project commissioning agent takes the time to question everything. When employees are in reaction mode, they do not have the means to be proactive, even if they are good at what they do. The recommissioning agent works as a team with your employees.


In your opinion, what makes a good commissioning/recommissioning agent?

A good re/commissioning agent should be organized, thorough and should have strong troubleshooting skills.

 

Buildings account for a sizeable amount of emissions and energy use. How can commissioning/recommissioning work help?

There are often many no-cost or low-cost measures that can be done during recommissioning by make small modifications to the BAS. Some examples would be:

  • Tightening up schedules and modifying setpoints to ensure appropriate setbacks, deadbands and lockouts
  • Adding demand control ventilation
  • Adding motion sensors to allow for light setbacks during the day
  • Ensuring all systems are integrated and not working against each other (Ex. An AHU cooling, while baseboards heat the same space)

 

Can you tell us about a commissioning/recommissioning project that had a significant impact on a building?

Recommissioning of one of our buildings found a cooling low-limit lockout sequence was disabling both the DX cooling and the economizer at the same outside air temperature. By creating separate limit setpoints for the DX and economizer, we are now able to use free cooling in the shoulder season. This has improved tenant comfort substantially, while reducing cooling costs.

 

Bonus question: Can you share a re/commissioning project that you are currently working on with the City of Burlington?

A recommissioning project that is taking place involves integrating our City booking system with the BAS at our public buildings. By doing this we can adjust fan operation and setback temperatures when there are no activities booked in our halls, multipurpose rooms and gymnasiums. Overrides will be incorporated, such as motion sensors and push buttons for unscheduled usage of the spaces. To ensure optimal comfort, the system will also adjust the setpoint based on the activity type. High-cardio activities like basketball will have a cooler setpoint, while sedentary activities like art workshops will use a warmer setpoint. 


 

In your opinion, what makes a good commissioning/recommissioning agent?

A good commissioning agent or team lead has a number of skills and abilities: they need to be technically savvy, also able to put together a good team with the technical knowledge to cover the needs of the building that is being commissioned/recommissioned. Good communication and tact can also be one of the most important characteristics of a good commissioning agent. This commissioning agent is going to be interacting with the owner and helping to define their wants and needs for the building. They will also be reviewing the design team’s work and making comments and suggestions. When working with the construction team and operations teams, they need to be able to communicate and identify technical details and installation issues to get the building working to the owner’s project requirements.

 

Buildings account for a sizeable amount of emissions and energy use. How can commissioning/recommissioning work help?

When constructing a new building, the commissioning process is one of the most important aspects of both the design and construction processes. It is very important to define and document the limitations of that building in the design process, and ensure that the team operating the building knows how all of its systems are intended to function. This is especially true if we keep in mind that most buildings that are constructed today are what we consider to be high-performance buildings. We rely on modelling during the design stages to ensure that our goals and targets are being met, but when it comes to construction and those various building systems being operated, the conditions will obviously differ from the modelled environment. Thus, it is important to go through a detailed commissioning and recommissioning process to ensure that targets are met and maintained throughout the life of the building.

 

Can you tell us about a commissioning/recommissioning project that had a significant impact on a building?

At the City of Burlington, we recently completed the construction of the Joseph Brant Museum. During the testing phase of the commissioning process, I think our team at the City learned some valuable lessons about the importance of commissioning. While working with our commissioning agent, we were able to identify and correct some system sizing issues that were causing a lot of grief for the operations staff in the early days of occupancy and identify some sequences of operation that needed some tuning to help the staff get their conditions in certain areas of the museum to a more comfortable level. Since this project has been completed, we’ve changed our approach to commissioning, starting it earlier in the process than we have in the past, and bringing more of the operations teams into those discussions to ensure that we are creating spaces that meet the requirements for that specific building.

 

Bonus question: Can you share a re/commissioning project that you are working on with the City of Burlington?

We are currently going through our first major retro-Commissioning project at the City’s Roads, Parks and Forestry Operations Centre. The building has had a number of renovations and retrofits over its lifetime, and we are already starting to identify many issues and opportunities with some of its systems. We hope to have the project completed by the end of the year and are very excited to see the results.

 

Interested in improving your commissioning skills? CIET offers an Introductory course as well as an Advanced course on Existing Building Commissioning (EBCx). CIET also prepares professionals to successfully pass the exam and earn the Certified Building Commissioning Professional (CBCP) designation.

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