Benchmark Testing Explained

Paul Greenwaltby Paul Greenwalt, EIT

I recently read an article about the Chicago Archdiocese’s Archbishop Blase J. Culpich announcement that the Archdiocese will be benchmark testing all of their buildings to confirm that they are as energy efficient as they can be.

This got me thinking about the benefits of existing building commissioning as well as energy conscious master planning. Benchmark testing is a piece of that holistic approach to energy efficiency, sustainability, and environmental awareness. Providing an energy audit along with a systems analysis and an equipment conditions evaluation is the best way to determine the short term needs as well as the long term wants for a totally sustainable and cost effective energy efficiency plan.

Establish a Baseline

As energy efficiency continues to pique owners’ interest in improving their buildings, the concept of benchmark testing becomes more important. Benchmarking is a way to measure a starting point which can be used to verify whether improvement measures were successful. For example, imagine taking your factory stock vehicle and adding a turbocharger, custom headers and dual exhaust, high performance coil-on-plug ignition system, and high lift, lopey cam without benchmarking your performance. You just spent $5,000 on “improvements” and you have no idea whether they actually did anything for your vehicle’s performance.

Go Slow to Go Fast

Benchmark testing for buildings is not a new concept, but it is often an afterthought or is overlooked. It’s understandable, when energy bills are rising and there’s a sense of urgency to bring costs down. The instinct in our culture is to scrap the old and get newer, high efficiency equipment installed to fix the problem. However, that’s not always the best fix.

Problems with energy efficiency aren’t always the fault of the equipment itself, but a result of unanticipated usage, inefficient operation, or lack of maintenance. Many times new equipment is added to a system unnecessarily, older equipment is replaced despite not being a part of the problem, or flimsy repairs are put in place that do not fix or even address the real issue. Benchmark testing reveals inconsistencies that otherwise might stay hidden. For example, if your consultant is conducting tests and notices that a particular piece of equipment is consuming a whole lot of energy at 3am on the weekend, that problem can be addressed without having to replace an entire system.

Know Before you Go!

Before going out with the old and in with the new, why not first check to see if existing equipment can be serviced and restored to almost new condition? Benchmarking and performance analysis are like peanut butter and jelly. You can have one and not the other, but they go much better together! It’s important to have a qualified and experienced commissioning expert evaluate the building systems, including elements like hours of operation, temperature setpoints, airflows, and so forth. Cross checking a variety of parameters will provide a better baseline to measure the improvements an owner makes to the building.

Wood Harbinger has recently conducted several projects with an existing facility analysis approach. We evaluated a hospital which had 5 major renovation phases in addition to its original construction in 1962. The Facility Improvement Measures (FIMs) that we recommended were prioritized as High (perform within one year), Medium (one to five years), or Low (later than five years). Each FIM had a description, photos, drawings to give context, and an estimated cost.

This kind of approach gives a building owner a fairly concrete idea about what needs to happen and in what time frame to bring the building back into maximum efficient operation.

These up-front measures can take a considerable amount of time and have a cost associated with them, but it will assure that the improvements implemented are the right ones and that they are successful. With holistic building system analysis, you and your clients will see the built environment become the leaders in environmental stewardship.


Follow Paul on Twitter @PGreenwalt_WH

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