The Road Less Traveled: the Monitoring-Based Commissioning Option

by Jacob Odell

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

LEED v4 launched in late 2013 with substantial changes to the LEED Green Building Design and Construction certification system, including many that affected commissioning program requirements needed to achieve certification. 2017 is really the first year we’re starting to see LEED v4 in action, as projects had until October 31, 2016 to register under the previous version, LEED 2009,’s requirements. In Washington state, the latest Washington State Energy Code (WSEC 2015) also brings a new driver to push projects toward energy efficiency, energy conservation, and overall sustainability; WSEC 2015 requires Fundamental Commissioning as well as energy metering.

My colleague Jeff Yirak outlined how LEED v4 changed many of the commissioning credits in a 2014 Fuel for New Ideas Commissioning Edition article. I’m going to focus on the changes in the Enhanced Commissioning program, and how WSEC 2015’s requirements for Fundamental Commissioning and energy metering create a perfect segue to achieving Enhanced Commissioning credits and, more importantly, the long-term operation and economic benefits that come with them.

New Enhanced Commissioning Path

As Jeff discussed in his article, “the restructuring of the Enhanced Commissioning credits in the EA [Energy and Atmosphere] category acknowledges the importance of commissioning activities…The credit value has been tripled; it is now worth up to six points…There are two different compliance paths under the new Enhanced Commissioning credits: Option 1 is comprised of the same Enhanced Commissioning activities as in previous versions, which earns three points, but an additional point is available to teams that ‘develop monitoring-based and identify points to be measured and evaluated to assess performance of energy-and water-consuming systems.’” The additional point for Monitoring-Based Commissioning (MBCx) is called Path 2.

The addition of metering, trend monitoring, and training to keep tabs on energy- and water-consuming system performance might seem like a fair bit more work, but here’s where WSEC 2015 sets us up for success: as outlined in Chapter 409, the code requires metering for all building energy categories, (e.g. electric, gas, liquid fuel). To meet code, meters must be installed for these systems, and the data collected must be kept on file and made available to operations and maintenance personnel.

This is where the code stops, but it drops us right at the trailhead where our Enhanced Commissioning Path 2 journey begins.

The Journey Toward Energy Management

Path 2 develops a roadmap to utilize these meters and provide further monitoring throughout the life of the building. Combined with the rest of the Enhanced Commissioning program (optimized building operation during the initial commissioning effort, operator training, a systems manual, and ongoing commissioning plan) it gives facilities staff the tools and information to help buildings benefit from energy monitoring and management.

Initially there will be a portion of the Commissioning Plan that outlines how the MBCx Plan is going to be implemented, what do about issues that will arise, and future plans to meet the performance goals. From here the commissioning provider will be looking for metering and monitoring elements during the review of the basis of design, submittals, and controls drawings. The final immediate step is implementation of the MBCx plan by using a more robust functional test, meter verification, and ensuring the owner’s ongoing monitoring requirements are met. During the 10-month post-occupancy follow-up review required by the Enhanced Commissioning program, the commissioning provider will review the issues log, confirm ongoing training, and update the systems manuals with explanations for any changes.

Wood Harbinger’s commissioning team recently commissioned a project that used metering. Washington State University’s new Digital Classroom Building was built under the previous version of LEED (LEED 2009 BD+C) that didn’t’ require sub-metering, but this didn’t stop the owner from seeing the value—and minimal additional work load—of installing and leveraging the data potential provided by sub-metering. The new building was fitted to the teeth with metering for real-time reading and long-term analysis. This included a meter for each panel throughout the building, coupled with a DDC system to allow for in-depth investigation. We recently completed a two-week trend review as a part of the 2009 Enhanced Commissioning requirements. We discovered an issue with the fan coil units that was revealed during the trend period that would have led to the chilled water system running constantly. Left unchecked, this would throw off the baseline energy reading and affected future power consumption analysis forever. I’m glad we caught it early! Now the University will be able establish a solid base line to help identify spikes in energy with well-trained personnel reviewing the data.

Key Mile Markers: Training and Trending

The goal of energy metering and monitoring is end-user empowerment to maintain optimized operations over the life of a building. A few key facets of the commissioning program help make this happen: training for facility operations and maintenance staff, initial system trending, and 10-month post-occupancy follow-up.

The initial facility staff training is a vital cog in the energy-savings machine. The training should be in-depth about energy consumption analysis and equipment operation. This will include spotting abnormalities in energy consumption, like spikes or drops. Once these abnormalities are identified, discovering the why behind them is the next step. This is where monitoring individual equipment becomes so important. Using the building monitoring system, facilities staff or commissioning providers can dive down into the equipment to a component level and find out if something is running longer or shorter than it should it be.

The next arrow is the quiver is trending. With permanent meters for energy- and water-consuming systems, the means are in place to trend these systems, establish the operational or energy-consumption baseline, and keep monitoring these parameters so that if a blip on the radar, so to speak, is observed, facility personnel can hone in on the culprit quickly. Metering and monitoring, in tandem, allow for a quick analysis of the building or buildings. For example, on a few projects, we have seen terminal unit dampers cycle from 0 to 100% while in unoccupied mode, trying to meet phantom air flow requirements that aren’t relevant when the system is shut down. Without the trending period, we wouldn’t have been able to catch this sort of thing and the unnecessary exercising of these mechanical components would have shortened the life of the system.

A quick aside: metering and monitoring are like the square and rectangle mind conundrum: a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square. Energy meters are used to monitor the building’s overall energy consumption, but a building monitoring program might not always include total energy consumption. Running fans, electric heating coils, and actuators are more qualitative attributes that fall under monitoring and are not directly metered, but still use energy. Whoa. Why would I worry about both? The difference in the two performance evaluations can allow for a quick evaluation of the building’s operations, if the end user knows how to harness them.

With the knowledge and skill to evaluate building performance and operation at a glance, the maintenance personnel or building manager have the means to keep the facility in peak operation over time. The 10-month post-occupancy review confirms that the building is operating as expected or provides an opportunity to retune if anything is out of place.

After that, we recommend recommissioning a building every three to five years to keep it at peak performance. However, if a monitored building has minimal to no changes in energy consumption in the first five years, the recommissioning might be pushed to six, seven, or maybe ten years out. This will save money in the long run, and earn points for LEED during construction.

A Look to the Future

With WSEC 2015 bridging more of the gap between Fundamental Commissioning and Enhanced Commissioning, I suspect we’ll be seeing more LEED projects pursue Enhanced Commissioning points, including Path 2, as they will be relatively easy to obtain. It’s certainly something we will advocate that our clients consider, because of the operations and cost benefits that energy monitoring and management can provide.

Energy consumption is the price we pay to heat, cool, light, and ventilate the buildings in which we work, learn, and live, but we don’t spend energy just for the exercise. We must remember that we pay this price to enable building occupants to do what they came to do: do their jobs, study their lessons, or whatever the building’s function is. “Efficient” building operation spends the least amount of energy to maximize the indoor environmental quality. Monitoring-based operation provides the compass to show us the way to do this consistently.

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  • […] newsletter, we discussed how WSEC 2015’s new commissioning and metering requirements make it even easier to reap benefits from the commissioning […]

  • […] Most people don’t realize that what commissioning providers do is driven by the Washington State Energy Code (WSEC), the latest version of which requires Fundamental Commissioning.  Our baseline scope is defined by its contents. There are a few exceptions to that, but those are probably less than 5% of what we do. LEED defines deeper level scope through Enhanced Commissioning and monitoring-based commissioning. […]

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