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Back to the Future for California's State Buildings

By the year 2011, all buildings over 50,000 square feet owned by the Executive Branch of the State of California* will have been retro-commissioned to meet the requirements of the Governor’s Executive Order S-20-04. Currently, 6 consultant contracts to retro-commission 24 buildings totaling over 5.8 million square feet are scheduled to begin within the next 30 days.  Completion of the buildings is expected in 2007.

The term retro-commissioning is derived from the lexicon of naval shipbuilding.
In order for ships to be deemed seaworthy, they are required to be put through their paces, meet certain criteria, and undergo fixes until a certain standard is met.  It’s a way to mitigate risk, ensure safety and let the shipbuilder breathe a little easier when the ship puts out to sea.

Given how much of our lives we spend in buildings, it’s not  too surprising that this same kind of rigor is applied as buildings are put through a series of tests and fixes to enhance energy efficiency and other sustainable measures.
 With state buildings consuming over $500 million a year in electricity (in 2004 figures – it would be much higher today), even a 1 percent savings would lead to significant savings of at least $5 million per year. But an analysis by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) of 224 buildings in 21 states shows an impressive “whole building” energy savings of 15 percent.

Other estimates are even higher. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), for example, cites a 35 percent energy savings in buildings that meet its LEED criteria. Even better, according to the LBNL report, published in 2004, the payback on the initial investment in retro-commissioning is an average of just seven months.

Howard Sacks heads up the State of California’s retro-commission effort at the Department of General Services, Real Estate Services Division. He says that a retro-commissioning project is broken up into five stages - planning, investigation, implementation, training and project closure.

The planning stage includes developing the goals and scope of the project, hiring a retro-commissioning provider, reviewing the building documentation, developing diagnostic and functional test plans of the building’s energy-consuming and control systems, and creating a project team.

Investigation encompasses site assessment, developing an initial list of findings, implementing diagnostic and functional test plans, and selecting cost-effective options for implementation. Implementation of the recommendations comes next, including upgrading or fixing equipment and processes and making changes to building operation practices.

Once the recommendations have been implemented, facilities managers and others who are responsible for building maintenance are trained so they can put into practice the new procedures and keep the systems running at maximum efficiency. During this phase an operations manual is created for the building. At project closure, a systems manual and final report is developed, along with a list of recommended measures and follow-up tasks that were not yet implemented. The building is officially “handed off” to the facilities manager, or, in the case of a privately owned building, to the building owner.

next page: Budgeting

Green Milestone:
California Department of Education

Photo: Erhard Pfeifer.
Courtesy of Fentress
Bradburn Architects



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