The Organic Nature
the Future for California's State Buildings
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.
retro-commissioning is derived from the lexicon of naval shipbuilding.
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
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.
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
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
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.