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Retro-Commissioning. What I do.

What I Do.

I love old buildings. There is a romance to older buildings. Walking through old tunnels, halls, and crawl spaces I get to travel back in time. I see things that make me think “Wow, how did they do that?” and sometimes “Wow, why did they do that?!” I believe that is one reason I enjoy Retro-Commissioning so much. I get to go through old buildings and some not-so-old buildings (they’re just as fun!) to help solve problems, identify opportunities to improve how the facility operates, and provide solutions that can have a positive impact both financially and, more importantly in my opinion, improve comfort for occupants inside.

My career thus far providing retro-commissioning (RCx) services has given me the opportunity to help owners, operators, and occupants of over 14 million square feet of buildings in 12 states. I can’t say that I have seen it all because every existing facility I step foot in I see something new or encounter an issue I have not seen before. But I have seen a lot! One thing that is true for every building I have walked into:

there are always complications, inexplicable mechanical issues, and soul-crushing phantom problems plaguing the HVAC system that has left Owners, Facility Managers, and Building Operators tossing their hands in the air cursing the Mechanical Systems Gods.

My job is always interesting, because my job is to solve those puzzles and find solutions so the facility functions as it should. Because I look at these problems from a bird’s-eye view that includes design, construction, installation, and most importantly the interaction among the various mechanical systems in a way individual contractors don’t have time to do, I can usually pinpoint the location of the problem relatively quickly. The solution to problems often lies in the facilities building automation system (BAS) and the interactions between the BAS and mechanical systems in which it controls. I enjoy tracking down the underlying issues that cause energy waste, occupant complains, and equipment malfunctions. Delivering a better-functioning facility to the Owners, Facilities Managers, and Occupants is an extremely satisfying result for me.

Now that I am an owner of a commissioning firm, I am excited to have the freedom to implement strict RCx processes that benefit Owners, Facilities Managers, and Occupants for the long-term. Our technical commissioning method of thorough on-site work ensures that we see how facilities are functioning in real-time, leading to faster issue resolution, and more importantly ground-truthing of information and being physically present to notice issues that would be impossible to pick up remotely. Our process works to tease out what is really going on with mechanical systems so that all parties involved in the facility can make informed decisions.

Many of the dilemmas that Facility Managers, Building Operators, and Owners face cause them to make choices that come with a hefty price tag. Faced with energy waste, comfort complaints, under-performing systems, and premature equipment failures, starting over (replacing equipment, and redesigning and upgrading systems) is tempting, but very expensive. Yes, sometimes the only answer to some of these issues is to bite the bullet and cut the big check and replace outdated equipment, upgrade the building automation system, and/or redesign systems and start from scratch. However, often that’s not the case. Using RCx, it is frequently possible to bring systems into performance ranges where those more expensive options are not necessary. Before taking any dramatic steps with a facility, the first step should be Retro-Commissioning. I say this because after every project I have completed my clients have said: “I wish we would have done this sooner.” That is the best compliment regarding my work that I could get! Not only does my work take me into interesting buildings with interesting (to say the least!) problems, it saves Owners/Operators/Managers money, time, and frustration.

If you are like many people, you still may not really know what RCx is, the details of the process, and why it is such a great place to start when managing a facility: no matter if you are considering upgrades to equipment vs. making your current system work for a few more years, having mechanical problems, and/or trying to save on your energy bills. To learn more about that as well as learn about how we approach RCx here at Cooper Commissioning, watch for my upcomming post: Retro-Commissioning: What Is It?

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