Commercial HVAC Equipment

Your Commercial Building is an Energy Wasteland: How Retrocommissioning Can Help

Tuesday, September 15 2015 9:26 AM
By Jon Goering

Commercial buildings in the U.S. waste 30 percent of their energy, says the EPA.


Your building wastes energy.

Probably more than you think. A lot more.

But don’t worry, you’re not alone.

The average commercial building in the United States – more than five million in all - wastes 30 percent of the energy it consumes due to inefficiencies, according to the EPA. Improve by just 10 percent the energy efficiency of commercial and industrial buildings, and you have saved the equivalent of nearly 20 percent of the emissions of all registered highway vehicles in the United States.

That’s staggering.

In this blog, we’ll justify why existing commercial building owners should reduce energy waste, examine how buildings were maintained in the past and how today’s building owners must do more with less and with far more complex systems, and illustrate how retrocommissioning can improve an ailing facility. In addition, we’ll look at the importance of examining a building’s HVAC system performance, highlight the savings involved in retrocommissioning and discuss its five phases.

A case for saving energy

Considering commercial buildings waste 30 percent of their energy, it’s little wonder why saving energy has become so critical. Doing so positively affects a company’s bottom line, making it more competitive and profitable and better able to reinvest in itself. As a result, numerous energy service companies have formed to help commercial building owners reduce their utility usage.

As a building owner, however, you need a case for investing in your building, such as payback, return on investment, tax rebates or other financial incentives. That’s understandable. One successful method energy service companies offer to ensure buildings perform smoothly is retrocommissioning, which can save energy and eliminate hazards, safety problems and comfort issues.

The way it used to be

Before we discuss retrocommissioning, however, you might ask yourself why operating a building properly isn’t an owner’s number-one priority all the time.

Good point.

Decades ago, when building maintenance departments were properly funded, trained, staffed and supported, and systems were less complicated, operators performed routine maintenance on building systems, documented their findings and identified new opportunities for improvement.

Those days are over.

A new day

Building systems today are far more complex, and building owners often must look for ways to reduce operating expenses with much smaller maintenance staffs, forcing them to do more with less.

The result?

Building systems don’t operate at their peak efficiencies, maintenance gets deferred, occupants complain about comfort issues and owners spend more money on utilities than necessary.

And that’s where retrocommissioning comes in.

Far more than a simple energy audit, building retrocommissioning examines an existing building’s performance and suggests methods for improvement. This includes HVAC, lighting, electrical, plumbing, elevators, security, fire, communication and the building envelope, and it also undertakes maintaining long-term performance. And while utility savings is a necessary component of retrocommissioning, it is not the only focus. For example, retrocommissioning may find that fire-protection or security systems need repair or replacement, with the benefits of doing so exceeding an energy-only focus.


Within the scope of a retrocommissioning project, one key component is a careful examination of how the building’s HVAC system performs, from chillers and air handlers to building automation systems. Typically, what happens in a commercial building over time is this: the systems get tweaked or overhauled – the quick and easy fix - to correct a much bigger problem that should have been addressed with a much more extensive approach, i.e. retrocommissioning.

But what’s in it for me, you ask? What do I stand to save?

Great questions.

The savings

Depending on a building’s size, retrocommissioning can yield annual energy savings of 5 percent without a large investment, and it’s not uncommon to see 18 – 27 percent savings attained. Fixing larger buildings - generally 50,000 sq. ft. and over - is more cost effective. While the financial savings alone make retrocommissioning an attractive endeavor, the process also educates building owners and maintenance staff to more efficiently operate and maintain their systems.

Next, let’s examine the recommissioning process.

Building retrocommissioning phases

Planning – in the first phase, building owners develop their goals, create a current facility requirements document and also consider pursuing LEED for Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) or the EPA’s Energy Star program. This phase also includes the development of a retrocommissioning plan.

Investigation – the second phase better acquaints building owners with their facilities, with the purpose being to assess system performance and identify improvement opportunities, to include field inspections, data gathering, testing and analysis.

Implementation – here, facility improvements are completed and the results are verified.

Turnover – in this fourth phase, the retrocommissioning team turns the process over to the operation and maintenance team, with improvements becoming standard operating procedures.

Persistence – finally, systems and tools are implemented to sustain improvements brought about during the retrocommissioning process.

Today more than ever, existing commercial building owners must balance numerous challenges to ensure buildings perform at peak efficiency while maintaining occupant comfort, reducing energy waste and enhancing bottom lines. One proven method of achieving these goals is through retrocommissioning. When done comprehensively in a commercial building – with larger buildings bringing greater returns – you can realize savings of more than 20 percent. Consider working with a trusted, professional retrocommissioning company today to begin the process of attaining a healthier, better-performing building.

For a more detailed outline of the retrocommissioning process, provided by the Building Commissioning Association, click here.

For more information, please email Jonathon Goering by clicking here or call 316-265-9655.

Knipp Services works with commercial and industrial building owners to identify building solutions that can reduce downtime and increase the efficiency of their building. We provide services that enable building owners to have a high performance building.

Topics: Commercial Building Retrocommissioning

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