Here are the five key steps to successful building retro-commissioning

Learn the five core steps to retro-commissioning an existing building

By Daniel Fraiser, PE, CCP June 20, 2024
Transforming the past for a sustainable future: This retro-commissioned roof combines historic charm with modern efficiency. Courtesy: Cornerstone Commissioning


Learning Objectives

  • Grasp the key steps and benefits of retro-commissioning for improving building efficiency.
  • Discover the role of professional commissioning services in enhancing retro-commissioning outcomes.
  • Recognize the impact of retro-commissioning on meeting environmental standards and sustainability.

Retro-commissioning insights

  • Retro-commissioning revitalizes old buildings by upgrading their systems to modern standards of efficiency and sustainability.
  • This process systematically enhances operational performance, allowing buildings to meet current environmental regulations while providing improved comfort and reduced energy costs for occupants.

As buildings age, their mechanical, electrical and structural systems often degrade and no longer perform optimally. It could be due to wear and tear, shifts in usage patterns or simply the technologies have become outdated.

Fortunately, retro-commissioning can be used to address these challenges. When employed correctly, property owners can use this approach to significantly lessen their environmental impact and create a safe and comfortable environment for occupants while helping extend the life span of old buildings.

In this discussion, we’ll dive into the details surrounding the retro-commissioning process and explore the transformative effects it can have on older buildings.

Understanding retro-commissioning’s five steps

What exactly is retro-commissioning? Put simply, it is a systematic approach aimed at identifying inefficiencies and malfunctions in the existing systems of old buildings to improve their overall performance. The process typically focuses on energy-consuming systems such as lighting, water heating and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), and it can also extend to other operational systems depending on the building’s specific needs.

The goal of retro-commissioning old buildings is to revitalize their systems, thus enhancing efficiency and aligning them with modern performance standards. This comprehensive process entails several strategic steps designed to improve building functionality and sustainability. These steps include:

  1. Planning and coordination: First and foremost, a team of experts including engineers, building managers and sustainability consultants assembles to define the scope and key objectives of the project. This team sets clear targets for the retro-commissioning effort, addressing all critical areas.

  1. Assessment and detailed investigation: Then, there is a thorough review of the building’s current systems, which helps set a benchmark for energy use and efficiency. This step involves examining architectural blueprints, past energy audits and maintenance logs to pinpoint potential improvements. After establishing this baseline, a detailed investigation follows, which may employ sophisticated diagnostic tools, such as infrared thermography and air quality tests to spot inefficiencies or faults within the systems.

  1. Testing and analysis: This next step involves thorough testing of problematic or outdated systems. Generally, this includes assessing airflow in HVAC systems, taking lighting level measurements and conducting an examination of the building envelope for leaks or insulation issues. The goal is to identify specific sources of inefficiency that can be addressed to improve performance.

  1. Implementation of improvement measures and performance optimization: Following the initial investigation and analysis, specific corrective actions are taken. This typically includes adjusting HVAC controls, updating lighting with energy-efficient fixtures and improving insulation. Once these measures are carefully implemented, thorough testing verifies that each system functions as intended. Based on the outcomes of these tests, further refinements and optimizations are carried out to enhance system performance.

  1. Documentation, reporting and ongoing management: All changes and results from the retro-commissioning process are thoroughly documented, including reports detailing energy savings and increased efficiency. This documentation helps set standards for future projects and offers crucial insights for ongoing building management. To maintain these improvements, routine check-ups and maintenance schedules are introduced to keep systems running optimally. This may also entail training sessions for building staff on how to manage and operate the updated systems effectively.

Transforming the past for a sustainable future: This retro-commissioned roof combines historic charm with modern efficiency. Courtesy: Cornerstone Commissioning

Transforming the past for a sustainable future: This retro-commissioned roof combines historic charm with modern efficiency. Courtesy: Cornerstone Commissioning

What retro-commissioning has to offer

Retro-commissioning offers several significant benefits to old buildings for property owners as well as the environment:

  • Reduced energy consumption: By fine-tuning operational systems, retro-commissioning cuts down on energy usage considerably. This leads to lower operating costs and a smaller carbon footprint, supporting broader efforts toward sustainability and climate change mitigation.

  • Improved system performance: Updates and optimizations work to enhance the efficiency of building systems, which in turn improves control of indoor environmental conditions. This results in greater comfort for occupants and can boost productivity and satisfaction — a key benefit in settings such as schools, offices and health care facilities.

  • Extended equipment life span: Retro-commissioning also involves regular maintenance and upgrades that help avoid frequent failures of aging equipment. By addressing issues before they lead to breakdowns, this approach reduces the need for costly repairs or replacements, thus extending the durability of the building’s critical systems.

  • Compliance with regulations: Updating systems to current standards makes it so buildings can meet the latest health, safety and environmental regulations. Staying compliant also avoids legal issues and penalties, boosting the building’s reputation and its appeal in the market.

  • Enhanced property value: Retro-commissioning can significantly increase the value of a property in the real estate market. With modernized systems and improved efficiency, buildings become more attractive to potential buyers and tenants who value lower utility costs and better environmental performance.

  • Improved emergency responsiveness: Lastly, this process often includes upgrading safety and emergency systems, such as fire alarms, emergency lighting and escape route indicators. These improvements make buildings safer and more responsive in emergency situations, therefore providing better protection for occupants.

The importance of building commissioning services

For optimal system performance and long-term sustainability, using professional building commissioning services is a crucial aspect of retro-commissioning. These experts carry out detailed assessments to identify inefficiencies and lead the planning and implementation processes to properly install systems. They confirm that improvements result in the intended energy savings and operational enhancements. They also often train building staff on how to maintain and manage these systems effectively.

There are multiple advantages to using these services. They bring specialized knowledge in building systems, offering high-quality work that complies with current regulations. They also help maintain system efficiency by avoiding unnecessary costs and providing ongoing support. This expertise and support can be truly instrumental for the owners of these buildings in meeting contemporary standards and continuing to operate efficiently over time.

Securing a sustainable future through retro-commissioning

Retro-commissioning stands at the forefront of modernizing old buildings to align with current environmental and efficiency standards. This process offers a sustainable and cost-effective strategy that seamlessly integrates historical preservation with cutting-edge innovation. By rejuvenating outdated infrastructure, this pioneering process serves to transform old buildings into valuable assets that not only enhance urban landscapes but also contribute significantly to environmental sustainability.

As the demand for responsible building management intensifies worldwide, the role of retro-commissioning is expected to grow substantially. Fueled by technological advances and evolving regulatory frameworks, embracing the practice now can pave the way for lasting benefits, helping the urban environments thrive for generations to come.

Author Bio: Daniel Fraiser, PE, CCP, is Vice President/General Manager at Cornerstone Commissioning.

Related Resources