COVID-19 has caused the widespread shut down of commercial buildings across the globe, since its initial appearance this past spring. In the United States, the pandemic has seen building ventilation systems scrutinized and subject to extensive review during building closures. In addition to coronavirus considerations and protocols, opening up poses a new and separate set of risks directly related to extended system inactivity, including:

  • Does the current building design or management adequately address health risks?
  • How can property and facility managers reduce safety issues and optimize energy management systems (EMS) for the best possible outcomes?

Building Commissioning

Commissioning is the process of evaluating and adjusting all building systems, subsystems, operation and management procedures (O&M) for optimal performance and occupant comfort. All energy-consuming systems can be optimized to use the least amount of energy while maintaining appropriate temperatures, humidity and pressure inside each enclosed space.

Building pre-commissioning should be part of the planning, design and construction phases. Once the building is ready to open, a commissioning checklist can be completed to ensure all systems are fully optimized and ready to be enabled. This checklist should include performance testing and reporting for all energy-driven systems, including HVAC. 

New buildings preparing to open in 2020, must address new concerns:

  • Is the ventilation system optimized solely for energy efficiency, or equally for occupant health?
  • Will the installed HVAC system meet expectations for reduced transmission risk?

It may be necessary to revisit building specs and operational parameters to ensure ventilation systems will stand up to increased scrutiny. HVAC systems may require upgrades and the completion of a final commissioning process before the building is made open to the public.

Retrocommissioning

Retrocommissioning applies commissioning processes to an existing building. For property and facility managers seeking to reopen after a prolonged closure, recommissioning at this point in time can be an excellent opportunity to review energy standards for the building, make any recommended upgrades and redesign ventilation systems to improve occupant health and reduce risks.

Recommissioning

Previous commissioned buildings can be recommissioned to address changes in expectations. Some facilities may have an existing plan for recommissioning, to be conducted every three to five years or in the event of a significant change in building codes or risks. Furthermore, a set recommissioning schedule provides an opportunity to catch hidden problems before they happen. Others may need to undergo recommissioning as part of a changeover if a building is to be used for a purpose different than its original design.  

HVAC Commissioning

While HVAC commissioning is just one aspect of building commissioning, it is arguably one of the most important with several key considerations applying to HVAC systems:

  • Ventilation optimization is crucial to the “health” of buildings and the people who work in them.
  • Proper HVAC system design, installation, operation and maintenance are critical to the commissioning process.

Any planned retrocommissioning or recommissioning of a building will include a close examination of HVAC systems. Updates or upgrades must be undertaken with an eye to both energy savings and occupant health.

Energy Management Systems

An HVAC system controlled by an energy management system (EMS) needs to be commissioned in light of the EMS’s impact on performance. 

  • An incorrectly optimized HVAC system will make the EMS less effective
  • An improper EMS configuration can cause the HVAC system to malfunction or cause risks to occupant health

Proper HVAC commissioning and EMS configuration can significantly improve overall building performance, while improving indoor air quality and reducing a facility’s operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, including fewer service calls. 

Recommissioning prior to reopening in 2020 can not only provide a more energy-efficient building but a safer building for occupants and visitors. Now is the ideal opportunity to improve on all fronts, setting a new bar for building commissioning in the future. 

If you have questions about building commissioning during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Therma’s qualified technicians are here to help.