Milder temperatures make fall the perfect time of year to conduct a thorough review of your building systems. A few quick steps can help avoid unexpected repair costs that can become bigger emergencies during extreme winter weather. Depending on your budget cycle, it can also be helpful to identify system repair and replacement needs that have significant budget impacts before the end of the year.
Here are five easy steps to take this autumn:
1) Inspect the insulation
Even small breaches can mean big problems and higher operating costs, so review insulated systems to identify areas with damaged or missing insulation and make necessary repairs. Consider the climate where your building is located, system operating temperatures, and exposure to the elements when determining the type and level of insulation to install.
2) Check mechanical and plumbing systems
Conduct a thorough evaluation to ensure freeze stats are set at correct temperatures, power to freeze protection devices are on, heating systems (hot water, steam, etc.) are properly operating, leaky valves, damaged actuators and linkages as well as faulty control sensors are repaired. Check the operation sequence of your chilled water cooling and hot water heating control valves, verifying that the valves open fully when the freeze stat trips and that the outside air damper closes. An audit like this will help you locate and correct problems before they contribute to an emergency.
3) Don't overlook semi-heated spaces
Ensure the units function and set points for semi-heated spaces are not resulting in wasted energy. Experts recommend that unit heater thermostats be set between 45-50°F. Once set, it is important to verify that the heating unit is working as intended when the weather turns cold. If the temperature falls too low in these spaces, pipes or sprinkler systems can freeze.
4) Check your roof drainage
Snow or ice can interfere with normal drainage paths even as they melt. If the existing gutter is blocked, for example, drainage may be redirected to an area within the building enclosure, possibly resulting in a costly incursion.
5) Don't just set it and forget it
Monitor how your building responds to various weather conditions over time. Through consistent data collection, you can verify whether systems continue to operate as intended. For example, in colder weather, you may find it takes longer to bring the building up to a comfortable temperature, which may require adjusting the unoccupied set-back temperature or identifying over-performing heating elements to minimize energy consumption.
With the current prevalence and sophistication of building automation and data collection systems, the overall energy consumption of your building and building sub-systems are easier to gather and understand than ever. A considerable amount of measurement and verification (M&V) guidelines and toolkits are available to begin the process including ASHRAE RP-1050, and ASHRAE Performance Measurement Protocols for Commercial Buildings and ASHRAE Guideline 14.
With these and other best practices in place, it can be difficult for even the most sophisticated facility management teams to identify all opportunities for building performance improvement as they focus on the most urgent work orders (often dictated by the squeakiest wheel rather than the highest value item long term). Engaging a third-party expert can help provide a framework to analyze and prioritize needs to ensure your buildings continue to perform to your and your occupants’ high expectations.
H. Jay Enck is the co-founder, chief technology officer, and principal of Commissioning and Green Building Solutions, Inc. (CxGBS). He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
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