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Cost-Effective Commissioning

March 1, 2005
Greener Facilities Newsletter

Last month, we introduced the topic of building commissioning – the process of ensuring that building systems are designed, installed, functionally tested, and capable of being operated and maintained according to the owner’s operational needs. As with anything else in life, we have to accept a certain amount of risk to reap any sort of reward. With commissioning, the risk is the investment made to maximize energy efficiency, and thereby minimize environmental needs. The reward is the potential for substantial operational cost savings – as much as 10 percent. When you consider that most facilities professionals would give their right arm for a $0.25-per-square-foot value-add, commissioning is a sure thing.

To illustrate this point, Steve Selkowitz, head of the building technologies department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), pointed me to a terrific report that the LBNL did on The Cost-Effectiveness of Commercial-Buildings Commissioning, the results of which I want to share with you.

This “meta-analysis” compiles and synthesizes extensive published and unpublished data from building commissioning projects undertaken over the past 20 years, analyzing results from 224 buildings across 21 states that represent in excess of 30 million square feet of commissioned floor area and $17 million of commissioning investment (2003 dollars).

Through a detailed and uniformed methodology for characterizing, analyzing, and synthesizing results, the report found that median commissioning costs (for existing buildings) were $0.27 per square foot, whole-building energy savings of 15 percent, and payback times of 0.7 years (roughly 8.5 months). For new construction, median commissioning costs were $1 per square foot (0.6 percent of total construction costs), yielding a median payback time of 4.8 years.

Deeper analysis of the results shows cost-effective outcomes for existing buildings and new construction alike, across a range of building types, sizes, and pre-commissioning energy intensities. The cost-effective results occurred among energy-intensive facilities such as hospitals and laboratories. Less cost-effective results are more frequent in smaller buildings. Energy savings tend to rise with the increasing comprehensiveness of commissioning.

But wait, there’s more! The projects studied for the report identify 3,500 deficiencies (11 per building, 85 projects reporting) among existing buildings, and 3,305 (28 per building, 34 projects reporting) among new construction projects. HVAC systems present most of the problems, particularly with air distribution systems. The most common correctional measures focus on operations and control.

Imagine buying a high-performance automobile – say the new Infiniti M45. The performance specification says that this car’s 4.8-liter, V8 engine will deliver 340hp at 6,400 RPM, delivering fuel economy of 17/23 mpg. When you plunk down your $56,000 and roll out of the showroom, you expect the car to deliver as advertised. Why, then, when building owners make much greater investments, do they accept less-than-perfect performance?

The report identifies commissioning agents as the “messengers”; they are only revealing and identifying means to address pre-existing problems. While some view commissioning as an added cost, it is only a barometer of the cost of errors promulgated by other parties involved in the design, construction, or operation of buildings.

For me, the most telling point in this comprehensive report is that commissioning is one of the most cost-effective means of improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings – with a savings potential of $18 billion per year or more in commercial buildings across the United States.

I urge you to read through this report and start thinking about ways to convince your managements, boards of directors, and other shareowners of the value of commissioning. You – and they – can’t afford not to!

Craig Sheehy

Now on to my friend Craig Sheehy, who is the director of property management for Thomas Properties Group Inc., and one of the most visible and excited facilities experts in the field. Sheehy wrote the following piece called Greening Your Building Toward Your Bottom Line.The tremendous success with the LEED-EB Platinum building he refers to in the following paragraphs is one of the main reasons thatCalifornia Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an Executive Order setting aggressive energy conservation goals for state buildings.The governor signed his Green Buildings Executive Order on Dec. 14, 2004, setting the goal for state buildings to be 20-percent more energy-efficient by 2015, and encouraging the private sector to do the same. Ongoing commissioning and operations in this building are down to an art form … one worth hearing about first-hand. Let’s take a look at one of the most green and best-run buildings in the world ...

Greening Your Building Toward Your Bottom Line

Thomas Properties Group Inc. developed the Joe Serna Jr. Cal/EPA Headquarters Building project as a public-private partnership with the City of Sacramento. The project is a response to the State of California Department of General Services’ RFP for a new build-to-suit headquarters for the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The 25-story, 950,000-square-foot office building was completed in early 2001, and is located in downtown Sacramento. It still stands today as the city’s largest commercial high-rise real estate development project. The Joe Serna Jr. Cal/EPA Headquarters Building is recognized nationally as one of the most energy-efficient and sustainable commercial office developments in the country.

As operators of this 950,000-square-foot project, Thomas Properties Group (TPG) has incorporated state-of-the-art green building practices. All janitorial, maintenance, tenant improvements, and equipment replacements are carried out incorporating practices and materials that improve air quality; reduce energy usage; and maximize resource reutilization, reduction, and recycling/recyclables.

With Cal/EPA as the sole tenant, and their mission statement for the headquarters building being to “reduce their environmental footprint in and around the building,” it’s safe to say that incorporating these state-of-the-art green building practices is much easier here than in a multi-tenant building. TPG has found that this building has become a perfect laboratory to determine if these practices can work in a Class-A environment. A nice surprise we found after the implantation of these practices was that our operating expenses were significantly reduced. We found out that these practices were not only good for the environment, but also good for business.

The first green building practice we rolled out was our recycling program. California Integrated Waste requested that TPG put together this program, and in 2001, we did. The program, called “Gone Today – Here Tomorrow – Recycle,” turned the staff’s normal trash can into a mixed-paper recycle bin and provided each tenant with their own desktop small garbage can. In addition to the desk-side mixed-paper bin, there are 210 three-in-one bins that collect white paper, cans, bottles and glass, and mixed paper.

The program enables every trash can to realize its potential and become a recycling container. Cal/EPA is already accustomed to removing bottles, cans, and plastic from the waste stream. By eliminating the wet garbage from the desk-side container, there is no reason to line with a plastic bag. We create a “pulp” receptacle, the contents of which are entirely recyclable. With the size of this building, we will eliminate approximately 1,700 cases annually of plastic bags from the waste stream.

Our average cost of material disposed of at the landfill is approximately $50 per ton. Therefore, the diversion of 202.7 tons of material has saved our operation $10,135. The elimination of garbage can liners in each office eliminated $65,000 in annual purchases. Likewise, the use of reusable cloth bags in centrally located recycling bins saves $27,000 per year.

We originally budgeted for trash removal three times per week. The cost for removal is the same if the bin is full or half-full. Managing our waste stream, we have been able to cut our trash removal pick-ups to less than twice per month. With 3,000 employees, that is a huge savings. The average cost for waste removal in downtown Sacramento is $0.05 per square foot; with our limited pick-ups and recycling programs, we are actually making money in our waste account.

When the electricity crunch of 2000-2001 began in California, Thomas Properties Group began exploring new and creative ways to reduce energy usage immediately. We put together a plan to have the janitorial staff clean mostly during daylight hours (when occupants are in the building working), thereby reducing the amount of after-hours lighting needed to provide the same service.

After convincing our tenant that this would work, it was implemented in January 2002. On the day of its implementation, the State of California’s Governor asked that all state agencies find a way to reduce their energy consumption by 8 percent. Upon implementation of this schedule, the Joe Serna Jr. Cal/EPA Headquarters Building was already reducing consumption by this amount.

Currently, the janitorial staff cleans during the day rather than at night, thus preventing all of the lights being turned on at night to allow for cleaning. The schedule is set up so that the day crew comes in at 11 a.m. and begins the dusting, cleaning, and silent vacuuming of the building (vacuums similar to what you would see in a movie theater). This work also includes the removal of recycled materials. The work is completed around 5 p.m. From 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., the janitorial staff removes the wet garbage. From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., they clean restrooms using just the core lights.

Examples of Actual Savings

Cal/EPASacramento2003Downtown EERWaste Removal                       $0.00$0.05Cleaning Supplies                      $0.05$0.14Electricity                              $0.99$1.59Filters                                            $0.03$0.06Water                                     $0.02$0.06Landscape                              $0.05$0.09Partial Total                           $1.14$1.99Difference         $0.85 per square foot annuallySavings         $807,500Labor Hours Reduction SavingsJanitorial                       $110,000Engineering                      $50,000EARS not noted above                              $40,000

At 6 p.m., all staff lighting is shut off. Interior restroom and corridor lights are left on so that these areas can be cleaned and completed by 8 p.m. The carpet cleaning and floor maintenance is performed by a five-person utility crew from 5:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. Their work is typically focused on one floor, and we will then turn on the lights only in the area they are working.

As a result of this change, we have not only reduced energy consumption by 8 percent, but also incurred utility savings of $100,000 annually. As all property managers know, the majority of tenant complaints are in regards to janitorial issues. Now that the employees see the janitorial staff working, our janitorial complaints have dropped more than 70 percent. This equates to $110,000 in additional labor hours. The tenants have now become our janitors’ supervisors, thus eliminating the calls to property management regarding theft. Furthermore, since the working hours are ending earlier, for the first time in their janitorial careers, janitors are able to put their children to bed at night. This has reduced our staff turnover significantly, and has eliminated continuous training.

Thomas Properties Group and Cal/EPA are committed to minimizing waste from the building, and our Waste Reduction Program is continually looking for creative, cost-effective ways of making the building’s operations more resource-efficient. Worm bins were introduced to the building in 2001, and have been proven to be a huge success. These worms are kept in small plastic containers with lids that fit neatly under a desk or a side chair. The worms live amongst bedding material made of fiber, peat moss, and other organic materials. Their diet consists of leftover fruit and vegetable scraps from staff meals, which is buried in the bedding material. The staff who participate are lovingly called “Worm Wranglers,” and tend to the worms’ needs. A worm’s needs are few: a little moisture, regular feedings, and an occasional change of bedding. The byproduct of this process, worm castings or worm manure, is used as a nutrient-rich soil amendment in the landscaping around the building.

We also promote Large-Scale Vermicomposting through our café. The staff is utilizing a vermicomposting system to manage the organic material generated during food preparation in our on-site cafeteria. This bin is located inside the loading dock; the café workers can easily transport the material collected each day. This organic material collected each day is placed in the bin for processing by approximately 30,000 worms. The finished product, worm castings, is again used in the landscaping around the building. We have estimated that our vermicomposting program is diverting approximately 10 tons of waste from landfills.

Indoor air quality has always been a big concern for TPG, and we are committed to not introducing chemicals into the building that will affect air quality. We only use low- or zero-VOC and non-odorous chemicals. We have reduced our daily cleaning chemicals to only three, and one we use 70 percent of the time. We have an integrated pest management program that uses only baiting and trapping.

In 2003, we introduced waterless urinals to the building. TPG held a ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with an orientation program educating the tenants. This pilot program (tested on four floors) has been very successful, with no smell and no longer any work orders for stuck valves or continuously running water. In looking over work orders for a 12-month period prior to this installation, we noted that we had 110 labor hours worth of engineers repairing urinals. When waterless urinals are implemented throughout the building, we will save more than 1 million gallons of water annually.

Thomas Properties Group has also created an employee merit system called Employee Achievement Rewards System (EARS) for contract employees, rewarding them for quantifiable operational savings ideas. After the first year of implementation, we paid out over $10,000, resulting in more than $100,000 in net operational savings.

We stated earlier that these practices were not only good for the environment, but good for business. Our bottom-line savings are approximately $1 per square foot less than downtown Sacramento averages: That is $1 million per year. Then add a 7-percent capitalization rate, and more than $14 million worth of value has been added the building. An additional benefit is incurred from the marketing side. What a tremendous way to differentiate yourself from your competition in a stale real estate economy.

You can reach Craig Sheehy at ([email protected]) or visit (www.tpgre.com).

Rick Fedrizzi is a principal with the Global Environment & Technology Foundation, the Center for Energy & Climate Solutions and president of Green-Think Inc., an environmentally focused marketing and communications consulting firm providing services for the residential and commercial built environments. He also serves as president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, of which he also is founding chairman, and president of the World Green Building Council. Contact by e-mail: ([email protected]).

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