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Retrocommissioning Offers Big-Time Energy Savings

January 13, 2015 | 2 comments

As a facility and its systems age – or as usage changes – it’s not uncommon for building performance and energy conservation to slip. Thermostats become out of calibration, occupancy sensors may not work correctly, and heating and cooling may be occurring at the same time.

In today’s newer commercial buildings, commissioning after construction helps ensure that the facility works properly from the very start. But older commercial buildings may have never gone through this process – and that’s where retrocommissioning comes in.

In 2009, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the average retrocommissioning project yields energy savings of 16% and offers a payback of 1.1 years – and only costs $0.30 per square foot.

What it is:
Retrocommissioning uses the same holistic philosophy used when commissioning a new building; it involves inspecting and testing building systems, as well as updating system documentation and making sure facilities personnel are trained in system maintenance. It often involves a “staged approach” that takes the potential interactions and impacts of upgrades into account to maximize energy conservation. (For example, ensuring that assessment and possible replacement of the building envelope occurs before any possible HVAC upgrades since a change – such as window film installation – may reduce overall load and change HVAC requirements.)

Types of problems it can identify:

  • Problems with sensors
  • Simultaneous heating and cooling
  • Malfunctioning belts and valves
  • Faulty control sequences
  • Poor indoor air quality
  • Building “hot” or “cold” spots
  • Reduced supply air temperature and fan speed in air handling units
  • Incorrect equipment operating schedules
  • Failed steam traps causing excessive steam consumption
  • Over-ventilation and over-cooling

Why it’s important:
Retrocommissioning goes beyond typical maintenance measures to investigate problems that aren’t always obvious. Any change to the building – whether it’s installation of a new system, a new tenant, or different hours of occupancy – can create a trickle-down effect on operations and performance. Making sure that a building is set up to work properly for the long-term will lead to fewer maintenance issues and reduced operating costs.

Success stories:
Several grants and incentives exist for building owners who are interested in pursuing retrocommissioning. These three commercial buildings took advantage of available funds and experienced energy savings as a result.

  • Macy’s on State Street’s retrocommissioning project allowed the Chicago building to save almost 10% on energy costs by implementing projects with an ROI of less than six months
  • Maine Medical Center Research Institute’s retrocommissioning project provided a 10% reduction in overall energy usage, as well as a 1.1 million-gallon reduction in water and sewer consumption
  • Chicago History Museum’s retrocommissioning project provided an annual energy cost savings of $40,200 through low-cost, no-cost, and capital projects

Have you invested in retrocommissioning for your existing building? What did the results uncover?

 Image courtesy of Keerati at



  1. Jim Newman
    January 25, 2015

    Well said, Steve, and with some good backup information.
    but the big question remains, “Why aren’t more building owners doing it?”
    We’ve written some articles and blog posts that are on our website relative to low-cost and no-cost retrofits that can not only conserve energy and save money for the owners but can also improve the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of the buildings. And yet…

  2. Vista
    January 26, 2015

    That is a great question you ask, Jim! Fear of the unknown, perhaps? Worries about how much time it would take?

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