Building Commissioning: A ‘Return to Work’ Necessity

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Building Commissioning: A ‘Return to Work’ Necessity

As cities and counties begin to slowly reopen their economies, commercial building owners and operators face two key operational challenges in preparing their spaces for the return to work:

1. How can I prepare my building to go back online after being unoccupied for an extended period?
2. After the phased move back to work, how can I ensure my building system is operating as desired?

Here, Stok’s commissioning team lays out how to safely bring your building back online and efficiently adjust operations during COVID-19 based on what we know now about the pandemic.

HOW CAN I PREPARE MY BUILDING TO GO BACK ONLINE?

Building owners and facilities teams need to take two main steps to ease into operations again after their buildings have been unoccupied for an extended period:

#1: Update Current Facilities Requirements
More than ever before, occupant health and safety are paramount. Even after ‘stay at home’ mandates are lifted and employees are allowed back into work, many businesses are planning for altered building operations to ensure social distancing protocols continue to be met. This may include reduced physical occupancy (fewer workers allowed in the building at the same time) and altered hours (longer workdays to accommodate multiple shifts of workers).

These changes should be strategically reflected in your Current Facilities Requirements (CFR), the document that defines the building owner’s current operational needs and requirements. It is just as important to adjust your building system to align with expected altered operations as it is to document those changes so they can be accurately monitored. In short, your CFR should either be updated to include a specific COVID-19 response section or to include integrated COVID-19 response measures into the existing CFR to ensure these measures are appropriately addressed.

In updating your CFR, consider the following:

• What is the projected occupancy of the building? Over what time range?
• What are the current sequences of operations (SOOs), set points, and schedules?
• Can the building system be altered to address air quality concerns specifically tied to COVID-19?
• How frequently does the building need to be flushed? ASHRAE’s reopening guidance suggests two hours before and post occupancies.

If you need support with determining and documenting changes, a commissioning agent can provide recommendations for SOO revisions, QC the new SOO, and provide a checklist for facilities teams to adapt to new conditions.

#2: Recommission Your Building
If your building has been left unoccupied for an extended period, like most commercial buildings during COVID-19, some systems may need a recommissioning to ensure the systems will still work properly as intended when brought back online. You won’t necessarily need a third party to do this—your facilities team can carry out the process itself.

Timing is a key factor for successful recommissioning. While it depends on the size of your facilities team and building or portfolio, be sure your facilities team gets into the space at least a week before employees are set to return to work. Run and monitor the system under full occupancy conditions for one to two days. This will allow you to address anything stagnant by flushing it out ahead of time so your building operates without hiccups when people return to the office.

For more details on how to recommission your building, check out the guidelines provided by a member of ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force.

If your building has never been commissioned before, consider engaging a commissioning agent to retrocommission your building. Like recommissioning, this will help ensure your building is operating as intended.

ONCE ONLINE AGAIN, HOW CAN I ENSURE MY BUILDING SYSTEM IS OPERATING AS DESIRED?

Bringing your building or portfolio back online is an important first step in safely returning to work, but it doesn’t stop there. Even with relaxed social distancing, some form of altered building operations will likely remain in place for the duration of the pandemic. Building owners and facilities teams need a way to ensure their buildings are operating as desired under their new settings.

The solution? Ongoing commissioning.

As explained in its name, ongoing commissioning entails commissioning an occupied building at regular intervals. This approach enables building owners and operators to periodically verify that changes based on CFR updates are still implemented properly and with the desired system-wide outcome. As building owners adjust operations to align with changing needs under COVID-19, ongoing commissioning will provide continual assurance that your building is safe and healthy for occupants, energy costs are saved wherever possible, unforeseen consequences of updates are identified, and overall system capacities are validated.

The frequency of ongoing commissioning depends on the size of your building or portfolio and other factors, but generally ranges from quarterly to biannually. While your facilities team can take on this effort—and should incorporate it into their monthly or quarterly recurring maintenance checks—depending on the scale and complexity of your building’s HVAC and controls systems it may make sense to reengage a commissioning agent to lead the effort.

Throughout this process—updating your CFR, recommissioning your building, and implementing ongoing commissioning—remember that communication and education are key. The pandemic poses new challenges for everyone and it’s important for building owners, facilities teams, tenants, and commissioning providers to communicate frequently while operating your buildings during the COVID-19 era. Building systems play a major role in providing both cost savings and healthy indoor environments, and we need trusted advisors now more than ever to ensure building operations achieve those objectives for owners and occupants alike.

To discuss how to adjust and monitor your building’s operations as we prepare to return to work, reach out to Stok’s commissioning team. We’re happy to chat!