The Organic Nature
of Sustainable Buildings
Back to the Future for California's State Buildings
the year 2011, all buildings over 50,000 square feet owned by the
Executive Branch of the State of California* will have been
retro-commissioned to meet the requirements of the Governor's Executive
S-20-04. Currently, 6
consultant contracts to retro-commission 24 buildings totaling over 5.8
million square feet are scheduled to begin within the next 30 days.
Completion of the buildings is expected in 2007.
The term retro-commissioning is derived from the lexicon of naval
order for ships to be deemed seaworthy, they are required to be put
through their paces, meet certain criteria, and undergo fixes until a
certain standard is met. It's a way to mitigate risk, ensure safety and
let the shipbuilder breathe a little easier when the ship puts out to sea.
Given how much of our lives we spend in buildings, it's not too
surprising that this same kind of rigor is applied as buildings are put through a series of tests and fixes to enhance energy efficiency and other
With state buildings consuming over $500 million a year in electricity
(in 2004 figures – it would be much higher today), even a 1 percent
savings would lead to significant savings of at least $5 million per year.
analysis by Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory (LBNL) of 224 buildings in 21 states shows an
impressive "whole building" energy savings of 15 percent.
Other estimates are even higher. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC),
for example, cites a 35 percent energy savings in buildings that meet its
LEED criteria. Even better,
according to the LBNL report, published in 2004, the payback on the
initial investment in retro-commissioning is an average of just seven
Howard Sacks heads up the State of California's retro-commission effort at
the Department of General Services, Real Estate Services Division. He says
that a retro-commissioning project is broken up into five stages -
planning, investigation, implementation, training and project closure.
The planning stage includes developing the goals and scope of the project,
hiring a retro-commissioning provider, reviewing the building
documentation, developing diagnostic and functional test plans of the
building's energy-consuming and control systems, and creating a project
Investigation encompasses site assessment, developing an initial list of
findings, implementing diagnostic and functional test plans, and selecting
cost-effective options for implementation. Implementation of the
recommendations comes next, including upgrading or fixing equipment and
processes and making changes to building operation practices.
Once the recommendations have been implemented, facilities managers and
others who are responsible for building maintenance are trained so they
can put into practice the new procedures and keep the systems running at
maximum efficiency. During this phase an operations manual is created for
the building. At project closure, a systems manual and final report is
developed, along with a list of recommended measures and follow-up tasks
that were not yet implemented. The building is officially "handed off" to
the facilities manager, or, in the case of a privately owned building, to
the building owner.