For many building owners, it will be many months before their facilities are occupied to their “new normal” levels. In the meantime, every building needs to be operated and maintained for safety, asset protection, and the health and comfort of their current occupants. As addressed in my November and December 2020 columns, it's important to run the buildings in a way that achieves the owner’s current facility requirements (CFR), whatever those may be.

Reduced staffing levels, both in a building’s occupants (office workers, medical staff/patients, hospitality guests/support staff, etc.) and in the building operations team, make this more challenging than usual. Some of the best “monitors” of building system performance are occupants who alert the operations staff when there are problems, such as uncomfortable temperatures, IAQ concerns, odd noises, unusual airflows or pressure relationships, etc. Without these human sensors, the building O&M team may not even realize some of the issues needing attention, which could result in increased energy consumption and costs.

In addition, a smaller building operations team may be hard-pressed to complete normal preventive maintenance activities, much less to proactively look for and troubleshoot “hidden” problems. Whereas outside professionals may typically be engaged in periodic retro-commissioning or recommissioning processes, such on-site/in-person work may be discouraged unless it's absolutely essential.

However, with today’s technologies, outside professionals can facilitate virtual retro-commissioning to help building operators meet their systems' performance and efficiency goals. The on-site operator(s) will need to participate in the virtual retro-commissioning to some extent, but a remote professional can take the lead in planning the process, directing the activities, analyzing the results, and communicating the findings. Building operators will be called upon only when needed for background information and “eyes-on” or “hands-on” activities.

Exactly what each virtual retro-commissioning program entails will be dictated by the types of systems being evaluated, the existence (or not) of a central building automation system (BAS), available documentation, instrumentation at the building operator’s disposal, and remote communication technologies.

An experienced retro-commissioning professional can draw on a variety of remote activities to help identify potential building systems performance or efficiency issues. These include phone/video interviews with building operators, documentation review, historical energy consumption review, video walkthroughs and testing, and remote BAS monitoring and testing. Once the issues are identified, the relatively easy part is recommending actions the building operator can take to correct each situation.

Over the next few months of this column, I will address each of these elements in more detail and recommend best practices for both building owners and commissioning professionals.