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Cx Monitor: Why Continuous Commissioning?

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare industry has evolved and will continue to for the foreseeable future. Hospitals have been tasked with becoming more efficient, with fewer resources, and adapt to the new marketplace. However, buildings are decaying, becoming more inefficient, and costing more to operate year-after-year. When buildings and equipment have life-cycles that last much longer than the economic cycles influencing them, it becomes apparent that the infrastructure cannot keep up the pace with industry changes at the same rapid pace.

A proven solution to managing and/or reducing energy consumption is existing building commissioning. The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory stated in a recent study that “The commissioning projects … revealed over 10,000 energy-related problems resulting in 16% median whole-building energy savings in existing buildings …, with payback time of 1.1 years …and cash-on-cash returns of 91% were attained for existing buildings…” While all types of buildings are viable candidates and can be beneficiaries of existing building commissioning, both inpatient and outpatient healthcare facilities see the quickest opportunity for payback, along with laboratories and restaurants.

An ample supply of engineering and commissioning firms exist across the country that offer variations of existing building commissioning services. Typical names for these types of services include Existing Building Commissioning (EBCx), Continuous Commissioning® (CC®), Retro Commissioning, (RetroCx), and Ongoing Commissioning (OCx). The majority of these service lines consist of phases such as Planning, Investigation, Implementation, and Measurement and Verification. They all tout benefits that include increased comfort, air quality, and energy efficiency, often without the need for expensive capital improvements.

As a result of continuing requests from our client base to offer solutions to their ever increasing energy consumption, SSRCx became a licensed partner with The Energy Systems Laboratory (ESL) of Texas A&M University and began offering Continuous Commissioning® services in 2008. Considered to be the gold standard, Continuous Commissioning® focuses completely on optimizing existing systems utilizing a variety of software tools developed by ESL in combination with extensive field work.

Continuous Commissioning® is a technologically-advanced service designed to improve the performance and efficiency of buildings of all types and functions. Performed by experienced SSRCx engineers with an in-depth understanding of building operations, Continuous Commissioning® produces buildings that are more energy efficient, more comfortable, and easier to operate.

Continuous Commissioning® is not an energy audit, nor is it equivalent to retro-commissioning; rather it is a process that could be equated to a “building tune-up.”

When considering energy efficiency, the Continuous Commissioning® process is capable of producing savings of 15-25%, although this range is building specific and could be more or less. In terms of comfort, many buildings today are operated in such a fashion that most comfort problems are addressed not by solving the root-cause of the comfort issue, but by placing a band-aid on the situation. Continuous Commissioning® addresses this oversight by digging deep to find the root-cause of any comfort problem and resolving it – which in turn saves energy as uncomfortable parts of a building many times are higher energy consumers. In terms of operations, Continuous Commissioning® engineers use their particular expertise to train energy managers, maintenance supervisors, and others on solving problems as well as addressing the particular needs of their building.

The ESL and its licensed partners have access to the tools, research, and expertise that make the Continuous Commissioning® process effective. This select group of engineers and building professionals have the necessary skills and training to quickly identify the best improvement opportunities-those that can be implemented with the least cost while producing the greatest impact.

The initial step in determining if a building’s energy consumption can be improved is to conduct an Opportunity Assessment using the Opportunity Assessor tool, the first phase in the Continuous Commissioning® process. The Opportunity Assessor begins with a short questionnaire that provides information on a building’s operating hours and utility bills. Developed by Energy Systems Laboratory at Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, this tool is used to help identify building commissioning opportunities at zero cost to our clients and can quickly determine if a building has a large or small potential savings from the implementation of Continuous Commissioning®, with only a fraction of the inputs normally used for building simulations.

Once a building has been identified as an opportunity, a Detailed Assessment investigation is performed. This is the next step in the Continuous Commissioning® process and is used to investigate the building’s operation, identify measures, and estimate savings from those measures in a more precise manner utilizing the WinAM tool. WinAM is a software tool that allows our engineers to more accurately project energy savings at a significantly lesser cost than a traditional energy model.

After the Detailed Assessment is complete, the project moves into the Implementation Phase. This is when the Continuous Commissioning® measures identified in the assessment are strategically implemented over time and savings begin to accrue.

Finally, the Persistence Phase is an important step and one that most traditional commissioning programs omit. SSRCx’s Continuous Commissioning® engineers include this persistence component by performing Measurement and Verification in accordance with the International Protocol for Measurement and Verification Performance (IPMVP), Option C during implementation. Additional software tools developed by ESL, such as Implementer, Sustainer, and Validator, enable our engineers to provide this important component more efficiently and economically than traditional providers and enables savings to persist long after the “heavy lifting,” during the Implementation Phase, has been completed.

Payback and Return on Investment

Today’s executives seem to have no problem investing money in projects that have an acceptable payback and return on investment. The threshold varies from building owner to building owner on what is acceptable, but those thresholds appear tighter and tougher to meet as competition for funding within a hospital system becomes more intense. While a five year simple payback used to be the benchmark, that number has lowered to three and in many cases, two years. Continuous Commissioning® remains a front runner in historically returning a simple payback of less than two years. Our credentialed and experienced engineers, and our clients, have documented a combined savings of over $4,000,000 with an average payback of less than 2 years since offering this service.

For additional information or to request a Opportunity Assessment, please contact Steve Harrell at


Continuous Commissioning®, CC®, and PCC® are Trademarks of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, a component of The Texas A&M University System, used under license, all rights reserved.