The application of LEED certification in property development has taken off dramatically in recent years, driven by the desire to create a differential advantage in a competitive real estate market and the need to keep operating expenses in check. LEED certified buildings often are said to have the ability to save water and use less electricity while improving occupant comfort and well-being through improved indoor air quality.
This may well be true, though it has been difficult to verify. More worrisome is the fact that no stipulations are in place to ensure that a LEED certified building operates in an energy-efficient manner once it is occupied. In other words, once granted, LEED certification requires little documentation of post-occupancy results to remain valid.
Yet it is common knowledge that buildings rarely perform as intended. That’s why monitoring-based commissioning (MBCx) is beginning to emerge as an important new approach to keep buildings operating at maximum energy-efficiency. Complementing other energy savings strategies, it refers to the “soft” process of verifying performance and design intent and correcting deficiencies through a continuous web-based monitoring program. MBCx incorporates three components: permanent energy information systems and diagnostic tools at the whole-building and sub-system level; retro-commissioning based on the data this generates; and on-going commissioning that ensures efficient building operations and measurement-based savings accounting.
A good example of how MBCx can help with the LEED certification process while significantly lowering building operating costs is a project utiliVisor recently undertook on behalf of Hartz Mountain Industries at 400 Plaza Drive, a 260,000 square foot, Class A office building in Secaucus, New Jersey. The utiliVisor monitoring technology provided recommendations necessary to achieve LEED certification while enabling Hartz to realize significant building performance improvements.
Supplemental cooling at 400 Plaza Drive is provided by four packaged roof top units that serve a respective quadrant from the 1st to 4th floors. Heat is delivered throughout the building by circulating hot water through perimeter radiation and fan coil units located in the parking garage.
utiliVisor’s Commissioning/Monitoring and Verification program was able to implement the following energy conservation measures:
- Maximized free cooling (economizer) operation, resulting in an estimated 20 percent energy reduction;
- Monitored unit start times, achieving an estimated two percent energy reduction;
- Eliminated low supply air temperature setpoints, with an estimated two percent savings per each degree raised;
- Controlled the supply fan variable frequency drive on static pressure, for an estimated 20 to 40 percent energy reduction;
- Controlled the return volume based on a volumetric offset, estimated to save 20 to 40 percent in energy use.
With a total project cost of $215,000, it is projected that Hartz will be able to realize a 29 percent reduction in energy usage for a total of $133,528 in annual savings. The project will pay for itself in less than two years and continue to accrue the savings for many years to come. Additionally, Hartz has been able to garner a Silver LEED rating, which will make the building considerably more attractive to high-end tenants.
For building owners and managers who have made a significant investment in sustainable practices, MBCx offers a viable way to both achieve LEED certification and to protect that investment over the life cycle of a building. As the 400 Plaza Drive project illustrates, it is an important risk-management strategy leading to verifiable and durable energy demand reductions for any property.