What's in Your Pipes?

If you own a facility in a colder climate where freezing is an issue and you use water for cooling (and sometimes even heating) the likelihood that your water will contain an antifreeze of some kind is pretty good.  Two different unknowns come into play with the use of antifreeze, one is the percentage of the product in the water and the other is the type.   These become serious problems during the maintenance of the system because this information tends to get easily lost.  With the proper system commissioning, however, the answer should be only a phone call away.

The three different types of antifreeze that are most common are propylene glycol, ethylene glycol, and methanol.  The first of which I have found to be the most popular, but any of these may be in your pipes and each have different methods for handling and their affects on system performance also vary.  In design, our job as commissioning authorities is to assure that the owner understands the type of antifreeze that they are getting and that it is acceptable.  We also check to make sure that the percentage is consistently the same throughout the contract documents and that the engineer's specifications spell out how the antifreeze is to be added to the system and whether regular drinking water is clean enough to add to the solution.  This is important because of the changes in capacity of the heat transfer equipment and pumps can be lower depending on this percentage of the antifreeze and the quality of the water.    We have had projects where the system required pre-mixed solution of glycol and filtered water because of the low water quality available at the site.  Having this method spelled out is also important because of the various ways contractors add liquids to a system.  What worked for them on the last couple jobs may be the wrong approach for this one.  A mistake by a contractor at this stage, when filling the system can be expense because of the large volumes that are typically involved.  Not to mention where the wrong solution mix would go? Down the drain?  I would hope not!

In multi-facility groups, it would be in the owner's best interest to keep the type and percentage of antifreeze consistent.  This is because the owner would then be able to write a common policy and procedure around handling the solutions, how they're added, how the percentage is tested and what procedure to follow when there is a spill.  That way if the owner had to rearrange staff there wouldn't be any confusion or additional training required.  At ECO Commissions we have helped many owners navigate these issues and establish policies that will help them for years to come.  

Don't let what's in your pipes surprise you.
Posted on May 1, 2015 and filed under Commissioning.

When Utilities Can't Read Meters

For the most part utilities do a good job at making sure that facilities meters are read correctly.  But what happens when they don't understand their readings.  Let me explain, I was in a clients office talking with the person who handles the utility bills, when she stops and hands me an electric bill to take a look at.  It was huge!  In comparison to previous months this bill was off the charts.  I asked what the reason for the abnormally high bill was and she explained that the meter was incorrectly read.  The utility bill was actually for an unoccupied school that was slated to be demolished now that the a new replacement school had been built.  The utility employee assumed that since the building could not have possibly used so little electricity that it must have spun the meter through a complete cycle.  Luckily this mistake was caught by the district but it prompted me to think what about the countless times where it's just a small mistake?  Something that an untrained employee wouldn't detect. It is not the utilities responsibility to make sure that you are getting the best possible rate structure or that you are not over billed. Let ECO Commissions help you identify these mistakes or other billing corrections.  We'll work to make sure that the utilities are treating you fairly.
Posted on March 22, 2015 and filed under Energy Assessment, Measurement and Verification.

Get a Building Check-up

Commissioning your existing building is like taking care of your own personal health.  If you were to ask someone on the street if it was a good idea to get an annual check-up they would say, “Yes”.  Why is that?  It is unlikely the person that was stopped was a doctor, but even without medical knowledge people know deep down that it is the right thing to do for a couple of reasons. 

First, it’s good to know that your body is healthy and that you can have the doctor verify that there isn’t something wrong that you didn’t notice.  In other words, you want a baseline to make sure that you are staying on track.  This is also true for your buildings.  You want to make sure that you have an established baseline to determine if your building in the future is performing better or worse.  Also if you think your building is operating well you want a professional to assure you that something isn’t going wrong that you just hadn’t noticed. 

Another reason that a periodic trip to the doctor is a good idea is that if you know something is starting to give you an issue, addressing something small early is better than fighting a big problem further down the road.  As a manager of a building, the last thing that you want is an emergency.  These types of problems are a drain on your time, are more expensive, and always happen at the worst time.  Nothing ruins a great time with family and friends more than an unexpected trip to your facility because something important just broke.

We can help avoid these situations.  Let us commission your building on a regular basis.  This will not only give you a baseline for performance, but it will also help save you from unexpected breakdowns.  So like a regular trip to the doctor, a regular visit from ECO Commissions is something that you know is just the right thing to do.


Posted on February 13, 2015 and filed under Commissioning, Thoughts.

My Golden Arches Theory

Most owners trust, or want to trust, that their design team and contractors are doing what’s in their best interest.  For the most part this is true.  But no one is immune to the facts of the project lifecycle.  In the beginning of a project, everyone is full of bright ideas and good will, contracts have been signed and the owner feels good that things are finally underway.   In the middle of project the novelty has worn off and now the workers are hitting their stride, doing what professionals do best, their job.  At the end, this is where the wheels fall off.  Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but understand my point.  During this stage fees start to dwindle and everyone wants to be done.  Any changes at this stage will be handled quickly but without a lot of thought as to the consequences and problem solving typically isn’t a budgeted line item. 

So what professionals am I talking about? Both design and construction.  The important thing to realize is that these two phases don’t happen at the same time.  The two service arcs are offset, think of McDonald’s Golden Arches with a slight overlap in the middle.  So in practice, when the design phase is winding down, the construction phase is just starting to ramp up.  And when the construction winds down, nobody wants to be on the project solving problems or they’re probably losing money. 

This where commissioning comes in, we provide a bridge from design to construction, help with problem solving, and make sure that everything is handled quickly and effectively with the owner’s requirements in mind.  Common sense tells us that a problem solved quickly saves time and money.  If it’s left to linger, people will spend time talking about it again and again, but not doing anything about it.  So protect your investment, include commissioning in your projects.  Don’t be left holding the keys to a building that mostly works, get commissioning and get what you wanted.

Posted on January 1, 2015 and filed under Commissioning, Thoughts.