BFC Partners’ work with Marvel Architects and SAGE USA to develop the Ingersoll Senior Residences is making history. The property will not only be NYC’s first affordable housing development built for seniors with services for the LGBT community, but it will also be the nation’s largest!
We’re proud to have consulted with the development team as part of their successful response to an NYCHA RFP, overseen by Juan Barahona, the Ingersoll Project Manager for BFC Partners. Additionally, Bright Power is providing energy efficiency services including:
- Balanced ventilation for enhanced indoor air quality
- Airtight and high-performance building envelope
- High-efficiency HVAC system
- High-efficiency lighting and controls strategies to enhance the ambiance
- Solar PV design and installation
- Secured Enterprise Green Communities certification
Ingersoll Senior Residences will also boast green roofs with local, drought-resistant plants for residents to enjoy and utilizes active design to encourage physical activity for seniors. By focusing on the future residents’ needs, BFC Partners, Marvel Architects, and SAGE USA are creating a community that will be a model for future senior housing.
— Guest post from our partner, LogCheck —
A strong maintenance culture separates well-run buildings from the rest. Understanding the human element of facility management is critical if you want your building to perform at its highest level. Ultimately, your human assets determine the success of any initiative, so it’s fundamental that you make nurturing a healthy culture a top priority.
If you don’t have a strong maintenance culture in your facility, it’s time to get to work. Culture is constantly evolving, and with the right direction, you can improve it dramatically. Both Bright Power and my company, LogCheck, have seen this happen time and time again.
We’ll show you what good maintenance culture looks like and how making some simple changes, starting with your routine inspection rounds, can make all the difference.
Why culture matters
A healthy facilities culture is built on good communication, between all stakeholders, and a sense of ownership. Teams with a strong culture take pride in their building and recognize how their actions impact it. They work proactively to prevent problems and are always looking to improve how things get done.
Good culture requires teams to truly know their building. The overall system must be the focus, and knowing how any individual piece of equipment fits into that system is essential. This allows you to make connections that result in benefits across a facility.
Without a strong culture, most facilities get stuck in a cycle of reactive maintenance: something goes wrong, they fix it. While fixing unexpected issues is obviously important, reactive maintenance alone doesn’t prevent future problems or promote long-term efficiency.
Reactive maintenance without preventative maintenance leads to costly issues like excessive energy costs, safety concerns, and shorter equipment life. This arrangement pits management and staff against each other: rising costs frustrate management, and staff feels stuck on a neverending treadmill of problems.
Mike Brusic, Technical Director at Bright Power, agrees. In his experience, cultural problems often belie the issue he’s brought in to solve.
Mike Brusic: “Sometimes energy problems are fundamentally human problems.
“It’s the same story over and over again: money is tight and there’s a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. Facility staff are stuck in firefighting mode. The facility manager is constantly getting angry phone calls and complaints. Nobody is happy. Live like that for a few years, and you end up with a culture of disenfranchisement. The consequences are severe, both for morale and for energy performance.”
Fortunately, culture isn’t set in stone. In fact, seemingly small actions can bring about profound culture change, as Bright Power has seen first hand.
Improving culture in unexpected ways
Bright Power originally integrated LogCheck into their energy management process to collect data. LogCheck replaces the paper logsheets used for routine inspection rounds and meter readings with a simple mobile app and web dashboard. Putting information in this format made it easy for Bright Power to:
- Quickly access relevant equipment and usage readings.
- Identify issues that may be overlooked.
- Learn how staff interacts with their building.
In order to generate this necessary data, facilities staff had to start doing rounds diligently. They walked through their building every day to inspect their equipment and take readings. LogCheck made sure facilities staff knew what needed to be checked and when. This clearly indicated what was expected, and because everyone could see what was or wasn’t completed, it instilled accountability that those inspections got done.
While the information itself was important, Mike quickly saw how committing to this process caused something to shift. Before long, one relatively simple change in routine – doing rounds – had a weird side effect of transforming staff culture for the better!
MB: “When we started out implementing LogCheck, we came at it from the perspective of energy managers. We weren’t interested in maintenance for its own sake – we just wanted the equipment to work, because you can’t optimize a broken air handler. So we set up daily rounds and preventative maintenance programs for our clients’ staff to execute. And we started to see this weird side effect – the staff were walking the whole building every day.
“Their managers saw how thorough the staff were being. When staff pointed out a leak or a broken valve or a stuck damper, it was there for everyone to see. It had to be responded to. And when the facility staff saw that their actions actually made things better, they started to take pride in what they did. There were fewer fires to put out and they had more time to spend on digging themselves out of that deferred maintenance hole. And eventually they did, and we at Bright Power got to focus on optimizing energy performance like we originally hoped. But along the way, we saw the culture totally change.
“Staff went from being reactive to being proactive and empowered. And that has far-reaching and profound implications for the performance of the building.”
This all makes perfect sense. When you force yourself to walk your facility, to get in front of your equipment every day, you know your building better. You start to notice things and identify ways to improve. Inspection rounds aren’t just about writing down temperatures and pressures, they’re arguably more about getting facilities staff to physically interact with their equipment and their building.
Since repeating this process with more facilities, the results have been astounding. Mike Brusic reports that three-quarters of the buildings where they’ve deployed LogCheck have undergone a profound cultural shift. No longer do they simply react when things break; these teams are finding ways to proactively avoid issues before they happen. These engineers and maintenance staff are proud of their facilities, and it shows.
Adopting and sticking to an inspections routine truly makes a difference. While you certainly don’t need LogCheck to realize the benefits of rounds, it can lower your barriers to success and make it much easier to stick to your plan. It has also provided a clear entry point for Bright Power to teach, correct, and help clients build complete maintenance programs.
Good culture doesn’t happen overnight, but sticking to a routine rounds process is a great start. Whether you want to be more resource efficient, maintain a safer facility, prevent future problems, or improve your building another way, addressing the human element of maintenance sets you up for success.
Bradley Short works for LogCheck, the easiest way to stay on top of routine maintenance tasks, inspections, and meter readings. To learn more, visit logcheck.com.
We live in a time of rapidly changing urban demographics, and as a result, housing needs. In New York City, changes in the economic makeup have proven a major challenge as pressure on the housing market causes entire neighborhoods to gentrify; resulting in evolving land use needs. In Boston, average household sizes have been decreasing for years as family households are replaced by students, young professionals, and the elderly.
Urban demographic change has international drivers as well. Today, global mobility is at an all-time high. In 2015, there were 244 million migrants worldwide—the highest number ever recorded (2015 Global Migration Trends Factsheet). As droughts, famines, wildfires, and other natural disasters are exacerbated by the warming climate, more displacement and mass migration will result. This trend presents a challenge for communities to adapt, since the physical form of cities, building, and zoning codes, as well as other regulations that govern the architectural and construction industries, are slow to change.
As a professional working at the intersection of housing and sustainability, I want to better understand how forward-thinking communities around the world are responding to these trends in innovative manners. Specifically, how is the housing industry (including architecture, planning, and real estate development) responding to the needs for more flexible forms of housing, and what can we learn from these examples? Furthermore, how can we address the needs of lower-income renters who are more vulnerable to market changes than homeowners or higher income renters?
Case Study: Prefabrication & Expedited Construction
In 2015, Germany welcomed one million refugees into the country, resulting in acute housing needs in a number of German cities. In response, the State Office for Refugee Affairs in Berlin (LAF) has borrowed inspiration from the past and created a framework for the rapid planning and construction of refugee accommodations that has its roots in a mid-twentieth century prefabrication approach to housing development.
Called Modulare Unterkünfte für Flüchtlinge (Modular Accommodations for Refugees), or MUF for short, these buildings provide urgently needed new housing for up to 450 individuals per development and can be built in as little as 46 weeks, including planning.
A core element of these new developments is a focus on flexibility. While each new site is based on a common design, the modular nature of the construction means that the developments can be customized as needed for each location without major structural redesigns. The dorm-like format allows for future uses as student housing or affordable micro-units in areas where housing prices are rising. With up to 10 new developments being construction per year in Berlin alone to keep pace with immigration, lessons learned from each development are incorporated into each new iteration of developments. For instance, a need for a variety of unit sizes has caused LAF to design units that can be combined for families or separated for smaller households and single adults as needed. LAF achieved this by adding lockable doors between units—similar to what you see in connecting hotel rooms—allowing site staff to quickly and easily transform two or more smaller units into one larger unit. In addition, more handicapped accessible units are being incorporated into future developments to better accommodate elderly residents and residents with disabilities.
Each development consists of three buildings in a campus-like setting. Two buildings are primarily residential and consist of individual units with shared kitchens and bathrooms on each floor. Since the residential units are relatively compact, common areas and amenity spaces are included in each building. Considerable attention is paid to the use and programming of these spaces to meet a variety of community needs, including study spaces, language learning classes, healthcare for women, recreational areas, childcare, and more. The third and only non-residential building consists of administrative spaces for the on-site staff, as well as laundry facilities. In the center of the three buildings is a semi-private recreational area, which provides activities for youth of all ages and encourages interaction between residents and other community members from the neighborhood, who may also use the recreational facilities.
While the developments are limited to six stories by Berlin’s building code, they strike an effective balance between space efficiency and compact design while also prioritizing the need for social spaces, on-site services, recreational uses, and the ability to foster community. Similar balances have been achieved by projects in New York like Via Verde, a 222-unit residential building in the Bronx developed by Jonathan Rose Companies and Phipps Houses that includes live/work spaces, a rooftop garden for residents, open air courtyards, a health education and wellness center, bicycle storage, and a fitness center.
Lessons Learned and Takeaways
A number of lessons can be learned from the MUFs in Berlin. First, the design and construction approach provides a number of valuable takeaways. Prefabrication and the use of a common design allow for the construction of a permanent residential development that meets both current needs and anticipated future uses in less than a year. This design and construction technique can be applied to different settings where flexibility and/or expediency is a priority. Modular construction techniques are already being used in the US in some applications, and the trend is growing as labor and material costs continue to increase. The MUF approach demonstrates how this approach can be used successfully in a supportive housing project.
The material choices allow for expedited construction timelines while not compromising on energy efficiency. Concrete construction, radiant floor heating, natural ventilation, and high-performance windows allow for occupant control of thermal comfort while minimizing energy consumption. The result is a comfortable, quiet residence that stays naturally cool in the summer, requires little artificial lighting, and is energy efficient – outcomes that are aligned with New York City’s commitment to providing sustainable, high-quality affordable housing.
The dormitory style of this development could inform future student housing, senior housing, micro-units, and/or SROs in New York City where space efficiency is a priority. This campus style setting with a semi-private outdoor space surrounded by mid-rise buildings is a useful land use approach for balancing human scale with density.
While the design and construction techniques utilized on this site allowed the project to meet core objectives around cost, space flexibility, and timelines, the social element of the project has proven to be the most challenging. While some neighborhood residents have contributed resources and stopped by to volunteer their time, others were wary of the additional pressure on local infrastructure that new residents would entail. At town hall meetings, neighborhood residents expressed concerns about sufficient school capacity, public parking, and the availability of local resources for the influx of new residents. Looking back, site staff suggest that a more proactive public outreach strategy—coupled with an effort to actively address and mitigate common concerns such as parking and school seats—could improve community support for new developments.
Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I explore innovative approaches to existing building energy efficiency retrofits!
When you buy printer paper, you are likely buying something like 500 sheets of 8 ½ by 11 white stock. You know what it is and know exactly what to expect. Paper is a tangible product that has pricing and product choices that are relatively stagnant. And it doesn’t revolve around markets that move every minute. Energy does.
Why Energy Procurement Matters
Buying energy isn’t like buying paper. Multifamily building owners in New York City can spend 20-30% of a building’s annual operating budget on energy. But through energy procurement, owners can lower supply costs, solidify building budgets, and hedge the risk of inevitable market fluctuations. It’s particularly important for our clients who own and manage multiple buildings in a portfolio. Large portfolios can often receive reduced rates by bundling energy purchasing contracts for multiple properties.
Having an Energy Purchasing Strategy
Electric and gas costs are large expenses but they can be strategically controlled by having an energy purchasing strategy. There is no set standard for buying energy as there is for paper. There are many options available, to match differences in energy consumers’ preferred terms and exposure to price risk.
The most common product is a fixed rate. However, it’s a common misconception that a fixed rate is a price that is fully locked, or that it is the best (or only) energy purchasing strategy in every situation. A fixed electric rate from an energy supplier may or may not include a dozen or so cost components like capacity costs, line loss, and GRT tax fees. Each of these costs can represent a significant percentage of your total energy cost. Plus with a fixed rate, your supplier is taking some future price risk, and there is a cost to that baked into the rate.
A trusted energy procurement consultant can help you navigate this complex process and make a decision that is right for you.
What’s the Best Option for You?
With one of our commercial clients, the lease structure indicated that tenants pay our client each month for the electricity they use, at the market rate (the utility’s varying price) for that month. The best product for this client was a floating rate contract to ensure they can achieve a consistent margin on submetering their tenants’ contract each month.
In contrast, through our BEPI aggregation program, we help some of NYC’s largest supportive and affordable housing owners procure energy to create budget certainty. Operating with extremely tight budgets, they need to focus on operating their buildings and providing valuable services for their residents. For them, fixed-rate contracts captured at low dips in the market are the best procurement option.
Find an Expert
Energy procurement should be a seamless and efficient process that leads to results and operational benefits for your buildings. It’s a key tool for managing budgets now and in the future, though it may require a trusted expert, like Bright Power, to help you achieve those benefits. Done right, buying energy can feel almost as easy as purchasing paper – with all the unknown variables handled and monitored for you.
Continue to learn more about energy procurement and best practices by following our blog posts. Want to keep reading? Check out:
Just because a building was built recently, or has “high-efficiency” equipment, does not mean that the building will actually be energy efficient. In fact, often high-efficiency equipment and systems need more highly trained engineers, more rigorous maintenance, and more careful tune-ups in order to work their best. It’s kind of like the difference between doing a tune-up on a Prius versus the old stick-shift that your uncle could fix himself. What follows is the story of a decade-old building with some really big energy problems and some relatively simple fixes… once we figured out what was going on!
NYC’s Local Law 87: Energy Audits and Retro-commissioning
New York City’s Local Law 87 (LL87) has motivated and, in some cases, obligated building owners and operators to analyze the performance of their energy systems since its inception. However, the benefits of a retro-commissioning study are far greater than simply adhering to a compliance requirement.
If you are unfamiliar, LL87 requires all buildings in New York City that are larger than 50,000 square feet to perform an Energy Audit and Retro-commissioning Study every 10 years. This initiative gives building owners an opportunity to investigate and evaluate their building’s energy performance and address concerns with their major equipment.
As one of the leading LL87 service providers, Bright Power has come across several buildings where this compliance requirement has uncovered major issues with systems operation and overall efficiency. These audits have helped our clients dig deeper into their utility consumption, identify critical areas of concern, and discover opportunities to save energy and water. In many cases, we have uncovered solutions to improve the performance of major systems in the building and to address inefficiencies that would otherwise cost owners thousands of dollars more in utility spend.
We have observed that multifamily buildings with central hot water heating systems often illuminate the vast benefits of retro-commissioning projects. This is largely the case for heating systems that consist of a high-efficiency condensing boiler — and their issues can be compounded when the system includes a cogeneration (cogen) system. While these highly efficient systems are capable of realizing significant energy savings, they can only do so when they are designed, installed, and operated appropriately.
The most significant benefit of condensing boilers is their higher efficiency. This is achieved by recovering the latent heat from the exhaust gases and is predominantly dependent on the temperature of the return water served to the boiler as shown in the figure below. When the return water temperature rises above a certain temperature (120℉ in this instance), the boilers are no longer able to recover the latent heat, thereby losing their efficiency benefits. For this reason, it is imperative to accurately control the operation of these boilers to ensure the lowest return water temperature possible.
Over the past few years, we have seen issues at over a dozen properties with nearly identical systems and operation parameters. In most cases, the condensing boilers were operating such that they were incapable of taking advantage of higher overall efficiency. What started as a compliance-driven study in these buildings became much more, delivering real value to the owner and residents.
Condensing Boilers and Cogeneration System: A Case Study
Here is an example of an LL87 audit we performed on a 10-year-old building where we encountered issues with the operation and efficiency of the heating system. This building is representative of a typical high-efficiency heating system that includes condensing boilers and a cogen unit. On paper, this building should be fairly energy efficient considering the age and equipment. However, that was not the case. It is likely the building owner would not have considered performing an energy audit had it not been mandated by LL87.
Building Type: Multifamily Rental
Location: NYC Metro
Major Mechanical Systems: Condensing Boilers and Cogeneration System
Client Concerns: High utility consumption and spend
Client Engagement: Local Law 87 Energy Audit and Retro-commissioning Study
We started our analysis by benchmarking energy and water data for the property in our EnergyScoreCards platform. We immediately saw red flags. The first of which was the property’s Energy Use Index (EUI): it was more than double the national average for multifamily buildings. And when compared to buildings in New York City, the EUI was in the bottom 50% among buildings of similar age and occupancy.
Through our analysis, we discovered some major issues with the operation and control strategy of the heating system. Most importantly, we found problems with the integration and controls of the heating and cogeneration systems – the biggest reason why the building had a significantly higher energy usage.
Typically, a majority of these issues are discovered and addressed during the commissioning phase of construction, but, unsurprisingly, we learned that this system was never commissioned upon installation. Some of the most critical issues observed with the systems include:
- The cogen unit was operating at all times, regardless of the thermal or electric loads, resulting in excess natural gas usage.
- The cogen unit was isolated from the heating system, effectively reducing the cogen unit to an inefficient and very expensive natural gas generator, basically negating the benefits of the plant.
- The boilers were operating throughout the year to provide heating and domestic hot water (DHW) because the cogen was not being utilized as intended.
- While the DHW setup was installed in the boiler room, the piping was set up so that the heated hot water had to travel through the whole building before going to the DHW system located right next to the boilers.
- The boiler controller did not have any feedback from the DHW setup, resulting in the boilers operating continuously regardless of the loads.
- The controls setpoints were overridden to provide high-temperature hot water all year round to the DHW system. The high water temperature yields significantly lower boiler efficiency thereby reducing the advantages of condensing boilers.
Based on our findings, it was clear that the recommendations needed to comprehensively target the distribution and controls for the system. In order to resolve these issues, we recommended these measures:
- Reconfigure the current piping setup to integrate the cogen thermal output into the heating system loop. This would ensure the cogen plant would work as it was originally designed, not as a natural gas generator.
- Reconfigure the distribution system to direct heated water straight to the DHW setup, rather than loop through the whole building before reaching its intended destination.
- Upgrade the existing controller to one capable of integrating the boiler, DHW setup, and the cogen unit. Install temperature sensors on DHW tanks and provide an input to the new controller. This would allow the building to change its operations based on the weather and season. It would also allow the boilers to operate at higher efficiency in the absence of a DHW demand.
- Install cogen unit controls to optimize its operation based on either the electric or thermal load.
Implementing these recommendations is expected to resolve the existing issues with the operation and overall efficiency of the system. Based on our energy modeling, the measures listed above will reduce the building’s energy usage overall by over 35% per year. This would place the building in the top 25% for buildings in its category in the City. Paired with other measures recommended as part of the study, the building’s overall energy usage could be reduced by half and have an expected simple payback of less than 5 years.
This project illustrates the potential benefits a qualified retro-commissioning agent can provide. Through retro-commissioning studies, property owners not only comply with City law, but also create energy-saving projects that have long-lasting impacts on the efficiency, operation, and maintenance of their buildings’ systems. In many cases, the savings generated from finding and fixing critical issues and their root causes have been significantly greater than the cost of performing the audit and retro-commissioning study.
Do you have similar systems in your building and have concerns about their efficiency? Is your building performing similarly? Contact us and we’ll find the root cause of your issue!
- LAARS Heating Systems 6000 Condor Drive Moorpark, CA 93021 ©LAARS Heating Systems 0409 Document 1183C
- One City Built to Last TRANSFORMING NEW YORK CITY BUILDINGS FOR A LOW-CARBON FUTURE – Technical Working Group Report by The City of New York
Every month, we want to give you a quick sense of what’s going on in energy markets.
Coming out of winter, prices are down short term, but long term that may change.
Electric and natural gas prices across the country are impacted by supply and demand in the wholesale natural gas market. Currently, supply of gas storage levels are very low compared to recent history, which may cause higher prices. Natural gas is also the primary fuel for electric generation, and so its price directly impacts electric rates. Weather and temperature trends also affect prices.
The Bottom Line
Current prices for electricity and natural gas compare favorably to 2017 rates and present opportunities to reduce costs through both fixed and variable supply contracts. The lower prices are supported by record high levels of natural gas production.
What to know about 2018
Today’s lower prices may be temporary. Despite the high production, this past winter’s high natural gas usage has increased the storage deficit to 32% below last year’s level. There is a serious concern the 2018 forecasted hot summer may cause high natural gas demand for electric generation to meet cooling needs. If this happens, gas prices may rise this summer and impact next winter as well. If you have contracts expiring in 2018 or early 2019, you will want to price them early and evaluate your timing on completing your supply contracts. If you are receiving energy procurement services from Bright Power, we will be evaluating this for you.
Why Act Now
Prices forward are less volatile and more favorable compared to 2017 rates. Two key factors worth watching in the near term are the size of the storage deficit at the end of winter and the continued record levels of natural gas production. You may think that watching those two statistics might not be as engaging as the second season of Stranger Things, but we’re riveted by them.
We regularly visit buildings across New York City to diagnose problems with their mechanical and steam systems. But one visit impacted me in an unexpected way. Typical of many multifamily buildings scattered across the City, it is a pre-war masonry apartment building. The super was friendly and gave me access to the entire basement, as I requested. He also said that he would be in the office if I needed anything.
As I went about my routine, I noticed one of the main steam pipes led straight into his office. When I approached the office to do my testing, I saw two pairs of shoes in the doorway – one of which I assumed belonged to the barefoot super, and the other likely belonged to a porter or a friend. Opening the door, I saw them both sitting on a couch watching a soap opera.
I paused for a moment, perplexed by the fact that the floor seemed to be at least as dirty as the bottom of my shoes, and I’m ashamed to admit that I wondered why the building super was lounging around watching TV with his buddy at 3:00 pm while I was sweating in the boiler room, trying to improve their building.
But when I noticed that the nearly windowless adjacent room had a bed and a dresser, it occurred to me that their shoes were off because this dingy basement “office” isn’t merely an office, it is this man’s living room. The bathroom, with no ventilation, is where he gets ready in the morning, and the dusty, moldy, water-bug inhabited corridor in which I was standing is the entrance hallway of his home. (Of course, living in a NYC basement has its upsides too; this super’s several thousand square foot “apartment” is spacious enough for a ping-pong table, a bench press, and anything else he could ever want.)
I took off my shoes and entered the office, careful to work as respectfully as I would if I were entering anyone’s home, wondering how many of my friends and family could tolerate such living or working conditions. Then I realized that I had greatly misjudged the situation. Yes, he was socializing and watching TV during the workday, but his workday isn’t 9-5 or even 8-7. When a toilet gets clogged, ice freezes on the stairs, trash needs to be taken out, or a resident is looking for a punching bag to hit with complaints, he is working to resolve those issues and make his residents feel comfortable and safe, day or night. So what if he takes some breaks during the day?
As I left, I noticed a large crowbar near the door. Now, it is entirely possible the super had casually placed it there after using it, but it is much more likely that its placement was intentional as a ready-to-use defense weapon. After all, his front door is also the basement entrance. And in fact, it is common to see baseball bats, machetes and other weapons stashed in these basements, even in neighborhoods most people would consider safe.
I don’t presume to know anything about this man’s personal life or whether he is happy with his job, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that all building staff have the same situation. But what I do know is that it is the building staff who keep our basic needs met, who deal with the repugnant rodent or insect in our apartments, and who can often be our first line of defense against intruders.
This experience was an important reminder to me of how critical their jobs are in making our lives livable and how easy it might be to overlook their real value. They should be respected, not pitied or judged. And particularly during these cold winter months, it’s important to remember to be grateful to one’s building staff, both at work and at home, and perhaps even to flash a friendly smile the next time we see them.
We’re proud of the intelligent, passionate, and hardworking people that make up the Bright Power team. Each month, you’ll get a chance to meet one of them, understand how they contribute to the organization, and what makes them excited to come to work every day.
Meet Colleen Woodson, Chief of Staff.
What are some projects and accomplishments you’re most proud of?
EnergyScoreCards Minnesota is definitely on this list. That was a 2-year research project where we got to study 500 properties to determine if hands-on benchmarking results in energy and water savings in buildings. (Spoiler: it does!) It was an awesome experience to work with amazing partners and participants. You can read more about EnergyScoreCards Minnesota here.
What’s something people might not know about you and your role at Bright Power?
People may not know I’m a mechanical engineer. I think my engineering background helped me learn about solving problems of all kinds. Understanding parameters, stating assumptions, and methodically working through a problem is a skill that’s been useful to apply in lots of scenarios.
What’s the one service offering we have that you think is the most beneficial to clients and why?
That’s an unfair question! Our services are most valuable to clients when they are combined with one another. Serving our clients with all the expertise we have in-house – engineering, data, analysis, software, procurement, new construction, on-site generation – is what makes us unique and able to provide more value to our clients.
You were promoted to Chief of Staff after managing the Energy Analysis team for 2 years last summer. How did your experience leading the Energy Analysis team prepare you for this role?
Being a part of, and then managing, the Energy Analysis (EA) team gave me a great perspective on the whole company. The EA team interacts with every team at Bright Power on many types of projects. Seeing first-hand the communication between EAs, Software Development, Account Managers, East and West Coast engineering Teams, and our internal Operations team – I saw a lot of diverse needs and situations. Working on processes for the Energy Analyst team naturally meant I had to understand other teams’ processes and needs, which really prepared me for the unique challenges as Chief of Staff: coordinating the diverse needs of the organization while effectively communicating across the company.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, what advice can you give to women starting their careers in the energy industry?
Oh boy, I could give a lot of advice! Here are two that come to mind:
- Ask for feedback. The way feedback works in a work environment is drastically different from how it works at school, and I’ve found that to be one of the harder adjustments for folks early in their career. Get in the habit of asking your manager, coworkers, and clients what they thought of the work you delivered, and then be open and receptive to their response! The more specific, the easier it will be for both of you. Try out asking questions like: “Was that email clear and concise enough?” and “Would you have gone about this any differently?”
- Surround yourself with diverse examples. Look for people (ladies, especially look for other women!) who have made different decisions about their lives and careers, and talk to them. When I took on a promotion after returning from maternity leave, I spoke to women who made different decisions about taking on more responsibility while they had young children. Having different (see a trend?) real-life examples helped me imagine what it would be like to make that decision, feel confident that I could make the right decision, and that all of these options were possible! In real life! When it’s time to make a big decision, I strongly encourage you to take stock of the people you know and purposely seek out a diversity of experience. It helps to have reference points in many directions to really imagine the range of possibilities for yourself.
New York City requires commissioning (Cx) for most* ground-up new construction projects through the 2014 and 2016 energy codes** to build better buildings and protect owners/developers. But if you’re like many NYC developers we know, you may have mixed feelings about commissioning and are not sure what the real benefit is to you.
In the past, someone may have tried to explain commissioning to you in complex engineering terms that just left you frustrated, confused, or uninterested. We recognize that there is a lot of confusion about what exactly commissioning is, and there are many services that fall under the banner of “commissioning,” not all of which provide value beyond checking boxes. This blog will break down the commissioning process and how it can deliver maximum value to you and your projects.
Through quality commissioning, you will see tangible benefits such as cost savings in construction and operations of the building, longer life of the equipment and systems, as well as increased comfort and happiness of the future residents (and staff!).
Commissioning’s Role in Your Project
Commissioning is an essential quality assurance process that helps ensure all systems are designed optimally, installed correctly, and operate accordingly at the time of occupancy. Your Commissioning Agent manages all aspects of the process.
If done correctly, commissioning will save owners and developers the money and hassle by identifying and fixing problems long before a building is ever occupied. Far from being an annoying box to check in order to comply with code, commissioning is a crucial element of each project.
The purpose of commissioning is to make sure that the building you ultimately get meets the expectations you had for it at the start. For maximum benefit, commissioning should be performed in three phases that extend throughout the planning and construction process: Design Phase, Construction Phase, and Pre-Occupancy Phase.
A Great Commissioning Agent
Your Commissioning Agent (Cx Agent) serves as an owner’s representative for mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems. The Cx Agent is a commissioning expert who you can trust to confirm quality, and thus should be integrated early on during the design development to perform reviews and offer feedback to the MEP Engineer. (S)he asks the essential questions that clarify the intentions of the building and ensures design decisions will achieve those objectives:
- What type of population will it serve?
- What temperatures do you want to supply to residents?
- What services or amenities will be on site?
- How will you staff the building once it is operational?
- Are the step-by-step sequence of operations of each piece of equipment appropriate?
- Are piping and duct layouts optimal?
- Will this equipment be serviced appropriately and accessed easily down the line?
- How can systems be designed to increase energy efficiency and savings?
You know you are working with a great Cx Agent if (s)he:
- Gets the project’s big picture yet, at the same time, is detail oriented.
- Anticipates challenges before they arise, often during the design phase.
- Reviews any suggested changes to the design to make sure they don’t cause unforeseen problems before the construction phase.
- Becomes a familiar face at the construction site, coordinating with the construction team to deliver quality and that all milestones are hit in a timely fashion.
- Is a clear, powerful communicator, providing clients with regular updates, and logs.
If a quote for commissioning is significantly cheaper than others, be wary. Do they have the necessary experience? Will they be in design meetings and on site often enough to have a positive impact on both the design and its execution? As with most anything else in life, you get what you pay for. Mistakes in the short term can lead to expensive complications later when tenants have already moved in.
The design phase is critical to the commissioning process. There are a lot of complexities in designing and constructing a building, and it’s important to realize that just because the design makes sense on paper does not mean it will translate that way in construction. For example, a good Cx Agent will suggest locations of isolation valves, sensors, and potential access points to enable the ability for continuous commissioning and the isolation of system components. The Cx agent will also verify that the access panels, piping, and ductwork are designed in a way that will allow for easy maintenance access. Having a Cx Agent ensure the design meets the intentions of the building through a collaborative process allows everyone to create the best design possible, from all areas of expertise. It can also save you a lot of money in the construction phase.
Unfortunately, there is only so much a Cx Agent can do if they are brought on during construction. Each time Bright Power was brought on to a project after the design phase, we found significant components of design that were either overcomplicated (and therefore more expensive than necessary to install and maintain), detrimental to optimal equipment function, or were installed in a way that prevents basic access (ex: no access hatches). Had we been involved from the project’s inception, those problems would have been identified and eliminated before the construction phase, resulting in significant savings and fewer headaches.
You might be tempted to blame such issues on the MEP or the architect. But, having worked with dozens of great design teams with top-notch professionals, I can attest that this level of collaboration necessary to avoid these sorts of problems.
During construction, the Cx Agent will work with your General Contractor and HVAC subcontractors to ensure equipment installation is correct and the start-up and operation of the equipment is optimized to the design. This requires a great deal of coordination and trust between all parties involved. The Cx Agent is there to help provide a good outcome on behalf of the whole team – not to step on anyone’s toes. To do that, they must be on site during all key points in the construction process.
Just imagine the frustration of having to open up a wall to fix a mistake when it could have been caught and corrected by the Cx Agent if they were on site. That’s not only frustrating for you, the owner, but it’s also frustrating for the team who just had to rip out completed work only to do it all again, the right way.
Once the equipment is operational, the Cx Agent will perform a series of functional performance tests designed to diagnose problems that could pop up during occupancy. If any issues are found, the Cx Agent will list them in a log and work with the relevant parties to correct the issues. The kinds of things that we have found and corrected through functional performance tests include fans installed backward; sensors in the wrong place that produce inaccurate readings; ductwork that was not properly attached, resulting in rooms with extremely cold and hot temperatures.
If the Cx Agent has done her/his job, all of the building’s equipment will have been installed correctly. While this doesn’t sound exciting, think of it this way: you just spent millions of dollars on a project that took years of careful planning, coordination, and execution. If the final step – occupancy – would be held up for a few months due to equipment issues, that delay would be both costly and maddening.
But that’s nothing compared to the hair-pulling frustration that would result from learning that commissioning typically represents less than 0.25% of a new construction project’s total cost, whereas fixing a commissioning mistake can cost you millions of dollars (and you might need to put up your new residents in a hotel while you sort out the issue).
The final phase of commissioning is to train your building site-staff so that diagnostic, operational, and maintenance procedures are second nature. As your Cx Agent, we work with your contractors to produce a training curriculum for your building operators. (S)he will then film the training for future use.
Protect Your Investment
There’s a reason why energy code requires commissioning in the first place — to build better buildings. Rather than being a trivial added upfront cost, commissioning is a critical process to protect your investment. Take it from our clients: It’s one of the best investments you can make on your new construction project.
Still have commissioning questions? Our experts are here to answer any of your energy and water-related questions. Contact us today!
*Exceptions include mechanical and service hot water systems in buildings where the total mechanical equipment capacity being installed is less than 480,000 Btu/h (140.7 kW) cooling capacity and 600,000 Btu/h (175.8 kW) combined service water-heating and space-heating capacity.
**The commissioning requirements in the NYC energy code are primarily for testing and report generation during the Construction Phase. However, in order to maximize the economic and building performance benefits of commissioning, industry best practices recommend a comprehensive commissioning process that covers all phases.
We’re proud of the intelligent, passionate, and hardworking people that make up the Bright Power team. Each month, you’ll get a chance to meet one of them, understand how they contribute to the organization, and what makes them excited to come to work every day.
Meet Jamie Bemis, Account Manager.
What are some of the things you like most about working at Bright Power?
I love the work we do here. It’s creative and challenging, and it’s closely aligned with my values. As an Account Manager with affordable and supportive housing clients in New York City, I get to wake up every day and feel like I am contributing to making the City a more resilient and sustainable place. Because I am passionate about mitigating the impacts of climate change, as well as social and environmental justice, it’s really gratifying to see our projects reduce utility burdens on low-income residents in NYC, and directly contribute to the city’s greenhouse gas reduction goal of 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. Today, cities across the globe are taking the lead towards climate change mitigation and adaptation. I’m proud to say Bright Power is helping NYC to be a leader in this effort by ensuring all new buildings we work on are built to the highest standard of building performance and each existing building we touch becomes more energy and water efficient.
What are some projects and accomplishments you’re most proud of?
I am proud of all of our clients, many of whom do not have a background in energy efficiency and sustainability, but who nevertheless spearhead innovative projects that incorporate cutting-edge techniques around high-performance building design and on-site generation. For instance, St. Nick’s Alliance just won the Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) RFP for Dekalb Commons in Brooklyn. Two of the buildings will be certified Passive House and will include rooftop solar PV systems. This will be St. Nick’s first Passive House project, demonstrating a willingness to try new things and push the envelope around high-performance building design. I find it particularly inspiring to see these types of projects in the affordable housing sector, where budgets are always tight. A few years ago, developers and city officials would have said that affordable housing couldn’t be designed with high-performance techniques due to the cost and the lack of expertise in the industry. Thankfully, this conversation has shifted dramatically in the past few years, and we’re seeing more and more developers, architects, and engineers who are excited about the opportunity to create innovative, beautiful, healthy, and sustainable residences for low-income New Yorkers. The Dekalb Commons project is a perfect example of this.I am also proud to work closely with Settlement Housing Fund, the Related Companies, Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY), RiseBoro Community Partnership, Banana Kelly, Workforce Housing, B&B Urban, among others.
What’s something people might not know about you and your role at Bright Power?
A lot of people don’t know that I am a mechanical engineer. After college, I worked for an MEP firm designing HVAC systems for mission critical facilities like clean rooms and laboratories. Later, in graduate school, I conducted research for the Sustainable Design Lab in MIT’s Building Technology Department. I was the only city planning student in our research group. I loved translating our building-specific research techniques onto urban-scale problems, especially trying to address the immense challenge of creating more sustainable coastal cities. Now, my engineering background allows me to have informed conversations with clients as well as with Bright Power’s engineering team.
What’s the one service offering we have that you think is the most beneficial to clients and why?
I think our New Construction (NC) service is particularly beneficial. Capturing energy efficiency opportunities during a renovation or a new construction project is a huge opportunity that is too often missed. Investments in energy efficiency during the design phase pay dividends over the life of the building, in terms of reduced O&M costs, utility cost savings, and tenant comfort and well-being. The subject matter expertise our NC team brings is critical. From Passive House to Enterprise Green Communities and more, they understand the cutting edge of green design techniques—many of which are constantly evolving—and bring this to design teams. In this capacity, our clients can rely on us to provide strategic advice that incorporates cost-effectiveness, long-term impacts, indoor air quality, maintenance concerns, risk management, and more. Part of the reason we have so many returning clients is that once they see the value of this service, they return over and over again. It’s one of my favorite services to sell because for me it’s such a no-brainer for our clients.
We hear you’re going to Germany – what are you going to do there?
Yes! In March I will be traveling to Germany as a McCloy Fellow (a transatlantic professional exchange program sponsored by the American Council on Germany) to study innovations in the built environment and climate change mitigation efforts. My hope is to meet with individuals from across the industry to explore how cities are responding to the needs of a changing climate. To answer this question, I will look at three specific consequences of global warming: global migration and growing urban populations; the shift to green energy supply and distribution; and green building design. By exploring how these specific issues are being addressed in local communities across Germany, I will gain insight on best practices, lessons learned, and key strategies that can be implemented here in the United States. I used to live in Germany, so for me, this is both an opportunity to learn from the cutting edge of our profession, while also a return to my roots in some ways. And I am thrilled to be bringing new subject matter expertise to all of our clients at Bright Power so that we can continue to push the envelope here in New York and build residences that are fit for the 21st century. You can read more about my trip here.