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Research Highlights

February 2017

Tune-Ups: Servicing Buildings from the Roof, Down

Timeline highlights successful development of building Re-tuning™ methodology

Tune-Ups: Servicing Buildings from the Roof, Down
[watch video on YouTube]
In 2018, one of America’s most iconic and energy efficient cities will require that large commercial buildings receive periodic tune-ups. Seattle is currently partnering with DOE and PNNL to give building owners a head-start. How’d we get here? Our video timeline chronicles the events leading up to Seattle’s decision to implement PNNL’s building Re-tuning™ methodology.

The automotive service industry may hotly debate the frequency in which you should tune-up your vehicle, but they do agree on one thing: tune-ups are necessary. Car owners know this to be true as well, with most politely obeying their vehicle “check engine” light when it’s time to visit the shop. To do otherwise would reduce efficiency and could be catastrophic for the life of a vehicle.

Isn’t the same true for buildings? Americans invest billions each year in real estate, but how much do they pay attention to protecting their investment? Many owners don’t know something is wrong until the air conditioning doesn’t kick on, or when an electricity bill suddenly spikes.

Recognizing this gap, the State of Washington and the Department of Energy commissioned a team of researchers to establish a solution for effectively “tuning up” buildings. The timeline below highlights the development of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s building Re-tuning methodology—from creation to now standing as a requirement in one of America’s most iconic and efficient cities—Seattle.

2000: An early version of the Re-tuning methodology is developed by PNNL researchers during the electricity crisis of 2000-2001 for the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP).

2004: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) completed a comprehensive study to compile two decades worth of data from building commissioning projects in the United States between 1984 and 2003. For existing buildings, the analysis found median commissioning costs of $0.27 per square foot, whole-building energy savings of 15 percent, and a payback time of 0.7 years.

2006: The building commissioning philosophy is further developed and tested at PNNL with funding from the State of Washington. Researches coin their six-step process as “building Re-tuning” and develop initial training—primarily focused on large commercial buildings with building automation systems (BASs)—to share with building operators.

2007: The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires federal facilities to be assessed for commissioning measures, including options for new buildings or those under construction (commissioning), relatively new buildings (re-commissioning), old buildings (retro-commissioning), and complex buildings with metering systems (continuous commissioning).

2007: Researchers at PNNL adapt and enhance a tool to support Re-tuning analysis. The Energy Charting and Metrics (ECAM) tool—developed to facilitate analysis of data from building and trend logs from the BAS—is an add-on for Microsoft Excel®.

2007-2009: PNNL pilot-tests large commercial building Re-tuning in Washington State. Over 60 buildings are re-tuned under this effort.

2009: Under the DOE-sponsored Commercial Building Re-Tuning project, PNNL develops Re-tuning resources for both large and small buildings, targeting technicians already working in the field. PNNL finds that continuous Re-tuning can lead to 5-20 percent savings in an existing building’s total energy costs.

2011: PNNL and DOE release free online training directed towards onsite employees responsible for day-to-day building operations, offsite contractors, or college students interested in entering the field. The interactive training—focused on building with BASs—wins the 2012 APEX award for publication excellence. PNNL also engages in nationwide “train-the-trainer” sessions to expand the availability of building Re-tuning training and technical support.

2012: DOE’s Building Technologies Office funds the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation (CBEI) to expand in-person building Re-tuning training while partnering with Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International and Association of Physical Plant Administrators (APPA).

2013: PNNL and DOE release free online training for buildings without a BAS. The interactive training wins the 2014 APEX award for publication excellence. PNNL again engages in nationwide “train-the-trainer” sessions to expand the availability of building Re-tuning training and technical support.

2014: With help from LBNL and support from DOE, PNNL develops an open-source data analysis and diagnostics platform that provides standard methods for authoring, sharing, testing, using, and improving algorithms for operational building energy efficiency. The tool, named OpenEIS, replaces ECAM and serves as an intelligent energy information system that allows users to upload individual building data and use proven algorithms and diagnostics tools from DOE’s national laboratories. OpenEIS helps identify opportunities that, when corrected, can lower building energy use and increase operational efficiency.

2015: PNNL performs a meta-analysis of 100 commercial office buildings with BAS. They find that all had potential to save energy, ranging from 5 to 30 percent, by making simple changes to their controls.

2015: Researchers at PNNL develop a number of algorithms that automate identification, and in some cases, automatically make corrections of Re-tuning measures (AIRx).

2016: PNNL integrates AIRx algorithms with the VOLTTRON™ software platform and deploys them widely on the PNNL campus. The algorithms are equivalent to a “check engine” light. This deployment allows for continuous monitoring of PNNL building systems, ensuring persistent building operations and peak efficiency.

2016: Through the CBEI, Pennsylvania State University continues to publish building Re-tuning case studies—including work performed by PNNL at facilities belonging to the Georgia Institute of Technology, U.S. General Services Administration, and Energy Star.

2016: The City of Seattle announces required tune-ups for non-residential buildings exceeding 50,000 square feet, beginning in 2018. In partnership with PNNL and DOE, the City launches the Seattle Building Tune-Up Accelerator, giving owners and/or managers a jump-start on meeting Re-tuning requirements. The project provides technical support and financial incentives for meeting ordinance requirements in advance of the 2018 implementation date.

2017: PNNL extends the meta-analysis to 130 commercial office buildings with building automation systems.

2017: The OpenEIS tool is enhanced and updated to support City of Seattle’s needs.

This chronology is a classic example of how research and development at DOE moves from the laboratory to industry—in this case, helping building owners save money through greater efficiency. So the next time you look into buying some real estate, take a lesson from the car dealer and factor in building tune-ups for the long-term health of your investment.

For more information, or to take the free building Re-tuning training, visit

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