Extreme Makeover - Lab Edition: A Case Study of Recommissioning & Revitalization of Existing Controls

Chris Schmidt, B2Q Associates, Inc.
Andrew Brown, B2Q Associates, Inc.

Advanced lab controls began to be developed and used in the early to mid-1980's. These controls were state-of-the-art and allowed for more precise control, which both improved safety and efficiency. However, as with any early technology, especially pneumatic controls, many things, from the moving parts, to software sequences, to physical settings, tend to fail or be modified over time. The failures of these aging systems result in wasted energy and unsafe buildings.

Many institutions are reluctant to address these issues head on due to costs, concerns with disruptions to lab operations, and a lack of understanding of the energy costs and safety impacts. Often these aging controls are only replaced as they fail and no attention is given to why they fail and what the impacts are to the general laboratory-level and building-level control. Thus, money is spent to repair/replace components, but with little-to-no improvement in energy use, safety, or comfort. Many believe that the only option is to replace the entire controls system with the newest versions, which is very costly and thus gets put on a deferred maintenance or capital projects list, which pushes the project out to future years. Meanwhile, lab safety, comfort, and energy use continue to suffer.

The reality is that in many cases, these original controls devices, many of their components, and their software are still very viable and functional controls. They just need a makeover or thorough tune up: replacing/repairing what is failed and focusing on updating recommissioning the controls.

In this paper, we present a case study and results of a completed project where a makeover of existing lab controls was conducted. During this makeover, the lab-level ventilation rates were updated, control sequences and strategies were re-engineered, all failed controls components were replaced/repaired, and all systems were re-commissioned to operate "as new". Additionally, occupancy sensors were added to each lab bay and tied into the lab controls to allow for occupancy-based ventilation control.

This process was completed by a multi-disciplinary team including engineers, controls technicians/contractors, test and balance contractor (TAB) and certified industrial hygienist (CIH), with involvement from the lab faculty and the institution's maintenance and operations staff.

In the end, for one-third to one-half of the cost of a complete controls replacement, a comprehensive controls overhaul and re-commissioning, with EH&S/CIH involvement can reduce building energy costs by 15%-35%, while improving safety and comfort. Additionally, the building systems get a new lease on life, maintenance costs are reduced, and a large capital project is avoided.

Learning Objectives

  • Increase understanding of typical lab HVAC and hood controls, and where the opportunities exist to optimize and update.
  • Understand energy, performance and safety impacts of lab controls, particularly failed or 'out of spec' controls, and strategies for tuning these up and updating them.
  • Be able to identify candidates for lab controls re-commissioning and how to prioritize which controls software and hardware changes to make to get the best bang for your buck.
  • Improve the ability to understand and sell the benefits of lab controls re-commissioning making the most of what exists.


Chris is a Senior Project Manager with B2Q Associates and is a mechanical engineer with a Masters of Science in Engineering from the University of Dayton, with a focus in commercial and industrial building energy efficiency. He has over 16 years experience working in building efficiency, HVAC mechanical and controls systems optimization, re-commissioning, and project management and he co-teaches the Association of Energy Engineers Existing Buildings Commissioning course.

Andy is a Designer with B2Q Associates and is a chemical engineer with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, with a focus in industrial building energy efficiency. He has 2 years of experience working in energy efficiency, controls systems, and re-commissioning.


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