Testing and Balancing: Making a Difference in Energy Efficiency

SMACNA’s testing, adjusting, and balancing contractors are expanding their businesses by focusing on building systems and helping building owners and operators utilize their HVAC systems more efficiently.

A technician performing a duct traverse test in supply ductwork.

SMACNA’s testing, adjusting, and balancing contractors are expanding their businesses by focusing on building systems and helping building owners and operators utilize their HVAC systems more efficiently.

Testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) contractors provide professional, objective testing of a building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The information shared with customers comes from a series of evaluations of a building’s HVAC system. In addition to evaluating operations, TAB contractors conduct duct leakage tests and perform systems commissioning.

A blower door measuring “room tightness.”

Energy Balance and Integration (EB&I) of Albuquerque, New Mexico, seized the opportunity to optimize energy efficiency for companies in several different ways — by partnering with engineers to test systems, by assessing systems while balancing a job, and by testing hospital and lab rooms for positive air pressure to keep room environments hygienic.

A building needs to be seen as a holistic system. “A lot of the time the customer looks at the building from the standpoint of just being an individual room, when there’s really a whole system working within a building,” said Anthony Kocurek, EB&I’s owner and SMACNA National vice president. “When you can make a whole system work more efficiently that’s where the real energy savings come in.”

EB&I will help engineers improve air efficiencies, thereby reducing the loads on fans and other motors. “We will test and balance for an engineer who wants to know how a building is working and he has been given the task of fixing it,” Kocurek said. “They will ask us to go in and do some auditing and figure out where things are at.”

“While we’re up there, we will take a look in the ceiling and look at how the ducts are run and how the connections are connected. If there is any known leakage, you will feel the air blowing around,” he explained.

“And as we start going through an analysis, we notice how the systems are working. If there is a VAV (variable air volume) box we will look at how the boxes are set up to see if the set up makes sense,” he said. “These are all things that can easily be corrected, and they make a big difference in the systems’ efficiency,” he said.

At that point, they give the engineer not only the results of the test, but also their recommendations for improving the building’s energy efficiency.

James Hall, P.E., president and owner of Systems Management and Balancing in Waukee, Iowa, said that in many cases they will also team up with the design professional. Hall also serves on SMACNA’s Board of Directors and Technical Resources Committee.

We’ll take a consulting role in a team approach,” Hall said. “Typically, the design professional will get us involved and say they would like to get some measurements and data here and there and learn our thoughts on how the system is operating to see if we can make some system modifications,” he added.

Systems Management also troubleshoots system problems. Most of the time it’s a comfort issue or a building operational issue — such as negative pressure or high humidity. “Buildings sometimes have pressure problems, which is interesting because it translates back to energy efficiency,” Hall said.

EB&I also tests hospitals and laboratories to ensure that rooms maintain positive air pressure. Isolation rooms, for example, require an environment where no contaminants can enter. “There are certain amounts of offset to supply air and exhaust return so you maintain room positive when the door is closed,” Kocurek noted.

To measure a room’s “tightness” or air pressure, they will install a blower door with fans in the door frame that pressurize the room. “It blows air into the room and we measure the amount of air being used to pressurize that room. Our goal is to create the least amount of air leakage as possible. It makes it very efficient. That has been an incredible savings for the engineers,” Kocurek said.

Hall’s company also performs testing, adjusting, balancing and commissioning as a third-party to verify that the building’s systems are operating efficiently. “We are the eyes and ears of the design professional to make sure it is doing what he or she wanted it to do,” Hall said.

“If something is not operating as designed, and not meeting design intent, we get into a semi-consultative role and work with the design professional and say, ‘here’s what we see and here’s what might help for next steps,’” he noted.

“Lots of times energy efficiency relates back to making sure the building is operating as intended,” Hall added.

“We have the good fortune to have the opportunity to help make the system work,” he reflected of his company’s role. “Every job we have is an opportunity to learn and we try to share that knowledge with our customer base. Every project we do is like a learning laboratory.”

“The future of energy efficiency goes back to helping educate the industry on what’s really happening with how a system operates,” he said.

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