AEA Trainer Close-up: Gerald Abt

Opportunities to reduce operating costs for owners and make life easier for supers of multifamily buildings motivate Gerald Abt to deliver quality energy audit and retro-commissioning services for AEA’s clients. Plus, it just drives Gerald crazy to see buildings waste energy! Especially when the remedy is often so simple and inexpensive.

One step that often saves building owners energy is insulating heating distribution pipes. “The law says that any heating distribution pipe over three inches must be insulated,” says Gerald, “but we specify insulation even for pipes much smaller than that – because the building will still benefit enormously.”

Gerald Abt is an energy efficiency engineer with the Association for Energy Affordability (AEA). A Multifamily Building Analyst, Existing Buildings Commissioning Professional, and Certified Passive House Consultant, Gerald knows his way around multifamily buildings. His primary focus is on retro-commissioning of New York City multifamily residential buildings that must comply with the City’s Local Law 87.

Buildings covered by LL87 (generally, those over 50,000 square feet) are required to undergo an energy audit and retro-commissioning process every ten years. Owners must file an Energy Efficiency Report (EER) with the NYC Department of Buildings detailing the results of the audit and recommendations for low-cost maintenance and operational measures to save energy and help the building’s systems function as they should. The EER must be filed during the year whose last digit matches the final digit of the building’s tax block number (see chart below). 2013 was the first year during which building owners were required to file an Energy Efficiency Report (EER).

Year first EER is due                               2013   2014   2015   2016   2017   2018   2019   2020   2021   2022              

Last digit of tax block number            3           4          5            6            7            8            9            0            1             2                 

Source: PlaNYC website

Low-cost maintenance and operational improvements that can be performed by building staff or current service contractors often pay for themselves quickly with reduced energy costs.

They typically do not require large capital outlays, which makes them easier to schedule and complete right away. Most retro-commissioning recommendations are of this type.
Savvy owners of buildings covered by LL 87 recognize they can maximize savings on energy costs through the rapid installation of cost-effective energy efficiency measures coupled with the adoption of best practices identified through the retro-commissioning process. “Retro-commissioning resets the building to optimum conditions for occupant safety, health and comfort,” says Gerald. Attention to occupant needs is paramount for operators, as they are the ones who field complaints when occupants are uncomfortable. A key strategy in a building equipped with energy efficient controls is to maximize the benefit from the automated controls.

During retro-commissioning, the commissioning agent must assess the knowledge and capacity of management and building staff to properly operate the systems installed in the property. This is required by LL87 and is essential in buildings with automated controls (or Energy Management Systems). “Responding to occupant complaints, untrained operators often shift to manual operating mode, resulting in increased energy use,” says Gerald. Knowing how to use these controls effectively can prevent this tendency, and knowing how to read reports provided by the EMS in person or online can help managers to detect when this has been done and reactivate the automated control settings.
Gerald encourages owners and operators both to be present during retro-commissioning visits to facilitate discussions of more effective approaches to handle complaints. “We don’t just set things up and walk away. We want to have conversations with management, operators, and residents.” To fully realize energy and cost savings, all parties need to cooperate.

“We want people to know what we’re doing – and why, so the changes we make together take root and hold”

– Gerald Abt

Like many AEA engineers and analysts, Gerald Abt teaches course content in his areas of technical expertise. When he is not performing energy audits and retro-commissioning work in buildings, Gerald is an instructor in AEA’s Retro-Commissioning for Energy Efficiency class. This class is designed to provide hands-on learning opportunities that supplement classroom-based commissioning courses for energy professionals working in multifamily properties. Gerald also teaches portions of AEA’s course on the Operation and Maintenance of Energy Management Sy

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