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Figure 1: Case study research process.
 
  

When making the decision to invest in a building retrofit, an energy audit is performed to collect information about the facility’s existing systems, geometry, use type and energy consumption. Through performing an energy audit, the facility owner and those individuals analyzing the building are able to sense how the building systems are performing, while identifying potential retrofit upgrades. However, the current lack of energy auditing standards results in audit outcomes that vary based on the individual performing the audit. The variability associated with the energy auditing process often results in facility owners investing in lighting upgrades and improved insulation, as these upgrades are relatively easy to implement and have predictable paybacks.

As I examined the process by which we conduct audits, I was able to see a series of disconnects. I observed issues with the misalignment between the nuisances of retrofit projects and owners, which aren’t unique to my own observations, but common industry issues. A House of Quality (HoQ) pre-audit planning activity that better aligned data collected during an energy audit with facility owner’s needs was a logical approach used to address the issues observed.

A HoQ is a multi-criteria decision support tool that allows individuals to compare customer requirements against input parameters. For the application discussed, the customer requirements consisted of what building owner’s wish to reduce or improve through investing in a retrofit. The input parameters were defined as potential types of data an energy auditor may collect during an energy audit. The development and implementation of the HoQ tool was used to address the misalignment issues without being too cumbersome.

Two lab facilities, in the context of experimental case studies, were used to study whether or not the time spent planning yielded a better project outcome. For each case study building, both a typical audit and an audit where the industry member participates in a pre-audit planning activity were conducted. Figure 1 shows the process used to study the impact of the HoQ tool. While performing the energy audits of the lab buildings, the industry members were shadowed by an embedded researcher. The auditors were asked to “think aloud”, describing the general process they were implementing along with the data collected throughout the audit; while the embedded researcher collected video and audio recordings. After completing the audit process, the industry members developed energy audit reports that were delivered to the facility owner for review.

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Figure 2: Audit process analysis for Building 1 - Audit 1.
 
  

The research investigated the impact of participating in the HoQ pre-audit planning activity. In analyzing the data collected, the researcher looked at how the pre-audit planning activity impacted the overall audit process. Facility owner representatives evaluated the audit reports to identify if the pre-audit planning activity resulted in audit reports with increased value.

The analysis revealed the HoQ tool effectively altered the energy auditors’ behavior and that participating in the planning activity reduced the amount of transition time (Figure 2). Transition time was defined as time wasted walking from one location to another, or time spent deliberating about where the auditors should collect data next. Out of the 26 evaluations performed by seven different facility owner representatives, 23 demonstrated an increase in value when the pre-audit planning activity was utilized. Future research will take a facility being retrofitted, which used the HoQ study during the retrofit planning stage, and perform a longitudinal study to look at performance metrics.

Tabitha L. Sprau Coulter has worked as a mechanical engineer and an energy modeling consultant. She recently received her PhD in architectural engineering from Penn State Univ. Coulter is currently an assistant professor in the Civil Engineering Technology Dept. at Alfred State and teaches courses in both the civil and architectural departments.

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