Operations can be the last step to success, or the first slip toward trouble.

The vast majority of commercial buildings are operating at efficiency levels that are well below current energy codes. Why is this? We would like to think that it is mostly because these older buildings were designed and constructed using less stringent standards. This is partly true, but unfortunately, it is only part of the story.

The bigger issue is that most existing buildings have challenges with their operational platform - that is the tools, processes, and people tasked with efficient and safe operations. Operations teams are tasked with running buildings that have minimal documentation and may never have been properly commissioned. New tools, processes, and training can help overcome these issues. Here are some examples:
  • The use of energy information systems and/or BAS to proactively track system and equipment level energy and water consumption within commercial need to become an expectation.
  • Building control systems, especially those with advanced control sequences (such as economizer mode and static pressure reset), must be properly specified, commissioned, and operated. Running them “in hand” doesn’t count.
  • We find that a building with good O&M practices, even if poorly designed, often will outperform a well-designed building with poor O&M practices.
We would suggest that investments in control system tune-ups and controls integration for existing building operations provides value to facility management teams, property managers, and owners. It is not a just a question of value, but a challenge of competing needs and priorities. Successful use of advanced control strategies in existing buildings requires well-written sequences of operation; the correct type of meters, sensors, and controls; and protocols.

In addition, building operators and control technicians must have the opportunity to receive education and training about advanced controls. When the correct technologies and processes are in place, with knowledgeable staff, advanced control strategies can reduce energy consumption and cost, while also helping to meet sustainability goals. However, when one or more of these items is overlooked, it is possible that the sequence of operation maybe changed or even overridden by putting the equipment in hand. This challenge may be part of the reason why many existing building control systems have not been upgraded to use advanced control strategies.

With the new building construction market at a low point and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act starting to hit the market, investing in existing building operations and energy efficiency of existing buildings is gaining attention. Will this interest and momentum include investment in control system tune-ups, upgrades, or further integration with facility management software applications?

(Author’s Note: This month’s column includes input from our new associate Angela Lewis. Angela has recently joined Building Intelligence Group and is focused on issues related to high performance facility management.) SSC