Key Building Management Practices for Existing Buildings
It’s not a far stretch for many of us in the real estate world to relate to the phase “because we’ve always done it that way.” When it comes to building operations and maintenance, routines are helpful. Having set points for heating and cooling, and timers on lighting, helps manage resource consumption and minimize waste. Yet, a set-and-forget methodology for facility management can create issues including system malfunction. Routine questioning of why a building is managed in the established way is helpful in avoiding problems and ensuring maximum efficiency.
That’s one reason why some sustainable building certifications, including LEED Operations + Maintenance for existing buildings and leased spaces, require documents and activities that compel a building maintenance staff to ask why. Included in this list are the following essentials, that any facility manager should have in their toolkit, to help assure systems are properly functioning: an Energy Audit, a Current Facilities Requirement document, and HVAC System Air Balancing.
ASHRAE LEVEL 1 AUDIT: A Great Place to Begin
ASHRAE, founded in 1894, is a global society advancing human well-being through sustainable technology for the built environment. The society and its members focus on building systems, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, refrigeration, and sustainability within the industry. They conduct research and write standards – many of which have been adopted as building codes.
Their definition of an energy audit is widely accepted in the U.S. The energy audit process is universal in its approach and is designed to address the varying needs of different owners and facilities. The ASHRAE approach is based on three levels of effort involved with data collection and analysis: Levels 1,2,3. Each level is inclusive of the previous, meaning a Level 2 audit includes the scope for a Level 1. Prior to conducting any detailed analysis, each audit will start with a collection of basic information.
What's Involved in a Level I Audit?
The Level I Audit assesses a building’s current energy cost and efficiency by analyzing energy bills and briefly surveying the building. The auditor should be accompanied by the building operator. Level I analysis identifies low-cost/no-cost measures and capital improvements that merit further consideration, along with an initial estimate of costs and savings.
The Level I audit is most applicable when there is some doubt about the energy savings potential of a building, or when an owner wishes to establish which buildings in a portfolio have the greatest potential savings. The results can be used to develop a priority list for a Level II or III audit, which involve a much deeper level of on-site investigation and analysis. Here is what you can expect:
Conduct a field survey of all existing Energy Systems and related equipment to collect information as required.
Meet with the Building Owner/Operator to discuss special needs or concerns. Any known deficiencies should be discussed.
Perform a Space Function Analysis – define space use and schedule.
Perform estimates to determine the approximate breakdown of energy use for significant use categories.
Identify no/low-cost opportunities/ECMs for energy savings.
Identify potential capital improvements for further study.
The Level I Audit Aftermath
The report for a Level I analysis will contain the building characteristics and energy use summary as well as the following:
Discussion of irregularities found in the monthly energy use patterns, with suggestions about their possible causes.
The energy index of similar buildings. Report the source, size, and date of the sample used in this comparison. Where the target is developed by calculation, show the calculation or quote the name and version of software used and include both input and output data.
Total energy and demand cost by fuel type for the latest year and preceding two years if available. Demonstrate potential savings in dollars using the energy index format of ASHRAE Standard 105.
The fraction of current costs that would be saved if the energy index were brought to the target level.
A summary of any special problems or needs identified during the walk-through survey, including possible revisions to operating and maintenance procedures.
A preliminary energy use breakdown by major end uses.
The listing of low-cost/no-cost changes with the savings for these improvements.
The potential capital improvements, with an initial estimate of potential costs and savings.
Understanding a CFR Document
Alongside the Level 1 audit process, LEED O+M also requires the submission of a Current Facilities Requirement (CFR) document, which serves as a blueprint for the entire team responsible for maintaining the building and helps ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to what needs to be done and when.
A CFR is a comprehensive report that outlines everything from the HVAC system to the plumbing, electrical, and fire safety systems. It includes detailed information on the age and condition of each component and any maintenance or repair needs that have been identified. It also includes training requirements, energy goals, levels of system controls, and other measures that matter to the building (e.g. acoustics, ventilation/filtration). The document also includes training, equipment, and system maintainability requirements, capabilities of the teams who would service the equipment, and is appended with various documents that record the relevant history of the building.
Having this information readily available is incredibly important for a few reasons. First and foremost, it makes it much easier to plan and prioritize maintenance and repair work. With a clear understanding of what needs to be done and when, owners can create a schedule that ensures everything gets taken care of in a timely and efficient manner.
Additionally, having a facilities requirement document can be incredibly helpful when it comes to budgeting. By knowing precisely what needs to be done and how much it will cost, building operators can create a more accurate budget and avoid any unexpected expenses down the line.
HVAC system AIR BALANCING
HVAC system supply and outdoor air (ventilation) balancing is a process of measuring the total system airflow as well as the amount of outdoor air that enters a building to ensure that it meets the ventilation requirements of the occupants. This is done by measuring the airflow that is being supplied to the building and the airflow brought in through the system, using calibrated equipment typically performed by a qualified air balance technician. If the values are found to be different than specified/required, adjustments are made to the air handling system to balance the airflows. The goal of air balancing is to maintain a healthy and comfortable indoor environment while minimizing energy consumption. Proper outdoor air balancing can help to reduce the risk of indoor air pollution and improve the overall indoor air quality.
But why is this so important? It’s been proven that indoor air pollution can have a severe impact on our health, with long-term exposure to pollutants potentially causing respiratory diseases, heart disease, and even cancer. By ensuring that outdoor air is appropriately balanced with indoor air, we can reduce the levels of indoor air pollutants and improve the quality of the air we breathe.
And it's not just our health that benefits. Proper outdoor air balancing can also improve the energy efficiency of a building, reducing energy costs and minimizing the environmental impact of the building. By optimizing the HVAC system and ensuring that air is circulated correctly, we can reduce the amount of energy needed to maintain a comfortable indoor environment.
WHY THIS WORK MATTERS
Audits and CFRs matter for all building owners, not just those pursuing LEED O+M. A few compelling scenarios include:
LACK OF COMMISSIONING ON RENOVATION PROJECTS: If your organization does not automatically commission renovation projects, it is highly likely that installed equipment is not operating as designed as part of the “whole” system. The commissioning process catches situations when energy-using systems (e.g. HVAC, domestic hot water, lighting, controls, renewables) are not operating as designed. In our work as commissioning agents, Emerald can site multiple times when buildings are turned over but lighting controls are set at 24x7 and economizers are not properly functioning.
LACK OF OUTDOOR AIR BALANCING: Building upon the previous example with lack of commissioning, which would catch this example, if outdoor air is not balanced regularly, airflow is not circulating as needed. Recently, Emerald identified a recently installed ventilation system that had its dampers fully closed, allowing no fresh air into the system – the whole point of the upgrade!
CHANGED SPACE USES: Over a building’s life cycle, space uses change. A large office becomes a conference room. A call center moves into an open office space. A storage area is converted to office space. Shuttered areas of a building are put back into use. Each of these examples of space use changes warrants a review of the current facility requirement for that area, and a refreshed air balance. It could have been that the dampers were closed when the space was shuttered, and without the rigor of a CFR and air balance exercises, never re-opened.
BUILDING CONTROLS ARE NOT CALIBRATED: Recalibrating building controls is essential for ensuring energy efficiency and cost savings. By adjusting the settings on HVAC systems, lighting, and other equipment, building managers can fine-tune their operations to meet the needs of occupants without wasting energy. This can lead to significant reductions in utility bills, as well as a more comfortable and productive environment for occupants. Plus, with the growing emphasis on sustainability and green building practices, recalibrating building controls is becoming increasingly important for meeting regulatory requirements and reducing carbon footprints. When controls are not routinely verified and recalibrated, the chance is high that something is not working correctly. Building Automation Systems (BAS) rely on sensors and measuring devices. Input that is not regularly verified and calibrated will lead to operational issues.
THE TRUTH IS THAT ENERGY USAGE MAY GO UP
While the intent of an audit, CFR, and air balancing is generally a more proactive approach to facility maintenance, and the honest truth is that the efforts may also lead to higher energy use. This may occur when the discovery is made that dampers are closed and a section of the building received no fresh air for the last 3 years. Or, it may occur when controls are recalibrated and now the systems run as designed. Or, it may happen when the CFR for a space is defined to meet the new space use, and more energy is required to maintain it due to ventilation requirements or average daily run times. Research shows that facilities that ensure indoor environmental quality produce better results by way of performance,
EMERALD is HERE TO HELP
We want you to have a CFR for your building and space – so much so, you can download a template right now! This template is based upon standard ASHRAE guidelines for a CFR and should be written and modified for your particular building. We strongly recommend the CFR be updated annually. Click below to get started!
However, if you are ready for deeper work to ensure your existing building is operating sustainably and efficiently, we are here to guide you through the audit process and to pursue a building certification. We are your team.