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POctober 22, 2012

Sustainability: Your Friend or Enemy

Planning for your new building

Sustainability is no longer a fad, it is a reality.  As supported in the EDiS GreenSense program, sustainability efforts not only make environmental sense, they can make cents with return on your investment. But buyer beware.  The level of complexity of many mechanical systems, while paying dividends to the environment and to your operating expenses, can become your enemy if you are not careful. Therefore, careful planning, in advance of investment and installation, is required to fully realize your ROI.  Let me explain the basics:

Over the years, with increasing concern regarding sustainability, mechanical and electrical engineers have improved their system designs to reduce energy consumption while maintaining occupant comfort levels. These changes have been shown to increase efficiencies! Here is the bad news.  With the introduction of systems that include geo-thermal heating/cooling, energy recovery ventilation and computer-controlled energy management systems one could face new problems. If these highly sophisticated and expensive systems aren’t designed, installed, operated and maintained properly, they will not operate at peak efficiency; you won’t realize a return on their investment and the life span of the systems will be compromised. The fix?  A well thought out Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Plan, is key.

First, an O&M Plan, comprised of Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing (MEP) manuals, should be required.   The MEP manuals enable the facility manager to understand the different aspects of their building with respect to ventilation, lighting, and more.   These MEP manuals should be customized to the facility and not copied from another building due to the fact that no two facilities are the same.

Second, the effectiveness of your plan should be measured.  In this day and age, building automation and control systems allow the facility manager to receive feedback with respect to usage patterns; energy consumption and can recognize potential for waste and savings.  By tracking this information you can determine if your systems are functioning and operating to their peak efficiencies.  Better yet, you can use this data to “tweak” the systems to shorten the ROI period.  Most investments that we are seeing are targeting paybacks on the investments in 4-6 years.

Third, the facility manager must recognize that the words “life cycle” are used because…well…equipment, technologies and systems have a life expectancy.  It is one thing to see a payback on your investment, it is another to have to eventually have to reinvest.  The facility manager should seek to advance the former and prolong the latter through preventive maintenance. As with your personal vehicle, you know you won’t get the best mileage unless the vehicle has been serviced per the proper maintenance schedule, such as changing the oil regularly or replacing an air filter. The systems in your building are no different and, as with every car, one maintenance schedule does not fit every model vehicle. Critical areas for any Facility Manager to pay close attention to would be regular maintenance of HVAC filters, the amount of outside air being turned over in the building, occupancy or CO2 sensor readings, and daylight harvesting/lighting control periods. With close monitoring, adjustments to maximize system efficiencies and regularly scheduled maintenance a return on investment can be realized.

Finally, a well-trained maintenance staff skilled in implementing the maintenance schedule is vital.   Don’t underinvest in this area.  It is not uncommon for a building owner to spend millions in mechanical systems and equipment, cut the budget on $10,000 worth of annual training, and quietly lose operating efficiency and life expectancy because the staff didn’t know what they didn’t know.


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