Sustaining high-performance buildings

High-performance building managers can optimize financial operations management and monitoring using integrated data platforms and a proven facility sustainability roadmap

By George Hawkinson and Jarrod McMains August 31, 2020


Learning Objectives

  • Examine the financial side of operations management and monitoring and lay out a roadmap for maximizing the lifetime value of high-performance building assets.
  • Learn how an integrated data platform supports effective operations management and monitoring.
  • Consider an example of optimizing capital expenditures through asset health analytics

Smart, green, sustainable or high-performance buildings are large capital and long-term investments designed to provide a safe, healthy and productive work environment. They also focus on achieving energy efficiency, improving asset life cycle performance, optimizing space use, meeting or exceeding code compliance and reducing operations and maintenance costs

Every high-performance building is built with superior materials, design and technology, but whether it achieves its objectives — such as energy efficiency and providing a safe, healthy and productive workplace — depends on the quality of operations management and monitoring throughout the building’s life cycle.

Many companies want to implement or improve corporate initiatives designed to help owners/agents understand the physical and financial health of their assets — that is, the built environment and the people who maintain it. Yet, these design characteristics require a significant commitment from facility, energy and property managers to develop the knowledge, skills and a culture of continuous improvement required to protect this investment and to meet corporate governance and sustainability goals.

The facility managers who oversee these initiatives have many fiduciary obligations, including seeing that assets are available when and where they are needed, minimizing the risk of asset failure and maximizing the return on those assets. Managers are also responsible for seeing that assets are used productively throughout their life spans; setting priorities for acquiring, maintaining and replacing assets; and planning for future expansion or reduction.

Driving high-performance building design

High-performance buildings are evolving. A desire for greater energy efficiency and “green buildings” drove construction of the first high-performance buildings. Now, stakeholders are also concerned about accessibility, productivity, man-made threats and natural disasters.

According to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the term high-performance building means a building that integrates and optimizes on a life cycle basis all major high-performance attributes, including energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality and operational considerations.

For simplicity, these attributes can be collapsed into five categories characterized by the National Institute of Building Sciences:

  • Sustainability or the environmental performance of building elements.
  • Cost-effectiveness, which refers to selecting building elements on the basis of life cycle costs, including evaluating options throughout concepting and design and doing value engineering, as well as cost estimating and budget control.
  • Security or the physical safety of buildings and their occupants, including the specific needs of people with disabilities.
  • Productivity, which pertains to the building elements, such as airflow and lighting that impact occupants’ physical and psychological comfort.
  • Functionality or the operational performance and efficient maintenance of the building.

Few buildings fully realize high performance in each of these areas, in part because the high-performance building environment can be complex for the building owners and managers who make day-to-day decisions. Still, both expectations and progress continue to move toward greater efficiency and integration.

Fine-tuning high-performance buildings

For facility managers overseeing corporate initiatives, each fiduciary obligation creates additional responsibilities:

Risk management: Managing risk for data centers and other mission critical operations requires tracking and understanding what all systems are doing, verifying delivery of service level agreements and avoiding litigation. In the event of disaster recovery, detailed information supports better identification and faster resolution of issues.

Performance accountability: To provide for the safety, health and productivity of building occupants, facility managers need to see that all work assigned to in-house personnel, contractors, energy service companies and control system integrators is performed on time and meets requirements.

Cost reduction: Measuring and monitoring energy consumption in parallel with utility billing and rate structures allows facility managers to identify and reduce peak demand, thereby lowering energy costs. Maintenance, repair and operations provides opportunities for additional cost savings when maintenance is based on usage performance rather than completed on fixed schedules or when something breaks.

Sustainability, validation and measurement and verification through monitoring-based commissioning: Facility managers need to analyze, visualize and report on performance goals regularly. They also need to validate energy conservation measures, track U.S. Green Building Council LEED and code compliance and monitor other relevant metrics.

Recommissioning: Buildings systems need regular tune-ups, whether due to degradation or changing requirements. Automated continuous monitoring-based commissioning provides facility managers with a particularly effective way to balance the owner’s need for cost-effective operations with the occupants’ need for a safe and productive workplace.

Implementing an integrated platform

Building codes, rating systems and design guidance — such as Energy Star, LEED and the Whole Building Design Guide — provide insight into some aspects of asset health. However, they cannot paint the detailed picture facility managers need to meet all of their fiduciary obligations.

To meet these obligations and achieve performance initiatives, facility managers require reliable data flow from multiple data sources, the ability to transform the collected asset data into actionable information and the means to analyze and visualize the data for operational and business decision-making. In other words, they need a fully integrated operational data management, analysis and visualization platform.

Implementing a comprehensive data solution isn’t easy. It requires integrating the facility, energy and business domains of the organization, each of which uses different skill sets, languages, performance indicators and technologies. These differences create strong domain impedance that has resulted in the proliferation of closed, point solutions in the market.

What is really needed is a solution that consolidates existing data solutions under a set of corporate energy and sustainability policies, guarantees early adoption and long-term success of sustainability initiatives and enables customers to scale the solution to match their current level of sophistication.

Six tips for high-performance buildings

An integrated data platform changes the way facilities are managed. Traditionally, building control was the responsibility of maintenance teams. Repairs, replacement and integration of different systems — such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning or lighting — were handled by the building equivalent of a pit crew.

Now, data platforms provide a holistic view of building conditions over time. Building control shifts to facility managers and the focus is on long-term planning. Engineers play a critical role in designing, implementing, monitoring and modifying these systems.

Engineers also help guide organizations as they implement increasingly sophisticated solutions. Companies that implement an effective data logistics and strategy solution can then move to more advanced visualization and reporting, fault detection and so on.

By following a road map, facility managers can analyze the financial viability of operating and maintaining a building over many years. They can understand the wear and tear on specific assets and determine the best time to replace them. And they can optimize space use throughout the building’s life cycle. Each advance along the road map brings opportunities for increased cost savings and greater return on investment.

Data logistics and strategy: Organizations should begin by implementing an effective data logistics and strategy solution that defines asset classification standards. This includes defining building elements as major components common to most buildings and providing common threads linking activities, costs and participants in a building project from initial planning through operations, maintenance and disposal.

Conception and coverage: In this stage, the emphasis is on energy resource analysis and forecasting, including demand, consumption and cost for electrical, gas and water. Facility managers can track energy performance targets, analyze energy performance against benchmarks and baselines and align energy usage data with the operational status of equipment to see how the equipment is affecting energy use.

Accountability check: Facility managers can finally know what their systems are really doing. They can automatically scan their data to find issues and generate views on the issues detected. They can also build libraries of analytic rules to fit the needs of their facility and convert domain knowledge to rules. For example, rules can be written to trigger condition-based maintenance and analysis of avoidable costs when specific issues are detected.

Projection and agility: Using algorithms and statistical models, predictive maintenance solutions analyze patterns to uncover new insights. Facility managers benefit from the ability to predict the probability of specific faults or failures and the time to fault/failure for specific equipment. Predictive maintenance solutions also detect anomalies, flagging equipment that — although not showing symptoms of a known fault or failure — is nonetheless behaving abnormally compared to comparable equipment. Over time, this provides insight into conditions or sequences of events that are likely to produce a fault or failure.

Optimization: Every building asset is designed to perform in a certain way, but many assets are eventually used in new and different ways. Though they continue to operate as designed, the design may no longer be appropriate. In this stage of the road map, facility managers can adjust sequences of operations, space use or other factors to optimize assets for their current purpose.

Project controls: These solutions put data collection, management and analysis to work relative to corporate sustainability initiatives. Facility managers can see that the building is working for the corporation, particularly in terms of meeting space use, safety and productivity goals. When there is a gap, project controls can be used to evaluate and prioritize the capital investments needed to enhance performance throughout the building’s life cycle.

Facility sustainability

The facility sustainability roadmap can be used to optimize any building asset — from the carpet to the HVAC system to emergency services. Lighting systems provide a straightforward example of the benefits of this approach.

When an automated lighting system isn’t working properly, the facility manager has both a public perception problem and a cost problem. Occupants wonder why the lights remain on in empty conference rooms or worse, why the whole building is lit up at night. Plus, money is being wasted on energy that isn’t being used. An integrated data platform can help solve both problems.

If the organization already has data logistics and strategy in place, the process begins by working with the data engineer to write a fault detection and diagnosis algorithm to find the anomalies that are keeping lights on even when they’re not being used. Once the anomaly is found, the engineer can rewrite the sequence of operations or tune control parameters around lighting to reduce or eliminate the amount of energy wasted.

If remote controls are involved, the facility manager might also choose to evaluate the ROI of installing a lighting system. With an integrated dashboard, the manager can easily consider the impact of the new solution in terms of multiple variables, including energy, operations and public perception.

The only time the facility manager can save money on energy is when it’s turned off. Following the sustainability road map sees that that the building is running at peak efficiency while also meeting occupants’ needs.

Continuous building improvement

Well-managed high-performance buildings have the potential to greatly improve energy efficiency, security, productivity, functionality and cost-effectiveness. The entire building community — including owners/agents, developers, architects, contractors and occupants — benefits when facility managers think in terms of optimizing performance over the entire life cycle of assets. But it can be challenging for facility managers to accomplish this when faced with a limited budget, manpower and expertise.

By implementing an integrated data platform and following the facility sustainability roadmap, facility managers can visualize the next year — or 80 years — and develop plans to optimize operations throughout the building’s life cycle. Investing in these tools now allows companies to replace the ups and downs of maintenance with the continuous improvement of engineered solutions.

Author Bio: George Hawkinson is a project manager and technology consultant at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell, where he helps clients improve corporate sustainability, operations and management and capital improvement projects. Jarrod McMains is a controls and energy engineer in the Global Facilities Group at Burns & McDonnell, specializing in building automation, energy efficiency and sustainability services.