Ten Tips for Operating and Maintaining High Performance Buildings

High performance is a journey, not a destination, and for most building operators and managers, it comes in incremental steps. The focus is often on energy performance, but the picture is much bigger. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 defines a high performance building as one that integrates and optimizes all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance and occupant productivity.

Whether you are at the beginning of your journey or well down the path, here are 10 tips to help you operate and maintain your high performance building.

1. Know Your Goals. This is the most important, foundational element. It is also the one thing that is most often missing in operations and maintenance (O&M) programs. Goals drive metrics, which in turn drive programs and actions. For your organization, define high performance in terms that can be communicated. Typical goals will include facility condition, system reliability, energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste stream management, indoor environmental quality, and facility services.

2. Measure and Monitor. High performance is about understanding current performance, making improvements and demonstrating that success. Using your goals, develop metrics that demonstrate how you are achieving high performance. Then monitor and measure that performance. Changes against goals inform you as to whether you are on or off track, and can help identify performance problems early.

3. Implement Standard Requirements. Whether for construction/renovation or for maintenance services, communicating standard requirements to your designers, contractors, and service providers will help ensure your facility can be operated and maintained in alignment with your goals. Standards may address energy performance/efficiency, technology integration, reporting inputs/outputs and maintenance space requirements.

4. Keep Up With Your Maintenance Program. Building systems and equipment need to be regularly tended to ensure they operate correctly, safely and well. This contributes to overall system reliability.

5. Walk Around the Building. It is amazing what attentive observers can detect when they walk around a building. Performing regular inspections can help identify issues such as lights out, equipment running incorrectly, leaks and odd odors. All of these contribute to total building performance and occupant productivity.

6. If It Doesn’t Need To Run, Turn It Off. This one typically occurs in the energy category, and makes a lot of sense. And it’s usually an easy win for better long-term performance.

7. Test Sequences of Operation. Are your systems really operating how you think? Periodically review your sequences and setpoints to ensure building systems are programmed to operate as you need.

8. Trend Your Data. Building system sensors tell a story. Reviewing trended information can help you see where problems might exist.  It often takes at least two judiciously chosen data sets to understand issues.

9. Involve Building Occupants. You may think of your sensors as being those that are connected through wires, signals, and software, but some of your best are walking around the building every day. And they communicate. Put that information to work. Use input from building occupants to help you understand what is happening throughout the building. And it doesn’t have to be formal. Use surveys and informal conversation.

10. Train Your Team. Building operators as well as occupants need to understand what it means to be in a high performance building, and how they contribute to that performance. A good training program will help connect the individual to the program and goals.  

About the Author

Laurie Gilmer, P.E., member ASHRAE, is the vice president of Facility Services at Facility Engineering Associates in Santa Rosa, Calif., and leads FEA’s facility asset management, building energy management and sustainability services. She is a published author, and co-authored the International Facility Management Association’s (IFMA) second manual in the Sustainability “How-To-Guide” Series, EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. She is a member of IFMA, is chair of IFMA’s Sustainability Facility Credential scheme committee, and serves on the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council’s Building Operator Certification Advisory Committee.

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