Green building certifications in the real estate industry, while yet to reach critical mass, are increasing. Property management firms are directly finding that such certifications translate into tangible benefits for occupants. Meanwhile, programs like BOMA BESt are acquiring more buzz, with talk of a potential update and improvement of the current version 2 program.
Yet, many properties continue to make the mistake of failing to benchmark and frequently monitor their utility and energy consumption outside of the reporting scopes of BOMA BESt, LEED and GRESB, to name a few. While these databases all provide good industry benchmarks, it is crucial to understand how your own building is performing and responding, on a day-to-day basis, to factors such as outside temperatures.
Considering changing weather patterns
One of the biggest influences on a building’s day-to-day operations is weather factors, such as temperature and solar gain, to name a couple. Climate change has resulted in more extreme weather conditions, which typically last for longer durations of time. Too often, however, people think of the natural and built environment as two distinctive environments that have no impact on one another. We need to enhance this connection that was lost somewhere amidst the industrial revolution.
If buildings can continually work to improve performance and lower energy usage, the industry can significantly offset contributing factors to climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Energy supply for electricity is the greatest contributor to GHGs in major cities.
Reductions can be realized through strategies, such as raising indoor temperature set-points in a building during periods of high heat, thereby requiring less cooling. Lowering the set-point temperature by one degree may seem miniscule on a micro level, but, on a macro level, if the more than two billion square feet of commercial office space in Canada collectively accomplished this, the results would appear more meaningful.
As weather temperatures rise, a conventional, but less sustainable solution is to acquire a larger chiller after a building’s system can no longer meet its cooling demand. As this option results is more GHGs, a greener choice to reduce cooling load would be to improve the building envelope with upgrades, like window film, re-caulking of the exterior and a recommissioning of the cooling system.
Auto pilot versus adaptive buildings
Energy@Work undertook a study of 20 commercial office buildings all larger than 200,000 square feet and compared their energy performance on the hottest versus coldest days of summer 2014.
With the use of a real time monitoring (RTM) system, visible differences surfaced in energy usage in the day-to-day operations of the buildings. More than 70 per cent of buildings were set on auto pilot, programmed to operate the same each day, regardless of outside conditions. These buildings relied on a static BAS control sequence as opposed to a dynamic operation sequence that changes based on daily conditions and adapts to factors impacting consumption, as well as utilizes free cooling strategies. Findings reaffirmed the ranging difference between the two sequences, with resulting reductions of 4 to 37 per cent.
Although the results are incredible when considering operational savings opportunities, property management and operations may still overlook the ‘low-hanging fruit’, which are low to no-cost measures that yield energy savings. If we do not keep an eye on these factors on an ongoing basis, we risk the loss of potential savings.
Energy consumption in real time
Organizations like the United States Green Building Council, which administers LEED certifications, have recognized these potential savings. Recently it launched the LEED Dynamic Plaque system which, as the name suggests, is dynamic and allows for real time views of energy consumption and reporting on waste, water, transportation and human experience.
This is the future of green building performance and commercial sustainability, and a trend towards which we are seeing an increasing shift. While the presentation and integration with LEED recertification may be new, the concept is not, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. Looking at things like energy consumption on a monthly basis through tools like RTM not only shows how a building performs individually or compared to other buildings, but also allows property managers to instantly identify problems or opportunities for reduction.
When a building owner waits until certification time to examine components like energy, costs will increase. LEED Dynamic Plaque is an attractive option that emphasizes continual and real performance improvements, transparency and a two-way communication with tenants.
Balancing daily performance with tenant requests
Many building operators are busy responding to tenant requests, ensuring that mechanical systems are working and filling in paperwork, leaving little time to reflect and monitor building performance.
All these tasks play a role in energy management—maintenance and repairs affect equipment lifecycles and help increase the life of a building—but tenant comfort levels offer deeper insight into building operations, thus providing an additional knowledge base for better energy management.
A building with significant tenant comfort complaints serves as an opportunity to improve and optimize system operations and to see how such systems respond afterwards through tenant engagement programs.
Ensuring that operators take the time to understand tenant needs can enhance the outcome. Complaints should be tracked, with operators communicating with tenants and measuring the actual space temperature with a correct measuring device. Perhaps a pattern will arise through the complaints, leading to a more effective, long-term solution, as opposed to a one-time adjustment.
Overall, open communication is key. Awareness among consultants, property management and operations helps to eliminate ‘silos’ within the building and yields greater results when implementing projects and understanding building performance. Operations and property management typically communicate when issues arise. Besides approaching operators to simply solve issues, engaging them in energy management can help recognize achievements that would otherwise go unnoticed and, as a result, produce better managed utilities that improve certification scores.
In addition, the technical aspect of monitoring building performance seems to be the most difficult component for property managers. Many managers are accustomed to dealing with various budgets and communicate with operators on the dollar value of projects. However, when performance is measured and verified using real time monitoring to determine energy savings, it can be translated into a value understood by both parties.
Kyle Pinto is a sustainability manager for Energy@Work. Kyle heads Energy@Work’s sustainability service offerings and oversees the implementation of their tenant engagement program: Building Beyond Green. Braedyn Stockfish is an energy manager for Energy@Work. Braedyn manages the Energy Master Plans employed at Energy@Work’s downtown commercial office portfolio. He also sits on the BOMA BESt Technical Committee as part of BOMA Canada.