The combined effects of a sluggish economic recovery, high energy prices and changing environmental requirements continue to put pressure on owners and operators of high rise buildings. Facilities teams are constantly looking for ways to save energy, reduce operating costs, improve reliability and shrink their environmental footprint, while also creating a comfortable, healthy and productive place for people who work, live or visit in their buildings.

No wonder many organizations are taking a high performance building approach to operating their high rise buildings. But even the best designed buildings can underperform unless their heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) and other critical building systems are properly operated, regularly serviced and proactively maintained.

Advanced technology and access to unprecedented levels of system performance data give high rise facilities teams the tools they need to develop and implement effective maintenance strategies at a cost that makes sense for building owners and operators.

Technology and data access enable operating and maintenance improvements

Most high rise facilities teams use a preventive maintenance strategy in which they or their service partners perform prescribed tasks at intervals recommended by original equipment manufacturers.

However, today’s technology lets technicians gather and analyze system performance information so they can perform maintenance when needed, rather than when the calendar or hour meter says it is time. With fault detection and diagnostics, predictive modeling and other analytical tools at their disposal, facilities teams can address systems performance issues before they can cause series problems.

Lawrence Berkley National Laboratories (LBNL) researchers found that new buildings often fail to live up to performance expectations and that most buildings experience deterioration in performance over time. Building commissioning, re-commissioning and continuous commissioning can restore buildings to their original design specifications, often delivering better-than-new levels of performance, according to the LBNL.

Thanks to innovations in metering and comfort control technologies, the long-standing challenge of allocating costs to individual high rise tenants based on their energy use has largely been overcome. Advanced comfort controls allow tenants to control the temperature in their homes or businesses and metering technologies give building managers the usage information they need to bill individual tenants for the energy they use.

Intelligent service delivers performance outcomes

Intelligent service models focus on delivering specific outcomes that are tied to the organization and building mission. These outcomes are defined by performance standards and are continuously measured and evaluated. Buildings are managed to perform within acceptable tolerances for such factors as energy consumption, system reliability and uptime, environmental performance and occupant comfort.

This approach enables building owners and operators to make information-based decisions, collect data over long periods of time, track variables to enable better performance and document progress toward high performance building status.

When reexamining their operations and maintenance strategy, many organizations start by conducting a critical systems audit (CSA) to assess how well building systems are operating and identify potential problems. An audit also provides insights into how and where the building is using – and perhaps wasting – energy, which can help staff identify, select and prioritize energy conservation measures. As a result, CSAs usually pay for themselves in energy savings.

The high performance building approach to maintenance helps organizations recognize the “real” costs of a building system failure, which justify the cost of a comprehensive maintenance program. Real costs go beyond the expense of replacing or repairing systems in a reactive mode to include the costs of the disruption caused by an unplanned system failure.

In an office high rise, for example, real costs could include lost revenue or salaries, if employees need to be sent home or spend hours in an unproductive mode. In a residential building, a system failure would inconvenience families and, depending on its severity, cause them to relocate temporarily or leave the building altogether.

Effective operating and maintenance strategy pays for itself

At a time when high rise facilities managers are doing more with less and making every dollar count, it is important to note that a well-defined and implemented maintenance strategy makes financial sense. HVAC and other building systems that are effectively operated and maintained perform better, use less energy, leave a smaller environmental footprint and have a longer operating life.


Neil Maldeis

Neil Maldeis, PE (professional engineer) and CEM, (Association of Energy Engineers Certified Energy Manager), is energy solutions engineering leader for Trane, a leading global provider of indoor comfort systems and services and a brand of Ingersoll Rand. He is responsible for the technical development, support and review of performance-based contracting solutions and activities on a national basis. He has nearly 30 years of experience as a mechanical/project engineer in the building construction and energy conservation fields.