Efficient Resilience (or how I learnt to love modelling and my FM)

Hot on the heels of wellbeing, resilience is the latest issue to, rightly, grab the attention of the property industry. As with wellbeing, resilience covers a complex range of issues, but a core one is resilience in the face of more extreme whether events. And while these issues are getting more coverage, reduced energy use and CO2 emissions remain a constant imperative.
Superficially, it may be expected that resilience and energy use are in tension – a more resilient building requiring more material, and more heating and cooling equipment. Though there may be some truth in this there are also synergies. A good approach to both a resilient and low energy building is to:

  • Minimise the heating and cooling loads during extreme weather events
  • Use passive or efficient systems to reduce the electricity required to address these loads
  • Ensure the building and systems are well monitored and managed

Detailed building modelling is valuable! (Question those who tell you otherwise)
Though detailed modelling of new buildings with sophisticated software is the norm for new commercial buildings there is a tendency for this to be to demonstrate compliance with building regulations and certification schemes. Full advantage is not taken of what such software can do to explore and address variations in operating conditions such as extreme weather events.
Most regulatory regimes require a model to be tested against a limited set of future weather scenarios that don’t reflect some of the extremes that climate models suggest buildings could face. It is far more cost effective to explore and address such weather events in early design stages than once a building is up.
Schemes such as National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) and BREEAM 2018 require and encourage the use of such scenario modelling, but its true value means it shouldn’t really need these schemes to encourage use.
Encourage ‘heads up’ (not ‘heads down’) FM
For operational buildings, whatever their age, an inquisitive ‘heads up’ Facilities Manager is essential to both minimising energy use and maximising resilience.  In many countries being a Facilities Manager can be a frustrating job – continually stretched and contact with tenants and colleagues being when things go wrong. In the face of that, along with poor visibility on how a building is behaving, it can be easy for inefficiencies to creep in that undermine both energy efficiency and resilience. A couple of examples:

  • Simultaneous heating and cooling
    A common issue found in commercial buildings is fighting between heating and cooling systems. Some spaces are being heated while adjacent spaces are being cooled, and the conflict means heating and cooling units (such as Fan Coil Units) are working at full capacity. This is clearly wasting energy but because heating and cooling capacity is taken up in this conflict it also reduces the building’s ability to address genuine heating and cooling demand, reducing its resilience (and the people under the heating and cooling units probably aren’t that happy either).
  • Night purging
    Many buildings have heating, cooling and ventilation systems that are off over night and only come on a short time before a building is occupied. Most modern commercial buildings are well insulated, have a lot of concrete in them and have cooling requirements that are far greater than heating requirements (even in the winter). Heat accumulates in the concrete and is still there at night-time when the outside air is usually coolest. Ventilating a building at night-time can take heat out of the building structure. This is both more efficient than running chillers during the day when outside temperatures are higher and also improves the buildings’ resilience to hot weather.

To implement and, more importantly, sustain such efficient, resilient building operation requires organisational structures that encourage the ‘heads-up’ Facilities Manager. This Facilities Manager has the time, tools and training to continually review data on how a building is behaving and identify, through the seasons, opportunities to reduce energy demand that frequently improve resilience.
In many buildings tenants have a degree of control over how their spaces are heated and cooled but frequently have less technical ability available than the landlord so are even more likely to inadvertently undermine efficiency and resilience. The ‘heads up’ FM can provide support to address this.
Such a ‘heads up’ approach can also enable a Facilities Manager to identify failing equipment via a Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) approach, maintaining and replacing equipment when performance data suggests it is show signs of underperformance.  This is more cost effective than common Planned Preventative Maintenance where all equipment is checked a prescribed number of times with no consideration of actual performance (unless it fails).  The condition based approach is also more likely to avoid occupant complaints.
If there are indications that a building is struggling, or may in the future, and a more significant intervention is required, then the data captured can also be used to identify the most appropriate, cost effective fabric or systems changes to improve performance and resilience.
Transitioning to a ‘heads up’ FM approach is not, however, straightforward and is likely to require a combination of:

  • Ensuring the value of a ‘heads up’ approach is reflected in FM procurement
  • Ensuring FM contracts and procedures include appropriate incentives and KPIs
  • Ensuring relevant colleagues are aware and supportive of this approach
  • Ensuring appropriate, accurate, accessible building performance data is available
  • Providing some additional training in this new way of working

So, summarising the benefits of detailed modelling and ‘Heads up’ FM:  Detailed modelling has now helped cost effectively improve the potential efficiency and resilience of a building. The efficient ‘heads up’ facilities manager now helps deliver that potential. They also have the satisfaction of better understanding their building and seeing the improvements achieved from their efforts, working collaboratively with tenants and colleagues. GRESB results have improved too.

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