Understanding the burden that building owners carry

If buildings are to remain fit for purpose and up to the challenge of tackling rising  energy costs, their owners will have to take a closer interest in how building services systems are maintained. There is also plenty of legislation now in place that places a heavy burden of responsibility on building owners and maintainers to remain within the law.
Properly trained and accredited facilities managers (FMs) can help building owners deal with issues such as building regulations, fire risk assessments and mandatory air conditioning inspections. These are things that are required by law, but which are also designed to ensure the building in question operates more efficiently throughout its operating life.
The new Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), which comes into force next year, is also expected to apply to around 10,000 organisations employing 250 people or more or with a turnover in excess of 50 million. It will require them to provide four-yearly reports on their energy use and plans for cost-effective energy efficiency improvements – starting December 2015.

As many as 200,000 buildings are expected to be included in the ESOS and, therefore, will need to carry out energy audits. This is the mechanism chosen by the UK government to implement Article 8 of the EU Energy Efficiency Directive, and could lead to cost savings of £1.6 billion across the affected businesses.
By incentivising building owners to address the opportunities for energy savings, the government is hoping to close the gap between how many buildings were designed to work and how they actually perform – that gap is often alarmingly wide and means the building consumes far more energy than it should.
80 per cent of the value of a building is realised during its operating lifetime, but the biggest effort to modernise and reform working practices has, historically, been focused on the design and installation phases, which accounts for just 10 per cent of the value (the other 10 per cent being at decommissioning). Clients need to be better educated about the value of their built assets during operation.
The modern FM company has a fantastic array of modern tools at its disposal to tackle energy efficiency and extend the operating life of equipment, so saving the building owner significant amounts of money. We can also keep owners out of jail by ensuring they fully comply with legislation. However, too many companies fail to sell their expertise properly – preferring simply to compete on price rather than promote innovative maintenance techniques that may require a little more upfront investment.
‘Non-invasive’ techniques like thermal imaging and vibration analysis could revolutionise the way buildings are serviced. These techniques, along with increased use of BMS intelligence, means maintenance programmes can be based on usage rather than frequency. This, in turn, allows the FM service provider to pre-empt equipment failures and save clients money and disruption, while also ensuring buildings perform with greater energy efficiency.
The use of condition-based monitoring of building services systems is well understood, but not as widely used as it could be. As a result, clients miss out on the lower costs and reduction in down time for critical equipment delivered by a maintenance service that also does not disrupt their working patterns.
With modern non‑invasive monitoring there is no need to shut down parts of a building. Work can also be carried out during normal working hours, which also means the maintenance team can see how the building is really operating under load.

It should also be standard practice to provide more system automation by using the sophisticated IT networks that are already installed in commercial buildings as a platform. Increased occupancy monitoring of local lighting and HVAC systems can be delivered this way. In an attempt to extend the reach of this kind of best practice in building maintenance, the Building and Engineering Services Association (B&ES) has updated the industry’s building maintenance specification SFG20. This is being increasingly adopted by government building specifiers and operators, in particular, to establish strategic maintenance programmes for many building types including prisons, schools and commercial offices. It is now available as a dynamic online tool and is accessible via mobile devices.

By customising the core task library, building managers, consultants and contractors can ensure relevant statutory/regulatory compliance and prevent the costly over‑maintaining of assets. Inclusion of RICS new rules of measurement completes the build, maintain, replace standard life-cycle costing model, and new criticality ratings enable clear prioritisation of maintenance tasks to streamline budget and project management. The SFG20 ‘Customiser Compliance’ tool allows users to create a bespoke building maintenance task library, including adding new non-core tasks such as fabric maintenance, and printing bespoke booklets of applicable standards. It includes links to all relevant statutory/legal obligations and references, together with regular updates to define compliant maintenance and an ‘asset criticality rating’ system which flags up – with a red warning – if a user is missing a maintenance task necessary for legal compliance.
Providing this kind of support is important because many clients simply don’t know what they are buying when they acquire a building and have no idea of what is now possible in terms of improved performance and the enhancements the industry can provide. Regrettably, despite the upturn in the economy the main focus remains on the bottom line cost and not the long term gain.
There are many ways for building owners and operators to reduce their carbon footprint and cut energy costs that are simply not being exploited because many building operators are unwilling to make the relatively modest upfront investment in a more strategic maintenance programme. However, awareness is improving and initiatives like ESOS are helping to make the link between maintenance improvements and monetary value. Many of the remedial actions are extremely simple. For example, buildings are progressively de-commissioned because the owners and operators are not well informed about how control systems should work. Temperature set-points are regularly ‘tweaked’ by individual occupants in a misguided attempt to change comfort levels in their section of the building. This can easily lead to the heating and cooling systems operating at the same time and ‘fighting’ against each other with the consequent negative impact on energy usage. This situation is often exacerbated by people also opening windows to cool down overheated areas so all that expensively tempered air is simply thrown away.

Most buildings would benefit from re‑commissioning and a regular survey of their energy consuming plant. Many of the adjustments required to put equipment back on track are simple changes to controls settings and, therefore, are easy to do and extremely low cost, but with significant running cost paybacks.
With energy prices still on an inexorable upward slope this will become a greater priority for the budget holders and it is important to deliver the message that managing energy costs is not just about shopping around for the best tariff, but getting consumption down. The building engineering services industry has the tools to take a far more proactive and far sighted approach and, by making adjustments to installed equipment and replacing or upgrading key components, the building will deliver much better long term value.
These are exciting – and challenging – times for the facilities management industry and an amazing amount is now achievable by combining our traditional expertise and modern IT tools. This also makes it an attractive and worthwhile career for any young person weighing up their options.

Making buildings work better can be a very rewarding exercise – we just need to make sure building owners and operators recognise this and, therefore, ask the right questions of their FM providers.

Further information