The last month has certainly been disruptive if you build, manage, or maintain facilities. Buildings are made to operate steadily over their life cycle and those who operate and maintain facilities manage these buildings accordingly based on building use and purpose, occupant needs, and equipment requirements.
Under normal circumstances, O&M staff plan and execute scheduled maintenance activities and respond to unplanned maintenance requests while project staff plan to modernize, re-purpose, or perform much-needed deferred maintenance on major systems.
What facility staff almost certainly hadn’t planned to do prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was essentially shutter buildings in place, with the intent that – at some unknown time in the future – they would restart and use them again. Couple that with the secondary effects of budget impacts and reduced staff and the work of facility staff becomes even more challenging.
MBP’s facility performance team has helped assess some facilities for our clients over the last few weeks with the goal of protecting the capital investment in their buildings, while also mitigating some of the expenses of operating empty or near empty buildings. We thought it would be helpful to share some of the suggestions we’ve developed that could help you keep your buildings in stasis so that they can quickly be brought back online when needed, while also saving critical operational dollars in the interim:
Occupied buildings and critical facilities such as research, healthcare, and museums should remain in operational configuration. The assets contained in these buildings and their critical purposes drive the need for continued environmental control.
In unused non-critical facilities, for example, a technical college or university classroom building, consider revising the building schedule in the BMS system so that the mechanical equipment is operated intermittently to maintain indoor environmental quality, but not to condition empty spaces to occupied conditions.
Running the mechanical equipment for an hour or two at a time, twice a day, could be a strategy to consider. Peak cooling and equivalent 12-hour heating load could be managed. Indoor humidity would be reduced, and fresh air would be introduced in the building to inhibit microbial growth and prevent the potential buildup of contaminants. Every facility is different, and each may have a unique strategy.
In facilities where kitchens are being used sparingly, consider restricting the use of makeup air units and exhaust fans only to times when food preparation is occurring. If the kitchen is not being used at all, consider shutting down the kitchen makeup air units and exhaust fans until the kitchen becomes operational, especially where makeup air heating is in place.
If using chilled water for cooling, consider resetting the chilled water supply temperature slightly higher while the building is unoccupied. The system is designed to account for sensible and latent heat rejection produced by occupants of the building during the peak summer months. Without occupants in the cooler spring season, building cooling loads are lower, requiring less heat rejection.
Focus maintenance efforts on the critical needs or critical spaces that need to remain operational for your mission. Realize that some maintenance items, such as a roof leak, do not really have an automated means to detect them. Those are usually reported by an occupant.
The situation now is far from ideal, but it may be possible to turn this challenging situation into a positive opportunity. Evaluate whether a planned renovation or upgrade project can be performed earlier for those buildings or spaces that aren’t currently in use. A renovation project that was previously planned for the summer could potentially be pulled forward in anticipation that the space could be needed in the summer.
These are challenging times, but we will all get through this – until then, if you need us, know we’re here.
Stay healthy and safe.
Learn more about MBP’s facility performance consulting services.