Drive Your Buildings to Peak Operating Efficiency and Save Money

By Thomas Scali, U.S. Energy GroupLet’s rethink the way we measure building efficiency. As an industry, we have already developed effective programs to certify buildings as green and reward major development and infrastructure initiatives. These are important and they should be continued. However, if we are truly going to address the issue of building efficiently and making meaningful changes to protect the ecology of our planet, we also have to analyze the day-to-day results achieved from tweaking building functions as needed and reward those individuals who are actually driving the buildings to peak operating efficiency. We need to recognize the important role of the “building efficiency driver.”First, it’s important to ask yourself: “Who’s behind the wheel?” There has to be an individual–or a team–actively and proactively making decisions about the HVAC system on a daily basis. It might be a building manager or a facilities director or perhaps a really “super” super; regardless, it is important for that person to see himself as a proactive driver, steering the building each day. The results should be measurable and reflect key performance metrics that have been established as specific efficiency goals. This is not a passive activity during which you can fall asleep at the wheel–the efficiency driver you select must be vigilant and think proactively. The old style of running a building was reactive–typically, owners and managers only did what they had to do because tenants pressured them or there was an emergency. This model no longer works. Fuel prices are too high, and sustainability initiatives are too important. You can save substantial amounts of money and the planet just by running your building proactively. Next, you must ask yourself what tools your drivers have. Are they working with an automatic or a stick shift? In other words, how do they learn about problems with the boiler or HVAC system and how quickly can they address them? With a large portfolio of buildings, you need a building management system–online access to the entire portfolio. The system you select should have enhanced alerts so that it drives the drivers. Alert reports tell a busy property manager just what problems need to be immediately addressed and can be set up to send him an email or text message to say that the boiler run-time is too long, water is leaking or there is a Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) violation that needs prompt attention, and he can immediately address the alerts. The driver can select thresholds that enable him to customize the alerts based on his preferences and the individual needs of the building.  Along with monitoring the functioning of the HVAC system, a proactive driver also has to monitor and verify the oil deliveries to the building. This is one of those areas where it is easy to assume it is being done accurately, but in reality, it often isn’t. The only way you can be sure you are getting all of the oil you paid for is to accurately and independently double-check the delivery ticket amount.   In order to demonstrate how effective a great building efficiency driver can be, let’s take a look at some examples of proactive monitoring:Address a Water Leak–While Dressed For A PartyBen Schwartz, Metropolitan Property Services: Ben is an example of a proactive and effective building efficiency driver. Recently, he was at a fundraiser and saw an alert on his Blackberry: a building was losing water. While at the cocktail party, Schwartz was able to get the leak fixed immediately without even missing an hors d’oeuvre. “Right there in the middle of the event, I was able to resolve the issue,” he explains. “If I hadn’t received an alert, it would not have been discovered until the next day.”Checkmate–You Win, You Save MoneyRichard Carcano, Rosenberg-Diamond Development: Richard proactively uses alerts and active monitoring to have issues in his buildings addressed immediately. “When we have high stacks, we can call and get it taken care of right away,” he says. “If there’s a water problem, we call the plumber right away. Alerts and active monitoring allow me to move my people around. It’s a giant chessboard, and I move the right people to the right places to do the work and checkmate the problems. We save money by addressing everything right away and by not waiting.”Gotcha–If I bought it, I want itRyan Shadrick, SFA Properties: Ryan recently conducted a study of his oil purchases in 2006 and 2007, and realized that despite the fact that 2007 had more degree days, he purchased significantly less oil. He had started accurately and independently verifying his heating oil deliveries in 2007 and found that he was no longer a victim of oil theft.    Avoid Getting BurnedEd Gublet, Ceebraid-Signal Management Group, LTD: Ed is a proactive driver who spot-checks his buildings with an online management system each morning to make sure that apartments are not being over- or under-heated and to tweak them to run efficiently. It was during one of these checks that he realized the burner in one of his buildings was malfunctioning. Gublet was in the drivers seat and got the repair personnel on site immediately to address it.The examples cited above demonstrate how important an efficiency driver is to running a building at peak operating efficiency. It is about results. The proactive driver can set specific goals and monitor the heating system daily to achieve provable savings. While we are so busy certifying buildings as green, it is crucial that we also evaluate conservation measures that can be achieved through daily active attention and acknowledge the efficiency drivers who are behind the wheel. Thomas Scali is the director of sales and business development at U.S. Energy Group. Scali can be reached at For more information, visit U.S. Energy Group at