Innovative expense-slashing solutions drive operational efficiency
Innovative expense-slashing solutions drive operational efficiency and maximize cost savings.
Ever learned a new facility management trick while talking shop with a colleague?
BUILDINGS surveyed facilities professionals across the country to gather inexpensive ideas and creative strategies. Join the conversation – email your best tips to firstname.lastname@example.org for possible inclusion in a future issue.
1) Eliminate Energy Hogs with
With lighting requiring an estimated 35% of the average commercial building’s energy spend according to EPA estimates, lighting is a logical place to start hunting for savings.
For Green Bay Area Public Schools, this took the form of phased retrofits to replace T12 fluorescents with more efficient T8s in most areas and using T8s or T5s to replace high-pressure sodium lighting in gymnasiums. Thanks to a grant from Focus on Energy, a state-run organization funded by a small allotment from Wisconsin utility bills, the facilities team replaced the lighting in an entire middle school in one fell swoop. Additional replacements ensued during renovations. Multiple building systems, including lighting, are also linked to direct digital controls (DDC) to allow the FMs to adjust settings and troubleshoot.
“We tried to experiment by dimming the lights between classes,” recalls Bruce Kitzman, the recently retired director of facilities. “That didn’t work because the staff was concerned that they couldn’t see down the halls. At another school, we dimmed the lights about half a minute after class started and then turned them back on a minute before class was over, but when students saw the lights go on, they started packing up and the teachers lost their attention. Now we turn the lights off between classes with digital control.”
2) Look into LEDs
Syracuse City School District in Syracuse, NY, took a similar tack when renovating two high school classrooms last year. Nine LED fixtures paired with a digital sensing and control system replaced 17 existing two-lamp T8 fixtures in each of the rooms, resulting in energy savings of more than 65%.
“The new system only took two electricians and a laborer approximately five hours to install, energize, and commission the system, including pulling wire 200-plus feet from the electrical control room,” says Ron Kenyon, educational facilities planner and architect for the district. “The system runs on 24 DC volt power and is wired with standard Cat. 5 cable with no conduit.”
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center chose LEDs to replace existing lighting in a parking garage open 24/7, halving the garage’s power consumption. Meanwhile, Mediapolis Community Schools in Mediapolis, IA, also embarked on a retrofit of LED exterior lighting, notes FM Dennis Breuer.
“Most of our old lights were either 250 or 175 watts. Those were replaced with 30-watt LED,” Breuer says. “Our 70-watt lights were replaced with 20-watt LEDs and our 70-watt can lights were replaced with 10-watt LEDs. We’ll get a nice rebate from our electric company, plus monthly savings on our electric bill.”
3) Start Small as Funding Allows
If a lighting retrofit isn’t financially feasible and you’re not planning to renovate soon, consider gradual replacements instead. North State Communications, a local telecommunications company in High Point, NC, kicked off this initiative about 15 years ago by replacing failing magnetic fluorescent ballasts with electronic versions. When the T12 phase-out began, the team then moved on to T8s and their associated ballasts, says Doug Wagoner, property maintenance supervisor.
“In all incandescent fixtures, we have moved to fluorescent or LEDs with the result of equal or improved lighting from an old fixture and reduced power consumption without a capital expenditure,” Wagoner adds. “In every place we have remodeled or upfitted, we moved toward electronic ballasts and/or LEDs. The same energy conscience mindset has carried over to HVAC and the building envelope.”
If necessary, first target areas that waste the most energy to carve out savings, such as rarely occupied stairwells and hallways where lights stay at full brightness all day. Hines
, a real estate firm, opted for dimming and sound-activated fixtures in the two stairwells of their 54-story Houston high-rise. Appearing on every other floor, each fixture contains two 25-watt lamps that previously stayed at full brightness around the clock. The lamps now dim to 15% when no activity is detected.
4) Get Creative with Cooling
Summer months bring a wealth of opportunities to slash energy expenses, and their value only intensifies as the temperature rises. For example, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center saved a staggering 1 megawatt and eliminated 20 pumps by switching from a primary-secondary-tertiary chilled water pumping system to a variable primary system.
NAI REOC San Antonio in Corpus Christi, TX, instead chose a variable speed drive installation that should pay for itself in just four or five months and generate about $24,000 in savings annually, says property manager Larry Virts.
“Several years ago, we replaced a 24-year-old, 1,000-ton, two-cell cooling tower with two variable speed fans,” Virts explains. “The drives were reused for two of the eight new fans, and we propose to install variable speed drives on the remaining six fans at a cost of about $10,000.”
The makeup supply for the cooling tower at Haywood Community College’s Creative Arts Building in Charlotte, NC, will soon benefit from reclaimed water drawn from a rainwater catchment system. The 20,000-gallon cistern will parcel out water to toilets and other non-potable purposes as needed, saving the 41,600-square-foot building approximately 460,000 gallons of water per year and reducing water and sewer bills by an estimated 90%.
Installation is complete, and the college begins to start functional testing soon. The LEED Platinum building also incorporates other water conservation measures, including extra low flow toilets and faucets, which will help the college avoid local penalties for growing water consumption.
The payback on the project is a little less than six years, while the building’s expected lifetime is at least 50, notes Derk R. Beutler, principal for the Charlotte, NC, office of Elm Engineering, the consulting engineer on Haywood’s project. A similar system costs roughly $35,000 to $45,000.
“For buildings with high water consumption, especially those with cooling towers, the payback is relatively fast,” Beutler advises. “Some states restrict the use of rainwater collection solely to agriculture, so it is wise to verify local or state regulations before considering a rainwater system.”
5) Communicate with Your Utility
Warm days can result in unexpected peak demand charges, cautions Jeff Christens, service steam fitter and energy management systems manager for Green Bay Area Public Schools. The local utility, Wisconsin Public Service, agreed to read all of the school district’s meters on the 15th of every month to save time and hassle for all involved.
However, as spring transitioned into summer, the Green Bay facilities team discovered that they could incur thousands of dollars in charges for turning on the air conditioning even a day or two early.
“The one thing that was a problem to get people on board with was when we turned the chillers off,” Christens says. “If you have one warm day in early spring, they want the air on, but if we keep it off for that one day we might be able to save $6,000 at Preble High School just by not turning that chiller on before the 15-minute window when the utility company reads the meter.”
During summer, the cooling season was in effect, allowing the crew to schedule precooling with their DDC control system. This minimized summertime air conditioning spending, especially when the team could consolidate summer school classes into as few buildings as possible.
In your discussions with the utility, include the voltage to your building, advises Larry Vickers, regional vice president of Tarantino Properties, a full-service real estate company.
“Ensure the voltage to your building as supplied by the utility company is as close to 460V as possible, which could slash your bill by 30% plus or minus 10%,” Vickers says. “Typically the building voltage is significantly higher, causing a ton of waste for no
6) Adjust Air to
Dial back fresh air intake and climate conditioning during times when your building is nowhere near capacity. The international law firm King & Spalding sliced nearly 40% out of their Atlanta headquarters’ off-hours energy spend by installing a supplemental HVAC unit for the IT helpdesk, which must be staffed 24/7 to provide support for other offices worldwide.
Because IT was located in an enclosed area, King & Spalding’s facilities department linked the new HVAC unit to five easily installed ductless mini split units, which are mounted directly into the ceiling grid by removing one 2- by 2-foot tile apiece. The main supplemental unit was integrated with the building automation system, which turns it off during normal business hours when the main chillers or boilers are on and switches back to the off-hours equipment at the end of the normal business day.
For occupancy adjustments that only occur sporadically, use controls that allow scheduling. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center implemented this idea in their operating room when it was not in use, reducing the air changes per hour from 15-20 down to eight between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Green Bay’s schools use this tactic for spaces like gyms.
“The only time the gym is at full capacity is a couple hours a week when they have a game in there,” Kitzman explains. “Now we typically adjust it down to about 10% except when we have activities in the gym.”
Limiting outdoor air demand can also help stretch dollars, Christens explains. “Bring in the minimum outside air when it’s needed instead of bringing in outside air for full occupancy in every area of the building,” Christens adds. “In Preble High School, if we brought in the minimum air on design conditions, we’d have outside air for over 12,000 people in the building – but full occupancy is only 2,000.”
7) Develop Innovative Repair
Salt Lake City’s top corporate location, Millrock Park, used to need new filters on its four air handlers four times a year because the fresh air shaft on each building constantly collected dirt, leaves, and cottonwood seeds. Then the chain link safety fences surrounding the units sparked an innovative idea. The facilities staff attached 1-inch-thick rolled filter media to the fence to act as a pre-filter.
Costing roughly $100 per roll, the filter media supplies enough material for three years and catches about 90% of the debris, says facilities manager Ken Hales. This simple solution saves about $800 per year for each of the office park’s four buildings and eliminates the extra time needed to change the air filters every three months. Like Millrock Park, Hines engineers also came up with an affordable solution to an ongoing air handler problem – irritating noise from the air handlers’ 10HP pad-mounted motors whenever bearings and motor end bell brackets failed.
“Instead of replacing the motors due to bad bearings and worn brackets, we just replace the brackets and bearings,” explains senior engineer Abel Vasquez. “This costs about $150 instead of $1,700 and can be applied to any motor.”
8) Don’t Neglect Routine Upkeep
“One of the biggest things to remember for mechanical systems is preventive maintenance,” Christens says. “If we don’t do a good job on that, we can install all the controls in the world on our equipment and it still won’t perform the way it should.”
Low staffing levels can make it difficult to keep up with this goal, Christens says, but a regular schedule of tune-ups and coil cleaning will go a long way toward maximizing equipment efficiency and life.
9) Double-Check Safety Practices
Thorough testing of safety equipment can sometimes yield savings in surprising ways. Ron Davis, project manager for Crockett Facilities Services, closely followed the manufacturer’s instructions on how to test a new carbon monoxide detection system installed in the office building he manages. Sure enough, the exhaust fan started after it detected the simulated high CO content.
However, Davis decided to go a step further to ensure the tenants’ safety. He wanted to test the system again with a CO kit, but one wasn’t available, so he used a shop-vac hose to blow continuous exhaust over the sensor. After about 15 minutes of nonstop exhaust, the fan hadn’t started. The detector was fitted with new sensors that had higher output voltages and the alarm activated after only three minutes of vehicle exhaust.
At $3,000, the old system represented a large investment for equipment that didn’t work. However, the more responsive system eliminates legal risks from CO poisoning in the garage and leaks into the office building stemming from the dysfunctional sensor.
10) Pursue Incentives
For energy efficiency, resource conservation, or other sustainable targets, look into financial incentives from federal, state, and local governments, green nonprofits, and industry groups.
By pursuing grants from Focus on Energy, Green Bay Area Public Schools obtained funding assistance toward boiler upgrades, HVAC improvements, insulation, and more. The district eventually saved more than $8.2 million on energy costs from school years 2003-2004 to 2010-2011 and now heats and powers its buildings for an average of $0.74 per square foot. This is significantly less than a typical new school in the area, which would require about $1.30 per square foot, Kitzman says.
In one of many examples, the Green Bay facilities crew switched the steam boiler to hot water, which requires a lower temperature to operate. Replacement boilers in three school buildings were connected to the DDC control system with a staggering drop in energy usage as a result – one building required about 5,300 therms per month from December 2010 to January 2011, but that dropped to just 2,000 therms for the same period last year.
11) Streamline Operational Efficiency
The path to efficiency isn’t always about retrofits and upgrades. Take Hoefer Wysocki Architects, for example. The architecture firm discovered a cheap green solution to keep tenant complaints about sewer odor at bay.
“The constant problem of floor drains losing the water level in the P trap causes the sewer odor we’re all familiar with,” explains Bruce Hobbs, director of construction administration and senior associate. “Put in a cup of vegetable oil and the trap doesn’t lose its prime. It’s biodegradable and there are no health issues.”
In other cases, policy decisions can drive down operational costs. JDM Associates, a national energy management and sustainability consulting firm near Washington, DC, encourages its property management teams to operate office buildings by request only on Saturdays. Tenants simply provide advance notice if they plan to come in on Saturday so the engineers can program the energy management system accordingly. This potentially reduces the total building energy usage by 4-7%, says Aaron Welsh, associate consultant for JDM Associates. A typical 300,000-square-foot building where all tenants follow this recommendation can save $50,000 per year in energy costs alone.
12) Contribute to Company Culture
To truly impact your facility’s bottom line, you need buy-in from as many people in the organization as possible. Facilities staff at Frito-Lay’s North American Headquarters in Plano, TX, rallied employees around a sustainability initiative that involved eliminating many personal desk printers.
Rio Tinto, an international metals and mining corporation, improved the technology in their print room to reduce the number of machines from five to two. They also opted to purchase refurbished furniture instead of new, achieving dual accomplishments of saving money and keeping the used furniture out of the landfill.
Likewise, the Green Bay team emphasized education from the beginning to get as many people as possible on board with their energy improvements. But they didn’t stop at educating other departments – they created an internal culture that strongly emphasized continuing education. Around 22 Green Bay FMs have graduated from a building operator certification course sponsored by Focus on Energy and Wisconsin Public Service. Kitzman also brought in outside instructors and connected his staff with courses at a local technical school whenever possible.
“It’s all pretty straightforward,” says Kitzman, whose recent retirement isn’t stopping him from consulting for his former employer as Green Bay’s facilities department gets to know its new leader, manager of trades Luanne O’Leary. “You’ve got to get people to adjust to looking at things in a different way. They can do it.”
Janelle Penny (email@example.com) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.