By Sonya M. Pouncy, CEM, CMVP, LEED-AP. Sonya is an independent consultant affiliated with Energy Sciences. The firm helps clients meet energy challenges with practical solutions that reduce waste and increase net operating income.

As snow comes to Michigan, we get excited about winter fun—things like sledding, skiing, snow-mobiling and ushering in a new year. It is often said that hind-sight is 20/20.  So, as we put the year 2020 behind us, what have we seen more clearly than we did before?

As we worked to keep our facilities open while protecting our building’s occupants and visitors, did we, perhaps, find that someone had screwed shut a rattling damper with a broken linkage, not understanding that it was intended to relieve building pressure? Was an economizer disabled because the space was “too cold”?  Did that date of 6/18 on the filters mean they had been changed on June 18th of this year or one day in June of 2018? How long had we been setting the thermostat at 77°F so the space could eventually reach 69°F? Have we been using space heaters and fans to compensate for poorly functioning central systems? And, just what was that hissing sound coming from the thermostat trying to tell us?

Kudos to you, if you were able to take advantage of the recent down-time and discover and—more importantly—address the root causes of some of your building’s ails. But, if you’ve not yet done a thorough check-up of your building, don’t worry. There is still time to root out and repair or replace malfunctioning components that rob your building of good indoor air quality and energy efficiency. And, there is still financial assistance available to help offset your out-of-pocket costs.

If a better performing building is on your list of resolutions for 2021, there are three key things you’ll need to make that a reality. The first is a complete facility audit. Taking a good, hard look at your building and its systems for lighting and thermal environmental control is the first step to being able to provide a great place for people to work, learn, and play in.  Your audit report will serve as a road map for taking your building from its current condition to a point closer to its ideal state. So, you’ll want it to be thorough, to consider the building envelope, lighting, HVAC, domestic hot water, and conveyance. The audit should not only list findings, it should also prioritize recommended repairs and upgrades in terms of impact—costs to implement; savings of energy, costs, and staff time; improvements in indoor air quality, occupant productivity and experience; and other building performance goals you may have. The report should make mention of utility rebates and other project funding sources. A good audit report will also compare the actual building performance to its targeted performance, or if there are no current energy use targets for the building, it will recommend some.

Of course, the audit report is only as good as the activities that follow it. Without a follow-up plan to implement the recommendations, the facility audit is of little value. So, the second thing you’ll want is to be prepared to take action. This is where utility rebates and low interest loan programs like PACE and MI Saves can really help out. They can provide the funding that helps get improvement projects done quickly and all at once instead of piece-meal with delays that come from gaps in financing.

Once the facility repairs and upgrades are complete and have been commissioned (preferably by an independent third-party), the third thing you will want to have in place is a long-term strategic energy management plan that can help make certain your building continues to meet its performance goals for many years to come. The plan should include specific, measurable targets and timelines in which you want to achieve them. And remember, just like our bodies, our buildings need constant care (i.e., monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual maintenance) and regular check-ups (i.e., re-commissioning every 8-10 years), so these should be included in your written building operation and maintenance plans, too.

With these key ingredients, your building will be poised and ready to welcome back occupants and once again be a place of bustling business, of collective learning, or of joyous play and entertainment in the new year and beyond. The Energy Sciences Team wishes you a happy and healthy holiday season, and we’ll continue working to make all your dreams of better performing buildings in 2021 come true!