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Green Design Trends: Facility Managers As Keepers Of The Flame

Written by Trends Contributor. Posted in Environment, Facility Management, In-Depth Articles, Magazine, Professional Development, Sustainability, Topics, Trends

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Published on April 30, 2011 with No Comments

By Beckham Price, LEED® AP
Published in the April 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Photo: Jupiterimages

Photo: Jupiterimages

As local codes require buildings to be more resource efficient and less expensive to operate, the role of the facility manager (fm) has become increasingly vital. More than ever, it falls upon fms to ensure that building systems, whether passive or high tech, operate within guidelines.

Thus, it is often the fm who must embody the “institutional memory” of the building as it pertains to management and maintenance of systems and sustainability initiatives. Manuals and guides can be established by mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineers—and online systems can be accessed when necessary—but likely, only the fm will be able to understand the steps needed and personally impart them to building users.

High Performance Building Codes = More Jobs?
By William J. Worthen AIA, LEED® AP

CALGreen is the first statewide green building code in the nation. As of January 1, 2011, almost every new structure requiring a building permit throughout the State of California will need to meet additional green building requirements as part of the project’s permit process and field inspection. So what does that mean to the construction profession? In short, it may mean more work.

I am sure the debate over the need for green building codes will continue for some time, since anything called “green” or “sustainable” is touted as job killing. But as green building requirements become codified, they change the level of design skill required (along with the construction, standard of care, and ultimately the complexity of any project). These efforts are more about making high performance design and construction the universal standard—not just a goal of those who elect to follow green certification programs.

High performance design and construction, by definition, is a more complex process. Consequently, it requires more manpower and, in many cases, higher skill levels than those required today on some job sites. This means work; it also means many contractors and trades will find new forms of construction contracts and new ways for teams to collaborate.

We are looking at a shift, perhaps even a game changer, in both design and construction. Yes, some costs will shift between trades under the new codes. And certainly, for a time (as some contractors retool and gain a better understanding of how to bid projects and work under a different set of codes (ones that support performance and value per square foot not just lowest first cost) it will be easy to claim conventional non-green buildings cost less.

But the opportunity for more work is enormous. And those so inclined might also take additional pride in knowing that, regardless of their views on climate change, the projects built under high performance building codes will result in better quality places for people.

I encourage everyone to take a look at relevant green code requirements and begin to prepare for the work ahead. But keep in mind, additional training and education may be required. Regardless, green code adoption is a way to increase construction employment of those professionals interested in the long-term consequences of their output.

Worthen is director, Resource Architect for Sustainability, at the American Institute of Architects. He invites readers to share their thoughts on this subject.

Passive Design

Some buildings incorporate passive design systems which, by their very nature, do not consume energy. Most often, these initiatives include elements like orientation, operable windows, natural ventilation, daylighting, thermal massing, shading, cool roofs, and window glazing.

And while one might think passive systems only require passive upkeep, this is a misperception. In reality, passive systems can be extremely sensitive to mismanagement, since they are actually quite sophisticated.

For instance, placing a large area rug over a polished concrete floor can thwart a passive system. If the concrete floor was near a sunny window and intended to absorb heat so it could be gradually released later (an application of thermal mass), the rug will defeat the purpose of the system. Even signage, if hung in intended airflow pathways, can suffocate a passively ventilated building.

The Need For Flexibility

Fms in passive buildings require a greater understanding of building design features, intended use, and system integration. These fms must prevent problems before they happen, educate occupants, and manage change to preserve system effectiveness.

Passive buildings may require extra efforts from fms who have to coax occupants to adapt to a wider range of comfort. These building occupants will need to understand that sweaters are not merely fashion accessories, but they can also be part of the indoor dress code.

During retrofits, many buildings could be returned to the passive systems that governed them when they were first built. In the past, many buildings incorporated spatial programming and building form elements such as roof overhangs, operable windows, awnings, recessed windows, and floor configurations to achieve natural lighting and ventilation to maintain comfort. Occupants were expected to be active participants in controlling their comfort well beyond simple thermostat management.

This is not to say that restoring passive systems in older buildings means the elimination of sophisticated HVAC systems. Depending on the structure, if passive systems are restored, supplemental control may still be necessary. However, these would be smaller and less expensive.

Thus, a fm may find that upgrading a building actually requires a crash course in operating passive systems that may not have been in use for decades. In buildings where occupants are accustomed to more conventional HVAC systems, fms may find their role is as much “user” education as building management.

The Investment Scene

Traditionally, it has been harder to impel sustainable initiatives to builders who don’t have a vested interest in the life of the structure. Even the perception of marginally higher up front costs was enough to dismiss systems that would create more efficient operations.

In today’s economic climate, however, more organizations are finding that their investment horizons depend on smart initial decisions. In this environment, ownership and stewardship can merge, with meaningful results for fms, especially with regard to sustainable initiatives.

Governments, universities, religious organizations, museums, and other entities with long-term plans for their buildings have a particularly keen interest in operational efficiency. These institutions measure building assets in terms of generations, not raw profits realized through property flipping (which is much more difficult to execute successfully under the current economic conditions).

As long-term stakeholders, fms scrutinize operating costs more closely and recognize that larger capital outlays will make sense if real energy savings and lower bills can be had. In this scenario, energy problems are not passed off to the next owner; the fm will be left to live with any shortcuts taken at the expense of energy saving efforts.

Ideal MEP-Fm Relations

Ideally, designers and MEP engineers consult with fms before and during designing or retrofitting building systems. Just as important, they remain on call, even for years, after the installation is complete.

Buildings tend to evolve as use patterns change, minor additions or alterations are made, or the building’s surroundings progress (new construction, demolition, or vegetative growth). While passive systems tend to keep working (assuming rules are carefully followed), other systems may benefit from upgrades or new technologies.

Some activities—like refinishing floors for cosmetic reasons—might add to sustainable initiatives (for instance, a polished cement floor could be installed to harness thermal mass). Degrading façades might allow for installation of windows with better lighting or insulating properties.

Working together, fms, designers, and MEP engineers can continue to improve the performance of the built environment, yielding benefits to owners, occupants, and the environment. Whether using passive or active systems, buildings will always need the human element to manage their best use.

Price, sustainable services manager for Los Angeles, CA-based IBE Consulting Engineers, has been an early adopter of sustainable building practices in his career in construction management and green building and design.

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