By Mark Dickson
Are your building occupants performing at maximum capacity? Do your systems function at peak performance? If you can’t say yes to both questions, consider some of these strategies to improve your buildings’ overall productivity levels.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), Geneva, Switzerland, American productivity grew a mere 22 percent between 1980 and 1996 – vs. at least 30 percent in Europe and 43 percent in Japan. As tougher economic times hit, maximizing building productivity is more critical than ever in ensuring the success of your facilities and its occupants. Just like computers and manufacturing equipment, your building is a tool. Operate it as such and you will reap the rewards of a smarter, more productive environment. The trick to improving productivity is to focus on the occupants, the building, and the systems that keep it running.
Design plays an important role in overall productivity. If your building was designed during the 1970s, most likely it reduces the flow of outside air. Buildings of this era often have inadequate ventilation that can have negative consequences on occupants’ productivity.
Poor ventilation can cause increases in levels of carbon dioxide, and can aggravate the growth of dangerous molds. It can increase the impact of volatile organic chemicals from cleaning material, paints, carpet, and other building materials. Poor indoor air quality is associated with such health risks as asthma, allergies, fatigue, fainting, and even long-term health problems.
No matter when your building was built, ventilation systems should be checked regularly and complaints from occupants (temperature extremes, odors, stuffiness) carefully monitored. Another productivity killer is poorly located air intakes. For example, an outside air intake located near areas of high traffic, such as a parking garage, can pull exhaust fumes into the AC system.
HVAC and lighting account for the two largest areas of energy consumption for most facilities, and consequently, the highest operational costs. Under-performing systems can have an enormous impact on your energy costs as well as your productivity levels.
One of the quickest and easiest energy-saving methods is a lighting upgrade. By replacing incandescent with fluorescent lights, you create energy savings in lighting alone of 60 to 70 percent. Replacing old T-12 fluorescent lights with new T-8 lights can result in energy savings of 40 percent. Additionally, the reduced wattage of energy-efficient lights will also reduce your air-conditioning load. Payback on a lighting retrofit can occur in as little as six months and usually no longer than three years.
Improper lighting levels negatively impact productivity. Too little or too much light can leave end-users drowsy. There is also some indication that the effective use of daylighting can improve people’s mood and energy levels.
Remember the last time your air-conditioning went out during the heat of summer? Compound that with poor temperature control throughout the year and the losses in productivity can be alarming. Beyond loss of human productivity, when temperatures are not maintained at an optimum setpoint, the building will typically use excess energy, further increasing your costs. Schedule a survey of your building with a qualified engineer who can provide detailed calculations that document possible energy savings.
Smart facilities management practices can make a difference in the overall productivity of your building and your people. Ask yourself: Is my building as productive as it can be?