Hungry For Performance?

07/08/2002 |

Maximize Your Building’s Potential

There’s no single, failsafe recipe card that a facilities manager can pull out of a file in order to whip up ultimate building performance.

While facilities professionals might wish for such a cookbook approach to building operations, it simply isn’t possible. Each building’s needs differ because of the tenants it houses, the function it serves, and the reason why it exists.

There are, however, key issues FMs should consider when seeking to maximize the potential of any commercial structure, whether it is an office building, a school, or a hospital. “It comes down to the quality of service or product being supported by the building,” says Peter Cholakis, vice president of Marketing for Boston-based Vanderweil Facility Advisors (VFA). “Building performance can’t be taken as a standalone. Just like anything, it is a tool that is used in the overall goal of enhancing the service that is being provided.”

Volker Hartkopf, professor of architecture and director of The Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, says the concept of “building performance” for any facility can be reduced to explicit guidelines criteria required to create an “intelligent,” high-performance workplace. For a building to operate at maximum performance, Hartkopf says it must:

  • Meet user requirements for comfort and satisfaction: heating, lighting, air quality, acoustics, workspace, ergonomics.
  • Offer organizational flexibility: Reconfigurable to suit the changing needs of the occupants hierarchical structure and the overall facility function.
  • Deliver simple technological adaptability.
  • Provide long-term environmental sustainability.

“Building performance tends to increase or decrease at glacial speed,” says David Casavant of The Carlyle Consulting Group in Lake Worth, FL. “A new building tends to perform well in its early life; however, due to poor asset selection or lack of maintenance, the building eventually begins to perform poorly. This rarely happens overnight.”


Nor do positive changes in building performance occur rapidly, notes Casavant, a former facility manager. “To detect changes, both positive and negative, daily examination and benchmarking must be performed,” he says.


Measurements Mean Results

While the facets of building performance vary from facility to facility, tracking and measuring the effectiveness of operational excellence is clear-cut.

Through building audits, customer satisfaction surveys, and operational benchmarking, you can get a clear picture of how well your building reaches its goals.

“You have to understand what the customer wants and then baseline where the building is in terms of those goals,” explains Joe Gaither, director of Facilities Support at UNICCO Service Co., Newton, MA. “How do they want to drive their facilities?”

It’s imperative to perform a facilities condition audit to ensure the building is operating at the appropriate level to meet or exceed its service requirements in a cost-effective manner. Such audits look at building features and systems, overall conditions, and the true costs based on dollars-to-square-feet to run the facility.

“It has nothing to do with how well or how poorly you’re running it,” says Cholakis. “You could be cost efficient but running it poorly. You could be running it at a fraction of the cost of the building next to you, but you could be sucking the value out of the building by not maintaining it properly. You need appropriate benchmarks, and your baseline information needs to cover things like overall physical condition and such functional operations as energy efficiency, security, aesthetics, systems in place, among other factors.”

Tracking the effectiveness of these considerations comes down to simple examination of the return on investment. “Proper financial analysis prior to installation would be the obvious starting point,” says Casavant. “In fact, this analysis must begin when the building assets are being specified. Quite often, A/E professionals do not take the maintainability of an asset into consideration when designing a building.”

Hartkopf offers a hypothetical calculation. This fictional scenario provides an example of the kind of return on investment derived from a building designed and running at maximum performance. It’s based on building efficiency and its effect on occupant productivity:

Assume you build a facility for 500 people and that you build generously in terms of space, offering a gross 200 square feet per person with a net of 100 square feet. Hypothetically, Hartkopf says, you’re building this facility in Pittsburgh for the cost of $10 million. The 500 people you employ within the building receive a salary and benefits package of roughly $100,000.

“Our data shows the productivity impact – positive or negative – at as much as 20 percent each way, which is a spread of 40 percent,” Hartkopf notes. “If this is the case, you’re saving $5 million to $10 million, thanks to the productivity impact. If that is the potential, then wouldn’t it make sense to spend more time on building design and efficiency?”

But it’s more than just dollars and cents information, Cholakis notes. Each quarter, each year, or however frequently your organization manages its bottom life, the facilities and operational managers should be able to get a clear picture of all aspects of facility operations and performance. “You want to be able to say look at what you’ve spent, the physical and functional condition, and the ROI,” Cholakis says. “Just dollars spent in itself is not useful information as a standalone.”

Total Cost of Ownership

Life-cycle costing, the total cost of ownership of a product, structure, or system over its useful life, is a rather complex analysis process.

It is a general method of economic evaluation that takes into account all relevant costs of a building design, system, component, material, or practice over a given period of time, adjusting for differences in the timing of those costs. This analysis allows building owners and designers to evaluate trade-offs among capital and operating costs of a building. Through comprehensive life-cycle cost analyses, a building owner can save substantial costs over the building life, if the analyses are done correctly.

The Carlyle Consulting Group in Lake Worth, FL, actively teaches facilities management organizations how to conduct this analysis. Many organizations, says Carlyle President David Casavant, miss a few key points when doing life-cycle costing analysis.

“In the past, most organizations based their asset selection on the cost of the initial capital outlay,” he explains. “This decision-making process proves faulty because you are not able to fairly compare assets with different useful life spans, and you don’t take into account actual long-term costs such as energy and maintenance.”

Long-term or future costs also could include the costs of financing, depreciation, and taxation.

One of the first concepts to understand in accurate life-cycle costing is the difference between price and cost:

  • Price represents the initial dollar amount needed to acquire an asset. “This is an area where management tends to get excited if they perceive the price to be too high or if an option exists at a lower price,” Casavant explains.
  • Cost is different than price. It describes the total financial responsibility of ownership. It includes secondary costs, such as energy consumption and preventive maintenance. “Including cost in your purchasing analysis is the only rational way to make an informed decision,” Casavant says.

            For a well-rounded analysis, it might also be necessary to include the costs associated with conceptual analysis, feasibility studies, and logistics support analysis, depending on your particular situation.

            Casavant recommends the RS Means Facilities Maintenance and Repair Cost Data book as an “excellent resource” for life-cycle costing analysis information. A number of life-cycle costing software programs are available, too.

            One to check out for free is an evaluation copy of the Building Life-Cycle Cost Program ( that was developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to provide computational support for the analysis of capital investments in buildings.




Without proper day-to-day maintenance and scheduled MRO functions, a building may not only suffer dwindling performance; it also may lose value if allowed to stagnate and decay. “Proper maintenance, including preventive and predictive maintenance, is the cornerstone of a high-performance building,” says Casavant.

Maintenance considerations must play a key role in building operations from Day 1 of the conceptual design process in new construction or in a renovation project, Casavant adds. Communication between the A/E firm and the facility is imperative. If overlooked, you run a risk that expensive-to-maintain equipment could be specified for installation and drain your maintenance budget.

Once systems are up and running, the facilities manager needs to create a specific maintenance program for each asset in the building. In doing so, it’s necessary to consider a few important questions, says Gaither, at UNICCO. These include the following:

  • Is the schedule realistic to today’s needs?
  • Does the maintenance staff have the skill sets required to perform the tasks?
  • Is there an ongoing training program that keeps the maintenance staff updated and familiar with the new equipment being replaced and/or installed in the facility?
  • Do the maintenance staff skill sets match the required workload skill sets?

Another consideration, Gaither says, includes performing a cost analysis of “run to fail” vs. “dollars to PM” on all non-critical equipment. “If a motor is worth $5,000, then you’ll want to perform continual scheduled maintenance and repair/replace it as necessary,” he says. “If it is worth only $50, you might want to run it to failure. In terms of critical equipment, you must maintain the most important things to the ’nth degree.”


And don’t worry – you don’t have to figure this out alone. Technology has pervaded the MRO world in the form of handy computerized maintenance management software (CMMS). Such tools provide the facilities team with the ability to set up call centers, create work order generation and routing systems, and perform various analysis functions for any size of facility operation.


Robin Suttell is contributing editor at Buildings magazine and based in Cleveland.

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