Operations and Maintenance: Keys to Energy Management

Oct. 21, 2009
Effective energy operations are an asset that protects a building's value in a competitive marketplace

LOGIN to take the test associated with this article

A building will only perform as well as it is run. For new buildings built to the LEED for New Construction (NC) standard, it means that the highest performance can only be achieved with high operations and maintenance standards.

For existing buildings, it means that high operations and maintenance standards may yield significant performance improvements in spite of older design and construction details.

Building owners who take a hard look at how their existing buildings perform will find countless ways to reduce costs – and maybe even achieve a LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (EB: O&M) certification for cutting-edge operations strategies.

Benchmark First

The first step to effective energy management is benchmarking. Many factors affect how much energy a building uses, and benchmarking provides a tool to compare the performance of different buildings of similar types.

Although a simple figure for kilowatts per square foot can be a useful start for assessing energy efficiency, EB: O&M uses ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, the EPA’s free, web-based benchmarking tool. Portfolio Manager factors in total energy use, building size, age, regional climate, and the special energy needs of different building types, like medical facilities and elementary schools. The resulting ENERGY STAR rating reflects performance compared to similar buildings – in other words, buildings compete in their own division.

Strategies for Success in LEED: An Article, A Partnership of Buildings and USGBC

Continuing Education Credits
This article is part of Strategies for Success in LEED, a series of articles and webinars produced by the U.S. Green Building Council that satisfies GBCI credential maintenance requirements for LEED Professionals (1 hour). The article’s learning objectives appear below. A test and instructions to apply for credit are available online.

This article has been approved by BOMI and AIA for continuing education credits.

Learning Objectives
Upon the completion of this article, you’ll be able to:

  • Understand the impact of operations and maintenance on energy management and LEED credits.
  • Recognize ways of involving tenants in energy management.
  • Understand ENERGY STAR benchmark ratings.
  • Define the role that commissioning can play in energy efficiency.

LOGIN to take the test associated with this article

ENERGY STAR uses data from the Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) to place each building on a line from least to most efficient. A rating of 69 means a building is in the 69th percentile of all similar buildings surveyed; it also means that the building has met Energy and Atmosphere (EA) prerequisite 2 in EB: O&M. With a rating of 75, the building can be awarded an ENERGY STAR label, and earn four points in EB: O&M (EA 1).

To be eligible to receive an ENERGY STAR rating, a building must have 50 percent of its square footage in one of the following categories: office, medical office, bank or financial institution, courthouse, hospital, hotel, house of worship, K-12 school, residence hall or dormitory, retail store, supermarket, warehouse, or wastewater treatment plant. While multiple space types are permitted, the square footage for each must be specified. A second eligibility requirement is 12 months of source energy data, including electricity, gas, oil, or any other types of energy used. Because only individual buildings are eligible for an ENERGY STAR rating, the energy data must be for an individual building. Campuses with multiple buildings on a single meter need individual meters to compile the necessary data.

Buildings that struggle to achieve eligibility for an ENERGY STAR rating often fall into one of three categories: (1) they do not fit the space categories, (2) they do not have complete energy data for individual buildings, or (3) they are mixed-use buildings that don’t have more than 50 percent of their square footage in a single space type.

Although buildings that do not fit the ENERGY STAR categories are not eligible for an ENERGY STAR rating, they may still be eligible for EB: O&M. Alternative paths are available for compliance with the energy benchmarking prerequisite.

ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager can also help track water usage and measure carbon emissions. Even if building owners haven’t committed to LEED certification, they can still benefit from benchmarking.

Planning for the Performance Period

For most facilities, the first EB: O&M certification will require many changes, large and small, on a wide variety of operational issues. Perhaps the most challenging element is the advance planning and tracking that are necessary because almost every credit in the rating system must be documented during a performance period.

For example, to earn a point for purchasing energy-efficient electronics, a team must show records of all purchases during the performance period and prove that a minimum of 40 percent of the costs were for ENERGY STAR-certified products.

One way to approach the many credits for EB: O&M certification is to create a two-year plan. In the first year, all energy-efficient actions are implemented; in the second year, the results are tracked and maintained.

Once the benchmark has been established, there are three critical steps to maximize a building’s efficiency: (1) commissioning, (2) involving tenants, and (3) using renewable energy. Directly or indirectly, these three elements relate to a dozen EB: O&M credits.


Referred to as both retro- and existing building commissioning, commissioning (Cx) is the first step in creating a plan for energy-efficiency upgrades. This process typically involves a thorough investigation of a building’s mechanical and electrical systems and an in-depth analysis of problems found. The resulting documentation should outline a breakdown of energy use in the building and recommend ways to address mechanical or operations problems. A Cx agent (CxA) can also provide a cost-benefit analysis of the energy savings with any recommended measures. A good CxA has many years of field experience on existing buildings, knows how to prepare a cost-benefit analysis, and understands that sustainability requires a balance between energy efficiency and a healthy indoor environment.

EB: O&M does not require full Cx, but many points may be earned by undertaking Cx or an ASHRAE Level II Energy Audit. There are two points for both the Cx analysis phase (EA 2.1) and the implementation or retrofit phase (EA 2.2). Projects can earn points for the resulting improved energy efficiency (EA 1), and the Cx report may also help identify specific upgrades related to other credits, including sub-metering (EA 3.2) and reducing particulates in the air (IEQ 1.4).

A final pair of points is achieved by committing to ongoing Cx (EA 2.3). As existing buildings look to continue efficient operations, this is an important consideration. Ongoing Cx makes sure that investments in equipment pay off and helps train staff on standard operating procedures and preventive maintenance.

Encouraging Tenant Participation

It may be possible to conduct an EB: O&M certification without tenant participation, but that approach probably misses some energy savings.

The suggestions below will help you to guide tenants to save energy. Some are addressed specifically to commercial office tenants, but many apply to other tenants.

  • Provide information about ENERGY STAR-certified appliances and electronic devices. Tenants who make energy-efficient purchases contribute directly to LEED points (MR 2) and to the bottom line. A property manager may be able to help tenants receive a discount to replace old equipment with more efficient appliances.
  • Provide an incentive for the purchase of energy-efficient task lamps, which alleviate the need to have all lights on when only a handful of occupants are present. Buildings occupied by businesses with employees who are frequently out of the office (lawyers, sales teams, consultants) are good prospects for this approach.
  • Meter individual spaces. When tenants see and pay for their energy use, they find opportunities to reduce it. It also gives property managers a tool to provide incentives.
  • Host a friendly competition among tenants. If metering individual spaces is cost prohibitive, owners can develop a checklist of energy-efficient strategies and reward the tenant who completes the most items on the list.
  • Pay attention to comfortable indoor temperatures because they are a top priority for tenants. Occupant temperature controls that allow for adjustment plus or minus 2 degrees can eliminate the energy drain of individual fans and space heaters.
  • Conduct an occupant comfort survey. This critical tool helps verify that a building is in balance. An occupant comfort survey can earn a point (IEQ 2.1) and help teams to make decisions about energy-saving strategies. Comparing the results of a comfort survey to Cx results may also prove useful.
  • A reduction in energy from fossil fuels is a reduction in greenhouse gases. Tenants and prospective tenants with greenhouse gas reduction goals may be interested in building-wide energy data. Programs like the EPA’s Climate Leaders help organizations track reductions and craft comprehensive climate change strategies.

The Benefits of Good Communication with Tenants

Some tenants may be reluctant to accept energy-saving measures if they believe they will be inconvenienced. In this case, good communication with tenants is key so that they understand both direct and indirect opportunities for saving energy, including the following:

  • Tenants and hotel guests may be wary of high-efficiency water fixtures, but good products can meet comfort goals as well as save energy by reducing domestic hot water.
  • Outdoor lights that shine outward and upward after dark cause light pollution and waste an estimated $2 billion in energy (www.darksky.com). Stargazing, nocturnal animal habitats, and safety can all be maintained while reducing wasted light. EB: O&M provides several strategies for reducing light pollution (SS 8), including changing lamps and fixtures and implementing daytime janitorial services to keep more lights off at night. In either case, tenants need to understand the reasons behind changes.
  • Debate continues on whether high-performance building automation systems (BAS) save energy. On one hand, they provide exacting control; on the other, occupants (and facility staff) who aren’t familiar with the controls may attempt to circumvent the system and waste energy in the process. To achieve the best results, include ongoing training and education in the cost-benefit analysis.

Renewable Energy Sources

The Differences Between LEED-NC and EB: O&M

For a variety of reasons, buildings that were built green and certified under LEED-NC have no guarantee of EB: O&M certification.

The primary reason is because these rating systems certify fundamentally different things: NC certifies the way the building was designed and built; EB certifies how it is operated and maintained. Some previously earned credits will apply – for example, on-site renewable energy can be earned in both rating systems. However, the latest rules for EB: O&M will need to be met. Overall, there are fewer than 20 points out of 110 that could transfer directly.

EB: O&M is performance based. This means computer models that show the building is energy efficient don’t count – only actual energy measured by utility bills. This includes the two credits that are worth the most points: energy efficiency and alternative transportation. For example, an urban office tower surrounded by mass transit and safe streets for biking earns no points if a commuter survey shows that no one uses them.

Successful EB: O&M projects rely on the people who run them every day: facilities professionals and building engineers. Tenants have a role to play, too. NC projects rely on architects and contractors.

Finally, EB: O&M requires recertification. The purpose of recertification is to provide properties a way to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to sustainable operations and maintenance practices. Nevertheless, less documentation is required for recertification.

EB: O&M suggests several ways to maximize investments of renewable energy. The most widely known method for creating renewable energy is via solar panels and photovoltaics (PV). In general, the energy output is a function of the amount of direct sun and the rated panel output. However, performance depends on a building’s climate and orientation to the sun. Outdoor temperatures also affect performance. The cool temperatures of cloudy climates like Seattle’s can actually help solar panels to run more efficiently.

Other renewable energy systems include wind energy, wave energy, steam or geothermal, and even micro-hydroelectric. However, the performance of these alternatives is even more dependent on location than that of solar energy.

It’s important to note the difference between energy-generating systems and energy-efficiency systems. The latter may use natural processes for efficiency but don’t actually generate energy. For example, geothermal and heat pump systems that are ground source use the steady temperature of the earth (approximately 55 degrees F.) to preheat or cool a fluid before using it in the building. Solar hot water systems use the sun’s energy to preheat water so the boiler doesn’t have to work as hard. Although efficiency systems aren’t directly eligible for renewable energy points in EB: O&M, they can help with greenhouse gas reduction, reduced utility bills, and financial incentives for energy efficiency.

There are two ways to achieve EB: O&M points for renewable energy (EA 4). Projects can either install a renewable system and generate a minimum of 3 percent of their energy demand, or purchase a minimum of 25 percent of their energy from certified, off-site renewable sources. These strategies can be combined to earn points for both on-site and off-site investments.

Futureproofing Your Building Investment

The EPA estimates that 56 percent of U.S. energy is wasted. Given rising energy costs, owners should not underestimate the role of energy efficiency in maintaining a building’s value. And given the high vacancy rates in today’s economy, owners should not ignore tenants whose desire for green space can help to keep a building competitive in its marketplace.

Kelly Kirkland is a LEED AP O&M and Certified Sustainable Building Advisor at O’Brien & Company (www.obrienandco.com). She consults on a variety of LEED-EB: O&M projects and is on the faculty of the Sustainable Development Training Institute.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Building Security & Technology Series: Webinar 3 - Proptech

Date: May 22, 2024Time: 1:00 PM EDT / 12:00 PM CDT / 10:00 AM PDT / 5:00 PM GMTDuration: 1 Hour eachGold Sponsors: Genetec, ISSSilver Sponsors: EVOLV, OpenEye ...

Building Security & Technology Series: Webinar 4 - Lessons Learned

Date: May 29, 2024Time: 1:00 PM EDT / 12:00 PM CDT / 10:00 AM PDT / 5:00 PM GMTDuration: 1 Hour eachGold Sponsors: Genetec, ISSSilver Sponsors: EVOLV, OpenEye ...

Handwashing Survey Research Drives Industry Solutions

Sharing well researched data on consumer likes and dislikes in public bathrooms, this guide presents handwashing public restroom hygiene trends and survey insights for facility...