Stay Cool This Summer While Avoiding These Common Summer Pitfalls

July 22, 2016 By Howard Turner

Howard Turner

Many facility managers and building owners approach the summer season with a mix of dread and resignation, as they brace for the inevitable financial hit from higher cooling costs. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Implementing energy saving strategies and a plan to keep building equipment running can help keep summer costs under control.

As you prepare your building for summer, be aware of some common pitfalls that can prevent your building from performing at its most efficient level.  Taking steps to avoid these pitfalls – and the extra costs and staff time that can result – will help you stay cool this summer and maintain your building’s positive impact on the bottom-line.

Pitfall No. 1: Incorrect building schedules

Summer brings longer days and higher temperatures. This can create a false perception among many building owners and managers that building cooling must start earlier and run longer to achieve the desired temperature level inside.

The energy-consuming systems in many commercial buildings are started much earlier each morning than needed, which results in wasted energy and higher utility bills. Starting a building at 4 a.m., when proper cooling can be achieved by waiting until 6 a.m., has a significant impact on your cost of operation.

An in-depth analysis of your building’s energy profile and occupant usage can help you avoid the struggle of determining when your building is occupied and should be operating as such.  A building automation system (BAS) can accomplish this through strategies such as “optimal start” and “optimal stop”.  With these strategies in place, your BAS learns when to start HVAC systems in order to reach occupied setpoints by the desired time and when to allow building systems to coast down to unoccupied setpoints as occupants depart.

Make sure your building schedule includes holidays and days when there is a change to building hours or occupancy, so you can avoid the high cost of running equipment and systems when no one is in the building.

Pitfall No. 2: Automation system overrides

A BAS gives you the power and flexibility to manage your building effectively, reduce costs, and provide a better indoor environment. However, it’s easy for optimized control to erode over time with setpoint or schedule overrides, changes to equipment, and other seemingly minor changes.

Little by little, these small, and often forgotten, modifications can impact building performance. The result is a BAS that is no longer optimized to keep your building running smartly and efficiently. It’s important to think holistically about any changes made to your building automation and the impact those changes may have on overall system performance. A change in one room can drive significant energy consumption elsewhere. Is occupying one small office 24/7 causing a 90-ton rooftop unit to cycle on and off endlessly?  Modern building automation systems include reporting for all overrides and setpoints in the system; review reports for your building and ensure you know why any overrides and unusual setpoints exist. If an override is needed, use the features in your BAS to schedule the override to expire when it is no longer needed.

New or ancillary equipment that’s not connected to the BAS may be running constantly or operating in conflict with other systems. Consider wireless BAS technology to cost-effectively take control of this equipment.

Pitfall No. 3: Overlooking peak demand days

Many commercial buildings are charged for electricity based on both consumption and demand. This means that the timing of your consumption has a large impact on your total energy bill. Demand charges can be complex, but they are typically related to the maximum amount of electricity you consume at any instant. You may be charged more when demand across the utility’s system is high (“time-of-day” or “time-of-use”); sometimes you are charged a monthly fee to ensure the utility can provide you that demand when you need it (“demand service” or “ratchet demand charge”).

Regardless of the details of your demand costs, reducing demand on the hottest days can save a lot of money. This makes it very important to consider when your building will hit its peak demand.

Pay attention to the weather forecast so you can be aggressive about energy consumption on the real scorchers. On hot afternoons, you may be able to adjust setpoints slightly upward, especially in dry climates. If your operations are flexible, maybe hot days aren’t the best time to do that giant laminating job in the print shop, to test a large energy-consuming product coming off the assembly line, or to hold that all-hands afternoon meeting in the auditorium.

Pitfall No. 4: Lacking a contingency plan

Summer’s extreme temperatures and unpredictable severe weather can create equipment or power outages. A surprising number of building owners and managers do not have a contingency plan in place to cope with these types of emergencies.

For your building to be an asset to your organization, it has to be operational. Being prepared for power and equipment failure can save you valuable time and money during a crisis. You don’t want to find yourself searching for a generator as a tropical storm makes its way toward your region.

To help you respond quickly to systems being down, your contingency plan should spell out the steps to take in the event of a power or equipment outage and include emergency contacts for your team and your partners. During minor interruptions, you may have sufficient redundancy and flexibility in your existing systems to continue operations, but you need to understand how to capitalize on those resources.  During major events like severe storms, rental equipment could be an option.  You may wish to discuss a retainer with your rental provider to ensure availability of equipment when you need it – which is usually the same time everyone else does! You must also have a plan for fueling that equipment.  You should develop and gain consensus on what will trigger the implementation of your contingency plan ahead of time, as weather conditions may prevent or delay delivery of equipment. 

You can also take steps now to make life easier later.  For example, consider modifying your building systems to facilitate straightforward and safe connection of rental equipment.  A well-placed valve, electrical panel, or equipment lay-down area now can save you time and effort in an emergency later.  Think about a stockpile of common points of failure, such as belts, capacitors, and small motors.  These are inexpensive steps to making your building more resilient.

Staying cool in the summer heat requires thinking beyond equipment check-ups and maintenance. Taking steps to optimize your systems and manage energy usage will help you avoid these common pitfalls and keep your building running efficiently all summer long. Your occupants will be happier and so will your bottom line.

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