Returning to pre-pandemic building operations

October 25, 2021

The COVID pandemic created a seismic shift for retail and commercial building operations and with very little warning owners, tenants and Facility Managers have had to quickly adapt to new rules and regulations.

But as the pandemic conditions improve and many of the restrictions we’ve faced over the last two years begin to lift, building operators now need to start the process of returning to “normal”.

There are many lessons that have been learned through the pandemic that can help Facility Managers resume normal operations and continue to keep energy usage and carbon emissions lower than pre-pandemic levels. Clearly consumption is going to increase from lockdown levels but ideally we’re maintaining a seasonal pattern similar to the chart below:

CIM has designed an Energy Response Strategy to support its clients and Facility Managers as they return to normal operations. As shopping centres, airports and other large buildings return to operations, it’s important to have a strategy that ensures everything comes up to speed in a way that doesn't result in any surprises.

The strategy is built on five key principles:

Close liaison with site teams regarding live occupancy levels

Every building's occupancy rate will increase at different rates so maintaining close contact is essential. This enables almost real-time adjustment and tuning of equipment (for example HVAC) to maximise efficiency without compromising on tenants critical operations or the occupant experience.

Having high quality and actionable data from lighting systems, HVAC, lifts, water and other major plant and equipment is important and really helps close collaboration. But the critical element is making sure that the data is in a single interface that easily enables Facility Managers to see what is happening - at one property or across a portfolio of properties.

Gradual unwinding of partial occupancy and turn down set points to pre-lockdown levels

The Ideal approach is to gradually restore more normal controls whilst holding on to the efficiency gains that have been made from the lessons learnt during the pandemic.

As occupancy levels return, equipment can be ramped up intelligently to avoid the unnecessary energy creep that can be generated by guesswork. And the restoration of normal controls can be smoothly coordinated if you have the ability to access quality data and see what is happening is available in real-time. A simple example of how this works is thermal comfort. As the weather changes and occupancy levels and foot traffic increase, Facility Managers can adjust HVAC systems intelligently and see what their effects changes have and make adjustments before patrons and tenants are uncomfortable.

Review fresh air ventilation rates and internal CO2 levels

Indoor Air Quality is a key part of almost all building owners and operators COVID ‘return to operations’ plans. The key here is to really increase data visibility as well as provide a level of oversight that Indoor Air Quality measures are actively managed.

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) has issued some guidelines that facilities managers should consider. In particular, it has said “Ventilation should be balanced against other factors, particularly thermal comfort and energy demand.”

There is a significant body of scientific evidence that tells us good air circulation is a critical factor in mitigating the transmission of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Therefore it’s very important to set up monitoring for all possible air circulation data sets to ensure the safest possible environment for all building occupants.

Pre-start operational testing of furloughed equipment

A thorough pre-start process ensures that all equipment is fully functional and operational before any building spaces are re-occupied. By being proactive, you can prevent the  suboptimal tenant experience of people returning to the offices and shopping centres to failing equipment.

When equipment is turned back on after, possibly months of inactivity it's very important to closely monitor the performance and data stream. Operators should be altered to any potential issues or data anomalies as these could be related to mechanical faults or  misconfigurations and would need to be fixed quickly.

Ongoing Stakeholder Coordination

As we emerge from lockdowns and other pandemic-induced restrictions, the built environment will need to quickly adapt to policy and occupancy changes and fluctuations. Clear communication and coordination at the portfolio level ensures alignment and a coordinated approach across all levels of the business and operations teams.

The key to making the right decisions at the right time is timely, accurate data that is presented in a way that delivers actionable insights. Giving Facility and Portfolio Managers the tools they need to know what is happening, direct field service teams to the right places and return operations to normal conditions while reducing the risk of unexpected failures and improving patron and tenant safety.

CIM Team
October 25, 2021