Getting to High Performance in an Existing Facility

  • Location: Rancho Cordova, CA
  • Building use type: office
  • Size: 71,594 square-feet
  • Achievement: U.S. Green Building Council LEED-EB O+M–Level: Platinum (83 points)

by Laurie Gilmer, P.E., CFM, SFP, LEED AP O+M, CxA — Figure 1. Building Overview

What does a high performance building look like? It’s not necessarily the shiny new building that was just completed. It could be an older existing building that is operated and maintained so well that it too meets the principles of high performance facilities. According to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 a high performance building “integrates and optimizes all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance, and occupant productivity.” It is in the spirit of this definition that VSP Vision Care demonstrated achievement of high performance at their Headquarters Building HQ4.

In 2008, VSP achieved the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-EB O+M certification, platinum level at their Headquarters Building HQ1. This inspired their facilities team to pursue certification of a second building, HQ4, in 2012. The building was originally constructed in 2004. It has two floors, roof access, and consists of office, conference, lobby, and storage space. The building has a steel frame with tilt up pre-cast concrete panels. Perimeter walls are insulated on the interior sides, and the roof deck is insulated. Windows are double pane with a light green tint. The building is heated and cooled by roof mounted air handling units which are controlled by a central building automation controls system. The building usage fluctuates throughout the day with occupancy levels at maximum in the mid-morning through mid-day hours. The HQ4 parking lot occupies approximately five acres of the total campus.

HQ4 Parking Lot

In pursuing high performance, the facilities team wanted to improve energy performance, reduce the building’s carbon foot print, and create a highly productive work environment within a limited budget that would demonstrate to the business community that environmentally responsible workplaces can be cost-effective, attractive, and competitive in the marketplace.

They started with energy. Energy is the single largest controllable operational cost, and often requires the most work. In pursuing high performance, VSP conducted an energy audit to benchmark their current performance and identify additional opportunities for improvement. At the beginning of the project, the building’s ENERGY STAR score was a 91. On a scale of 1-100, a score of 91 represents a very well performing building. VSP then implemented retro-commissioning and created an ongoing commissioning program. By implementing the following conservation measures, VSP was able to increase the building’s score to a 92 which the building still maintains.

  1. Reset supply air temperature based on maximum zone demand
  2. Optimize control of air handling unit economizer
  3. Control minimum ventilation air based on CO2
  4. Optimize supply air temperature based on maximum zone demand
  5. Optimize morning warm-up cycle
  6. Reduce operating hours of exhaust fan

Looking at their energy use patterns over the last five years (refer to Figure 2), the overall energy consumption has decreased an average of 10%. In an already energy efficient building, this improvement is remarkable.

Figure 2. HQ4 Energy Consumption

VSP also considered water use. Located in the arid state of California, water is a key issue for the community as well as facility operators. The HQ4 building has two major water use types: domestic and irrigation. VSP installed electronic data logging water meters that report water use through the building automation system. Through building regular monitoring, problems can be identified quickly. Monitoring also has raised the importance of water management and has enabled better engagement of the building occupants in water conservation efforts.

In an effort to provide an environment that supports occupant productivity and promotes improved indoor air quality, by policy, VSP places restrictions on what types of chemicals can be used. All surface cleaners, kitchen cleaners, carpet cleaners, and dishwashing products are required to be biodegradable, to contain only minimal volatile organic compounds or toxic chemicals, and to contain no chlorine or ammonia.

VSP implemented a training program to educate the core team and employees on building operational improvements. Specifically, the training covers indoor air quality, smoking policy, lighting quality, cleaning practices, thermal comfort management, water use and efficiency, and pest management practices. Another training program covers purchasing practices, and the recycling and waste management program.

Designated outdoor smoking areas are clearly identified

Through implementation of a purchasing policy, and training on that policy and its impacts, VSP was able to achieve significant accomplishments in its purchases that were documented to comply with its preferred purchasing practices:

  • Ongoing consumables 64%
  • Durable goods electronics 122%
  • Durable goods furniture 55%
  • Facility alterations and additions 68%

VSP has a goal to reduce waste. To that end, there is a purchasing policy in place that supports the use of recyclable materials. The facility uses only recyclable paper material, printer cartridges, and toner and encourages employees to reuse paper and envelopes in house. It also actively participates in the building’s recycling program. Papers, bottles, and cans are picked up daily, and cardboard is picked up on an as-needed basis. A local composting operation collects all food waste.

Figure 3. Waste Stream Audit

To monitor the health of the waste management program, VSP conducts a waste stream audit on a quarterly basis (refer to Figure 3). In the first audit, the building had a waste diversion rating of 70%. Through continued education efforts and placement of intuitive recycling containers throughout the facility, the diversion rate has increased to between 73% and 74%.

Finally, VSP conducted an occupant survey addressing thermal comfort, furniture, lighting, air quality, acoustic quality, and maintenance. Based on the survey, all building elements save thermal comfort received ratings above the 80% satisfaction level. Thermal comfort received a 25% satisfaction rating with occupants primarily complaining that the space was too hot or too cold. VSP then implemented a plan to address the dissatisfaction. The facilities department now monitors the building controls system and checks temperatures at a minimum of three times per day to ensure building zones fall within operating guidelines. There is also a work order system in place which occupants can use to make requests to resolve thermal comfort issues. The system administrator reviews work orders every hour, and technicians are dispatched immediately. Technicians follow the HVAC zone adjustment checklist.

Through a building certification process, VSP was able to demonstrate high performance at their HQ4 facility. They have put measures in place to manage and monitor consumption of energy, water use, purchases, and waste management. They have engaged building occupants and facility staff in the success of their performance through education and training efforts. By providing a quality environment in which to work, they are positively contributing to occupant productivity. And through use of facilities technology and training, the facilities staff is helping to extend the life cycle of the facility. All of these efforts have served to make this existing building and this organization operate as a top performer.

Laurie Gilmer, P.E., CFM, SFP, LEED AP O+M, CxA

Laurie Gilmer is the Vice President of Facility Services at Facility Engineering Associates, and leads FEA’s facility asset management, building energy management, and sustainability services. Laurie is an active member of IFMA’s Sustainability Committee, and leads the Measurement, Monitoring & Reporting sub-committee.

Facility Engineering Associates, P.C. (FEA)  is an engineering and facility management consulting firm supporting owners and managers of existing facilities. FEA was founded in 1992 on the principle that there is a better way to manage the built environment by balancing the challenges of providing a safe, secure, and healthy environment; maintaining an aging infrastructure; and improving how the FM organization operates. We help our clients improve the way they manage, operate, maintain, and fund the built environment to enable facilities that are safer, healthier, resilient, productive and cost-effective.

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