Gradual Rise: Responsible Operations While Increasing Building Utilization

September 10, 2020 | By: Molly Looman

This article was featured in the Guide to Building Operations, Management and Finance in the New Normal produced by the CRE Insight Journal. Read more from that issue here:


When the pandemic began and buildings began to empty, there was an immediate focus on new projects, energy savings, and maintenance work. As tenants return and buildings begin to experience increased utilization, operations and maintenance professionals need to be intentional about the choices they make when reopening.

Keeping Tabs

For the past several months, a property could have been saving a lot of energy and money due to the decrease in electrical and water usage. Tenants re-entering the building does not mean the erasure of these savings. Jack Kennedy, senior property operations manager for Jackson Healthcare, said that his team of engineers was very strategic with how they saved energy.

“As people come back to work, we are being careful about the lighting we turn on,” Kennedy said.

He mentioned how his team is keeping most lights off except where tenants have returned to the space or where there is a high traffic area. Sensor-triggered lights help with this energy savings and decrease the workload on engineers’ rounds. Steve Sauriol, the director of engineering for America’s Capital Partners, said that it is important to monitor usages across all systems and ensure that no one system is getting overloaded.

“You have to be proactive to increase occupancy. The operation protocols you have in place now need to be in place as occupancy increases,” Sauriol said. “There’s no way to go back.”

Doing the Homework

Just as tenants are not returning all in one day, the systems in place on a property should not return to full capacity all in one day. U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have both released guidelines on new precautions that need to be taken, especially in the realm of indoor air quality.

“Hopefully, most of the engineers have increased their filter capacity to a higher rating, hopefully, they have done their homework,” Sauriol said.

It is important to let the systems in a building gradually return to full capacity and make the necessary adjustments to ensure tenant and visitor safety. Kennedy said it was extremely important to face the reality of the situation. He said a mistake that engineers could make right now is returning to the pre-pandemic settings without consideration.

“Now that you have everything adjusted, don’t go back and arbitrarily make changes,” Kennedy said, “Think them through and have a conversation with the tenants.”

Move Forward with Purpose

In many buildings, systems are set to an optimal standard. Then after tenants move in and express different needs, adjustments are made. During the time of low occupancy, many property teams reset these standards to their original optimal setting. This can sometimes mean a more efficient and energy-saving property. Kennedy said engineers should consider keeping it that way.

“We are using this period to implement new scheduling strategies for mechanical systems, and what we are trying to do is train people to what the building has been accustomed to while they have been out,” Kennedy said.

If there are new systems installed or a system is performing differently, tenant education is key. Consider making small videos showing new protocols or showing how to use new touchless technology. It may also be helpful to send out a bulletin explaining all of the changes made while tenants were out of the building. This can be done in partnership with the property’s existing tenant communications.

Add It Up

While the energy and usage savings during low occupancy were above average, don’t discount the efforts that can be made during re-occupancy. There are multiple small adjustments that when made can still add up. Increasing round frequency to ensure lighting systems are not staying on longer than necessary is a way to save energy. Installing touchless bathroom fixtures has shown to save water usage. Having a well-monitored egress and ingress onto the property can help counteract the extra energy that may be used with the filtration system.

“I think the future is wide open. We are all in this game together, “ Sauriol said.

The future may be a bit unknown, but as buildings reoccupy, there are a few standard considerations that will make the process smoother




Get the latest content delivered straight to your inbox.