Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessity of remote working, facility managers have had to focus on operating buildings below their designed building occupancy. If done properly, a building’s systems can be optimized, saving on wear and tear as well as operating costs; however, there are many considerations in play. Our Henderson Building Solutions commissioning experts thrive in helping clients achieve goals to make their spaces functional and efficient. Below are some of our recommendations.

Maintaining Good Air Quality

Fresh outside air increases indoor air quality and dilutes indoor contaminants, but energy cost will go up with the more outside air you bring in. CO₂ monitoring “right sizes” the amount of outside air being introduced to the building. The controls on the air handler will adjust the amount of outside air being brought into the building based on the level of CO₂ currently in the building.

It is still hugely important to ensure you are bringing in enough outside air due to airborne transmission potential of the virus, which is why there are always code minimum amounts for area or occupancy that you should bring in even during low building occupancy.

In buildings without building automation controls, have the air handler’s airflow rebalanced to insure you are not over-ventilating a space. Installing timers or occupancy sensor on smaller systems is a good way to reduce operational costs.

Installing and running air conditioning with UV (ultraviolet) lighting disinfection capabilities helps clean the air. There are a couple ways to implement the UV in HVAC systems. At the evaporator coil to kill mold and bacteria and in the ductwork to eliminate even more bacteria and viruses.

Keeping your employees safe and healthy must always be your top priority, and bringing in the proper amount of clean, outside air can help you do so.

Replace Equipment with Little Impact on Office Space

Due to low building occupancy, now is an ideal time to replace equipment with hardly any impact on productivity and your office space since people aren’t working there. The current conditions provide the opportunity to replace aging equipment with newer equipment that operates more efficiently. Replacements can include boilers, heating water, chillers, condensers, and other equipment. This work can be performed during the day when you’re not paying a premium time on nights or weekends like normal conditions require. By scheduling this work during normal hours, it will be completed as inexpensively as possible.

Fully Utilize and/or Upgrade Building Controls & Automation System

If your building has controls, review the occupancy schedule of each air handling unit. In areas that are completely unoccupied, raise thermostat by a few degrees. During unoccupied times, program the thermostat to reset that space temperature and have the unit shut down when the thermostat is satisfied. This is a basic function of controls and should be adjusted as building use or occupancy changes.

Now is the time where you’re best positioned to use your controls system if you have one installed. In some cases, you can even operate the system remotely. You can use control system occupancy schedules to maintain occupant comfort during occupied hours but reset the temperatures up at the close of business. Buildings with no control system installed should have a programmable thermostat at a minimum. This may also be a good time to consider investing in a building control system.

Utilize an optimized start mode to prep your building for occupancy. This period of time before people arrive can be used to dehumidify, cool down, or heat up occupied areas prior to use. Allow the air handler to come out of unoccupied mode to control space relative humidity. You want to keep the environment in unoccupied spaces healthy and ready to be occupied again.

A controls system is the backbone of how you operate your building. In the post-COVID-19 world, these will continue to play a much bigger role. With a robust building automation system that can integrate multiple systems and orchestrate their workings, you’ll be ahead of the game. Our team specializes in helping navigate these systems to full building optimization.

Relocate Employees Away from Glass Windows & Southern-Facing Areas

Moving employees away from exterior windows into the core areas of the building will allow you to raise zone setpoints in exterior zones. It requires more energy to maintain space temperature next to glass due to the solar load of the sun and poor insulation factor of glass. In executing this, interior cooling zones will have to make up for less cooling on the exterior zones. When possible, utilize other areas to avoid seating employees next to glass.

If you can successfully locate people in central areas while maintaining social distancing, you can potentially close a portion of your building, then cooling the occupied areas will require less energy, leading to significant saving on energy costs.

Move people away from the south side of the building. Where the United States is located with relation to the equator, the south side of your building will get sun the entire workday. It will also receive a considerable amount of sun from the east in the morning and the west in the late afternoon and evening. If you’re able to utilize the northern side of your building, you will save significantly on summer cooling costs.

Close window blinds in unoccupied areas. Simply blocking the sun from shining into spaces is a natural way to decrease the solar load on a building. Lighting and motion sensors also contribute to reducing energy costs to ensure lights aren’t on unnecessarily in areas that are unoccupied.

While the pandemic has created many challenges, it also presents unique opportunities. Contact our Henderson Building Solutions team to get the most out of your building, even during quieter times. When we say we’re your partner for the life of your building, we mean it. Let us help you optimize it while also preparing to safely and efficiently return to full building occupancy when pandemic conditions improve.

About the Authors

Nick Lynch

Engineering Manager | Associate
As an engineering manager and associate, Nick checks the science of all we do. He oversees all project specifications and procedures. One thing Nick takes seriously is his focus on making the end-user’s vision a reality, which he does by providing guidance to our design engineering teams from the initial conception through final design. With a degree in mechanical engineering, he began building his resume in healthcare work. He’s provided MEP design, construction management, and assessment work for healthcare facilities, arts and culture practices, and beyond. A technical mastermind, Nick never seems to skip a beat. Not to mention, his calm and dedicated disposition is the perfect blend for getting the job done right — the first time.