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The Value of Facility Condition Assessments to Sustainability Programs

Sustainability has been defined as meeting the triple bottom line; balancing the economic, environmental and social impacts of what we do. The challenge to the facility manager is to translate that triple bottom line into actionable items that meet the facility needs of the organization and stay in alignment with the organizations commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Facility condition assessments (FCAs) play an important role in providing facility condition and budget data for the repair and upkeep of facilities. Although a facility team generally performs a facility condition assessment to support budgeting decisions, the budgeting decisions made have a direct impact on the environmental and social factors managed by facility managers.

This article suggests that FCAs are an important tool to help support sustainable decisions. It provides an overview of what a FCA is, provides several suggestions about how FCAs impact sustainable decision making, and closes with a practical example.

What is a Facility Condition Assessment?

A facility condition assessment provides a snapshot of the condition of a facility to determine the capital budget needs for major repairs and replacements over several years. As a result, FCAs help facility management teams know how to better prioritize funds for repair and replacement. In general, an FCA is an assessment that visually identifies major deficiencies for all of the systems in a facility. The systems included in an FCA include: site systems, structural systems, building exteriors, roof systems, mechanical systems, electrical systems, plumbing systems, fire and life safety systems, conveying systems and interior finishes. FCAs are occasionally extended to furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E), and sometimes include environmental assessments.

There are many approaches to performing a FCA. FCAs can be conducted at the component level, where every piece of major equipment is evaluated and the value of the equipment and remaining service life is estimated. FCAs can also be performed at a system level, where the emphasis is put on assigning a value and condition to the system, as opposed to its collection of components. There are also statistical approaches to FCAs such as parametric methods that collect data on a portion of an organization’s assets and extrapolate the results over the entire inventory of facilities.

Within this article the component and the systems approach to performing FCAs will be addressed. The component method looks at individual components; each component is assigned a cost for repair, replacement or improvement. The cost is determined based on the age and general condition of the equipment. The total for all the components is summed to determine the resulting cost of repairs, replacement and improvements. The end result is that the facility management team has a report that describes systems and major components requiring replacement, observed deficiencies and recommended costs for repair and replacement of each deficiency based on the remaining useful life. The component method is helpful in prioritizing maintenance spending over the report period for specific equipment because it results in a list of specific projects for each year. The facility team can use the results of the report to determine upcoming capital projects over the given report period, such as 10 years. The component methodology works well if the desired result is a projected schedule of major repairs and replacements over the coming years. Capital budgets are also derived, but budgets derived from component methodologies may not always account for system-wide deficiencies, effects on adjacent systems, and mission changes. The component approach may not always be integrated with the overall asset management strategies since the emphasis is on the functionality of individual pieces of equipment.

A common system-based FCA methodology is the backlog of maintenance and repair (BMAR).The BMAR FCA uses a cost model and a scoring method to determine the cost allocation recommended at the building system level, such as HVAC, electrical and interiors. The scoring model focuses on correcting system deficiencies and takes a slightly broader view of functionality. The deficiencies can be a result of change in use of the facility, a design deficiency or other external factors. The accumulated cost of the deficiencies is used to determine capital budgeting needs at the building system level. This approach gives the facility team more flexibility to allocate funds to specific projects based on the priority of the facility team. BMAR works well for large portfolios of buildings to identify system and building budget requirements because the end result is a capital renewal budget that is based on condition, functionality, and the ability of the system to meet the mission of the organization.

FCAs Impact Sustainability—Examples

Regardless of what FCA method is used, FCA decisions are related to sustainability, including financially, environmentally and socially. Below are a few examples.

Financial Impact #1: Budgets

Facility managers manage two budgets: capital and operational. The capital budget impacts environmental decisions; and environmental priorities can also drive capital expenditures. The energy efficiency of the equipment replaced impacts the amount and type of environmental emissions generated. In some cases purchasing more efficient or more sustainable equipment can have a higher capital cost. However, the return on investment when considering the long term impact of the decision can help to make the business case.

Operational budgets impact environmental decisions. As with capital budget decisions, operational budget decisions can also support CSR strategies. Operational budgets are used to pay monthly utility bills. The tradeoffs between cost and energy efficiency considered during the capital budget decision making process impacts the operational budget. Although in some cases more energy efficient equipment has a high capital cost economic analysis can demonstrate that after a few years the operational cost is less.

Financial Impact #2: Equipment Life

An FCA provides insight about the remaining useful life of equipment. As a result, the life of equipment can be extended through proper repairs at the right time, increasing the time before the equipment reaches its end life. Extending equipment life can have both positive and negative environmental impacts. The positive impact is that the equipment remains in use longer, reducing the need for raw materials to manufacturer a new piece of equipment. The negative impact of having the equipment remain in use longer is the equipment is likely less efficient than new equipment that will eventually replace the current piece of equipment. Given that most equipment today when retired can be recycled, in most cases the environmental benefit of keeping the equipment in operation for as long as possible is likely the most economical and environmentally sound decision.

Environmental Impact: Reduced Energy Consumption

FCAs identify equipment deficiencies. As a result, energy efficient equipment operation can be identified. When a facility has a lot of deficiencies, energy consumption is likely to be higher than necessary. Although an FCA is not an energy audit, an FCA identifies repair and replacement needs, and is based on expected service life and how well a piece of equipment is being maintained. When equipment is maintained at proper intervals, it will be more energy efficient.

Social Impact #1: Doing the Right Thing

Social impacts can include the intangible factors of doing the right thing from a balanced environmental and economic perspective. A facility management organization using a FCA as a sustainability assessment tool will consider the bigger picture, such as the items discussed above, when making decisions about when to replace equipment and with what equipment to replace. In contrast, an organization only committed to cost reduction may consider only the impact of the budget when making equipment replacement decisions.

Social Impact #2: Continued Customer Satisfaction

When equipment is operating efficiency, customers are unlikely to take concern with being too warm or too cold or equipment not meeting mission critical needs. An FCA can help facilitate continued customer satisfaction because the facility management team has budgeted financial resources to make sure equipment continues to operate reliably.

Social Impact #3: Improved Work Environment

FCAs can identify recommendations that support better work environments, specifically improved occupant comfort. Example includes less draft from diffusers from proper operation of HVAC systems and less glare and/or shadows from properly operating lights.

A Practical Example

A large state institution was faced with a tough decision: What to do with aging schools and how to allocate funding. It was necessary to determine which schools should be maintained, which schools should be renovated and which hat schools should be closed and replaced. By performing a state-wide system-based FCA, the state was able to assess typical factors such as age and equipment condition. The assessment team also assessed illumination levels and indoor air quality. Assessing illumination levels can lead to corrections that prevent over-illumination and increase energy efficiency. Evaluating and correcting illumination levels also has a social impact; because proper illumination provides improved learning environments. Assessing indoor air quality can also lead to improved social impacts. Improved indoor air quality provides a healthier learning environment, impacting the social component of sustainability.

Conclusion

Although not commonly thought as part of a sustainable tool, FCAs provide a wealth of opportunity to impact our facilities economically, environmentally and socially.

About the Author

Angela Lewis, PE, PhD, LEED AP, FMP, is a project manager with Facility Engineering Associates (FEA) specializing in facility management technology. She has written numerous articles and book chapters. With a diverse background including HVAC design, research and facility management consulting she enjoys helping facility management and operations teams identify and solve complex challenges. She can be reached at angela.lewis@feapc.com.

Facility Engineering Associates is an engineering and facility management consulting firm specializing in existing facilities. Our mission is to make facilities last by implementing practical and cost-effective strategies to achieve operational excellence. Our areas of expertise include: Facility Asset Management, Facility Diagnostics, Condition Assessment, Repair and Restoration, Energy Management, Environmental Assessment, Sustainability. Office locations: Washington DC, Dallas, TX, Denver, CO, San Francisco, CA

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