Author Tim Curran is the CEO of Building Engines, the modern building operations platform for commercial real estate.
As property teams strive to safeguard their buildings against the impact of Covid-19, having functioning HVAC systems has taken on a renewed importance. In fact, with the virus being airborne, the CDC recommends property teams upgrade their HVAC units to ensure effective protection — though such intensive measures may not always be necessary.
Rather than disrupt operations further with renovations, what owners and operators need to do instead is smarten their ongoing HVAC maintenance practices to keep their systems in optimal condition. However, because HVAC systems are such a fixture of office buildings, it’s easy for property teams to overlook regular maintenance. Beyond ensuring occupants’ health and safety, there’s a host of other, long-term benefits afforded by improving their HVAC maintenance management practices today, including:
1. More productive capital planning
Beyond guiding maintenance efforts, a robust HVAC management strategy can lend itself to more strategic capital planning, which in turn makes HVAC upkeep more efficient. As it would seem, equipment never breaks down at a “convenient” time or when costs are cheap, meaning unexpected issues tend to be more expensive (not to mention suboptimal) when sourced at the last minute. Having a maintenance strategy can help property teams anticipate costs while they map out their annual budgets. This foreshadowing mitigates having to scramble for funds in the event of a breakdown throughout the year.
A sound maintenance strategy also gives operators a clearer idea of how intensive their maintenance efforts need to be so that they don’t overspend on a total overhaul when all that is needed is a smaller repair. For example, the CDC recommends upgrading HVAC units to minimize the spread of Covid-19, but operators who have been performing regular upkeep can likely avoid this hefty expense.
2. Improved tenant satisfaction
More than promises that property teams are prioritizing health and safety in their buildings during this time, today’s tenants want proof that adequate measures are being taken. In a recent Building Engines survey of nearly 300 building managers and engineers from across the country, 58% of respondents revealed that, since the onset of the pandemic, they’ve experienced an increase in tenant requests for more frequent changing or cleaning of air filters. Further, nearly one-third admitted to receiving increased requests for specific details on current HVAC units. Failure to source and share these details can turn away tenants who don’t feel safe occupying the building in question, consequently pushing them toward other properties better equipped to be transparent about the safety of their buildings.
How To Improve HVAC Maintenance Practices
1. Leverage an HVAC management platform.
Effective HVAC operation relies on property teams having detailed insights into their HVAC inventory, which they can house in an HVAC management platform. With ready access to equipment specifications and maintenance history, operators can more accurately determine HVAC life spans and, in turn, plan for future maintenance and replacements. Traditionally, this information isn’t shared or comprehensive enough (e.g., an engineer may be familiar with a unit’s make and model, while only the property manager has a record of service history and invoices), which is how maintenance lapses. Further, proper capital planning often requires property managers in offices to reconcile data from multiple sources (e.g., preventive maintenance software, HVAC vendor emails, written notes, etc.), which can create a headache of excessive manual work.
With a platform that captures and communicates all this information across the workflow, property teams can better forecast maintenance needs and intervene before costly total unit upgrades or replacements become the only option. Additionally, with a clear idea of what maintenance is needed and when, owners and operators can regulate their teams’ activity by having employees perform routine maintenance instead of pulling individuals away from other responsibilities to respond whenever an issue crops up. Likewise, having a program that can centralize system data, such as records detailing make, model, service records and cleaning and filter change requirements, can keep operators updated with the health-critical information needed to put tenants at ease while virus concerns linger.
2. Keep your vendor options open.
Those who proactively recognize a need to update their units may still find the cost to be inhibitive. That’s because project management teams often outsource replacements to vendors at a steep price to ensure the work gets done correctly, meaning the figure in managers’ heads for what they’ll need to spend may be much pricier than reality. Similarly, management teams are quick to reenlist vendors they’ve used before out of loyalty, but this can result in receiving services based on an outdated and inflated quote and potentially subpar quality. To assess vendors outside their usual roster, managers can use an online vendor network and compare multiple providers to ensure they lock in a competitive price for equipment and service and pick the best person for the job.
3. Don’t repair if it’s time to replace.
Even with religious maintenance efforts, there will be a point in the HVACs’ life span when owners need to replace it altogether. Failing to recognize this and attempting to repair an irreparable issue or using a “Band-Aid” fix will only cost more in the long run — hence why it’s so important for owners to keep tabs on system life spans and requirements. This is more efficiently done when records and data are kept in one place and accessible to the whole property team.
Rather than just offering luxurious amenities, today’s standout Class A properties are those that can assure tenants they have a firm grasp on fundamental systems like HVAC and will promote health and safety long after immediate threats subside. Not only will adopting tools to achieve this understanding improve tenant relationships, but it will also vastly increase internal operational efficiencies, streamlining workflows and empowering owners and operators to plan far more strategically.
Original article published by: Forbes
Author: Tim Curran, CEO, Building Engines