Guest Post by Jim Wharton, Senior Area Vice President, ABM Franchising Group

Rethinking how we share space in our working lives creates opportunity. Reassessing needs reminds many business leaders of how much facility operations and assets contribute to – or hold back – profitability. With wider recognition of the connections between operating costs, productivity, and health, proper care for facility assets has returned to its rightful place in the financial planning of our businesses.

Fundamentals for the Future

To better control the cost of inaction, businesses are taking stock of expert recommendations and finding a moment to move forward. After meeting the challenge of resuming full functionality, many HVAC systems will have to meet sustained increases in demand. That puts reactive and deferred maintenance strategies even further behind. 

For instance, many facilities have already improved filtration and increased the supply of air to shared spaces. Both practices are recommended and have clear benefits, but they may also ask an HVAC system to do more than facilities have planned for. In the short term, many systems will have the capacity to meet needs. In the long term, asset life cycle and operating costs will suffer if systems aren’t maintained cost-effectively.

Back to Reality

As businesses readjust to growth, the facts about our facility infrastructure are plain. 75% of commercial buildings in the U.S. were constructed before 2000.[1] In 2019, before COVID-19 shone a glaring spotlight on how we share air in our facilities, an industry survey found that 2/3rds of respondents were already identifying HVAC as a critical area of concern.[2] And while energy use did decline in 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that electricity demand from commercial buildings will return to 2019 levels by 2025,[3] and that the energy share spent by commercial buildings on ventilation, heating, and cooling will remain above 30% until 2047.[4]

To keep ventilation systems from wasting energy and incurring increasing repair costs moving forward, businesses should ensure that HVAC systems, whether aging or recently replaced, are kept in a condition to meet increased demand. In the case of facilities that see less demand, an assessment should also be made to see if the system can be optimized for that lower demand, possibly decreasing costs and increasing the lifecycle of the equipment.  

Smart and New Meets Tried and True

Sound principles have driven engineers to advise proactive maintenance for years. While there’s a solid history of clear return on investment, proper asset management isn’t always easy to prioritize. Increased access to data in the last few decades has helped facility solution providers build a deeper understanding of the financial impacts of HVAC systems. Beyond the immediate nuts-and-bolts returns on a well-maintained system, facility leaders can use an expert assessment to build consensus on proactive asset management. The key is to explore all the impacts of HVAC systems on your facility and discover how each impact can work to your advantage. 

For instance, dynamic systems with smart building controls can help facilities manage demand intelligently, increasing HVAC output when needed and dialing it back when it’s not. Return on this kind of strategy depends on a system’s ability to efficiently meet large swings in demand, and that takes attention to all the operational parameters and proactive asset management to remain optimized.

  • Energy Costs. In general, the more work a system has to do, the more investments in its efficiency pay off. Think of it like mileage – the farther you have to drive, the more the car with the better mileage saves. When chillers are asked to run longer and fans asked to run faster, optimization and asset care return more to the bottom line.  
  • Capital Expenses. Whether systems face increasing demands or not, inattention to potential failure points usually accelerates the asset toward functional failure. That wastes equipment life already invested in and forces the next capital expense to fall sooner.
  • The Rising Price of Downtime. Every business calculates the cost of downtime differently, but increased attention to the health impacts of ventilation make it clear that the costs go beyond comfort issues. Employees, customers, and everyone in our facilities depend on HVAC systems to keep ventilation in our shared spaces up to recommended standards. 

HVAC systems have seen lots of changes from status quo in the last few years – including transitions to and from lengthy shutdowns or running full-out 24 hours a day. In some cases, systems may have been asked to restart operations after a dormant period with minimal assessment of their condition. Delaying assessments and corrective action any further could speed assets along their failure curves faster. 

A Moment to Champion Maintenance

Everyone wants to keep the costs of breakdowns and downtime off the books. The question is how to cost-effectively meet that goal, and the answer, in part, is understanding how many other costs, risks, and benefits are connected to your solution. To help you develop a plan that ensures your HVAC contributes to a healthier bottom line, consult your trusted facility solutions partner. Experienced providers will have both the technical and financial expertise to make sure the changes impacting your facility today take business outcomes in the right direction.

Jim Wharton, Senior Area Vice President, ABM Franchising Group, is a retired Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.