Bundling Tenant Improvement Projects with High-Performance Goals

Tenant improvements tend to target interior design rather than the system components of a building. A tenant improvement might address relocation or installation of nonstructural walls, workstation layouts, and wall and floor finishes, as well as furniture, fixtures, and equipment.

However, each of these interior-focused remodeling projects creates an opportunity to review system operations, design layouts, and the construction process itself to determine where it is feasible to incrementally address sustainability concerns. By bundling necessary tenant improvements with other investments, you can realize returns in multiple areas such as tenant satisfaction, energy reduction, and lower operating costs.

Investment bundling: The benefits to be derived from high-performance investments can be maximized by implementing two or more complementary high-performance investments simultaneously,

Certain building systems and components require thorough analysis and consideration during tenant improvement projects to ensure a sustainable focus. These systems and components include energy management, air handling, water, lighting, and waste management systems.

In the case of energy and water use, submetering is often a solution pursued in multi-tenant buildings to allow management to pass along accurately apportioned costs for individual tenants. This system change does not require redesigning the plumbing layout, but is critical for tenants to monitor and reduce their own energy use. Many states and municipalities, including Washington, DC; New York City; and Chicago, have begun to require submetering. In addition, steps toward many industry certifications, including Energy Star and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), awards points for submetering.

In addition to a focus on building systems and their key components in relation to sustainable tenant improvement projects, certain common practices should be employed to ensure project success. While seemingly small in terms of overall impact, these considerations are critical to building marketability and value:
  • Completing Building Assessments
  • Installing Additional Building System Monitors
  • Installing Additional Building System Controls
  • Evaluating the Functionality of Design Layouts
  • Revisiting the Typical Construction Supply Chain
  • Replacing and Renovating Finishes and Furnishings
  • Disposing of Project Waste
Let's examine in detail the first item on this list.

Completing Building Systems Assessments

Tenant improvement projects create an opportunity to assess all current building systems and identify underperformers. As buildings are often commissioned only when systems are initially installed, recommissioning systems and reevaluating water, waste, and energy practices can produce immediate sustainability gains.

This assessment may identify opportunities for recycling water for landscaping use. Building access, security, lighting, and parking may also be reconsidered based on information gathered during the assessment process. You might also discover, for example, that occupants use the building’s back door, which closes more slowly, more frequently than the front door, but hardly ever use the side door.

A common recommissioning result achieved through the assessment process is the discovery that a system is not performing correctly. For example, one air handler may not be functioning at capacity, forcing others to take its load or causing inconsistent airflows in various office areas. Even when no action items are identified, a preproject assessment establishes a performance baseline that will later be used to evaluate outcomes.

An effective practice to enhance operations involves the installation of monitoring systems to track the use of resources by building occupants in a timely manner. For multitenant buildings, this presents an opportunity to install submeters or other evaluation tools to identify use at a more discrete level.

Submetering: The practice of installing meters within a zone or wing of a building to measure electricity, water, or gas usage that can be attributed to a specific business unit, division, or department.

Submetering also permits more direct billing of energy, water, and waste systems costs, which can support benchmarking efforts and drive occupants’ proactive sustainability behaviors.

Along with submetering, sensors can be installed to provide additional weather and equipment-utilization data to examine user behaviors and overall efficiencies. Other types of monitoring tools may include cameras in entry locations. Adding cameras to these areas can offer data on foot traffic patterns, noise, and lighting levels to reevaluate building systems deployment in foyers and at delivery docks.

At a bare minimum, these various monitoring systems offer the opportunity to disclose discrete space and system-level data to tenants, owners, and operators that are not obtainable based on previous technology solutions focused on single-meter practices. This level of detailed analysis is also being demanded as building professionals seek to increase asset value and marketability by pursuing certification credentials such as the BOMA 360 Performance Program, BOMA BEST, Green Globes, and LEED.

Whether displayed in the lobby or evaluated by asset managers and financial analysts, these detailed building operational data sources provide useful discussion points for sustainability concerns and potential gains. The installation of aftermarket monitoring solutions across a large portfolio of buildings or units is useful to offer standard data for comparisons and opportunities to highlight outliers that may require additional attention.

In addition to meters, building systems controls are another consideration for pursuing high-performance building operations. Enhancing current building systems controls, with additions from the original manufacturer or third-party solutions, is another practice that can improve efficiency and operational gains. Such controls may offer energy-use or water-use dashboards and Internet connection devices that allow remote monitoring. Additional controls may include equipment and software that are not physically intrusive and could certainly be part of a tenant improvement checklist.

Depending on the age of existing building systems and the number of types of controls on-site, cost savings from energy reductions may be offset by the additional skills and manpower needed to install and maintain these controls. As a result, when considering additional building systems controls, one school of thought suggests that a comprehensive cross-system control solution will add the most value in terms of energy savings, and therefore CO2 reduction.

These solutions can be more complex in technical and support requirements, making return on investment (ROI) less achievable. The most financially feasible installations of aftermarket control systems often address multiple properties across a large portfolio, where constraints on room temperature, lighting levels, and water use can be set, monitored, and controlled at the corporate level rather than independently by regional building managers.

More often than not, the degree to which sustainability issues are considered is a function of budget and other resource commitments, including time. Focusing on a standard set of sustainable impact areas and standard operating procedures helps management and tenants to think strategically in terms of the best long-term solutions/

This article is adapted from BOMI International's course High-Performance Sustainable Building Principles, part of the BOMI-HP® designation program. More information regarding this course and the BOMI-HP® credential is available by calling 1.800.235.2664. Or visit the website, www.bomi.org.

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