HVAC or Starbucks?
Gaines' session was "Trendy or Trending: The Owner's Dilemma."
According to Gaines, Host Hotels now owns $4 billion in hotels, making it the largest lodging Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) in North America. Gaines said the company is a firm believer in retrocommissioning. "We believe it's a comprehensive systematic process for optimizing existing hotel systems."
(Retrocommissioning [RCx] is performed on buildings that have never been commissioned [Cx]).
Gaines acknowledged that a lot of necessary maintenance and service work may fall by the wayside if the contractor can't get critical information to the right person in the ownership heirarchy.
"â€ˆâ€˜The owner didn't approve it'; we hear it every day," he said. "RCx helps us build two-way communication. It has helped us really understand the necessity of the work." It helps the contractor explain it to the owner.
In California, Gaines said, his company has experienced an increased occupancy of rooms, which is now at 17,000 per year. At the same time, it has experienced a 10 percent reduction in energy costs for the state, thanks in large part to RCx.
STARBUCKS, SPA, OR HVAC?Very often, the operations and maintenance (O&M) finds itself up against other expenditures.
"Owners want to do Starbucks or a spa," said Gaines. "It's a great return on investment, there's no argument with that. It's been my job to tell them, â€˜Hey. Stop.' The owner will always approve a Starbucks. RCx helps owners understand the operation of his building and what it really needs."
When a contractor is presenting an RCx report, Gaines said contractors need to keep it simple. "The owner probably doesn't understand graphs and kilowatt-hours," he said. "He needs a one-page, easy-to-understand report summary."
At the San Diego Marriott, RCx allowed Host Hotels to save $306,190 per year in gas and electricity consumption. The hotel was able to open a Starbucks with the savings.
There's no doubt that retrocommissioning a 13,000-room hotel "is not an easy undertaking," Gaines said. "Planning, flexibility, and creative solutions can make it happen."
RCx is essentially functional testing, he said. "Functional testing makes sure the owners get what they paid for. Training and documentation make sure that what they paid for persists. Efficient machinery is only as good as its O&M program."
RCx provides an improved revenue stream, he said. The tricky part is, "how to explain it to the owner who doesn't know a Phillips head from a flat head. Use an analogy he can understand; compare his system to a 40-year-old car."
RESPECT THE PRIME DIRECTIVEChristopher Atkins, energy management coordinator for the University of Utah, has been working on "growing and changing basic thought patterns of university management."
He has a personal prime directive (a la "Star Trek"): "If it doesn't make sense, don't push it yet. Get upper administration to understand it first."
The university includes 2 million-plus square feet of hospital space. "There are strong research, engineering, and medical uses," Atkins said. Some are 24 hours, others aren't.
"Administrators don't really understand the hours.
"I have to go up three levels of administration to get any kind of capital equipment improvement," he said. "Getting it approved through those three levels is the hardest part."
One of his more interesting RCx projects has been Building 533, a 156,700-square-foot genetics research building. "We have mice that are worth more than the entire University of Utah," Atkins said. Any work done on the building can't affect the research. "We don't want to kill the mice," he sighed.
The first step in retrocommissioning Building 533 was a walk through with some engineers. "I never saw engineers giggle as much as they did that day," Atkins said. "Air filters had not been changed for so long, we had to break â€˜em out with a chisel."
The amusement may have been warranted, but it didn't help the building staff buy into the project. Besides being offended, "building staff see us as a threat," Atkins said.
"We need to make sure we're all partners. Now we say things like, â€˜We know you're just trying to make the customer happy.'"
Enery management is a lot like information management, he continued. "Get out there and talk to the guys. Keep maintenance people in the loop."
When looking for possible solutions, don't forget about behavioral solutions.
For instance, ask whether it is necessary to condition an entire building for one class held in one room. Sometimes it might truly be necessary, but it also may be possible that the event could be moved to a different room in a smaller building. Changing the occupants' behavior in this way helps lower operational costs without capital outlay.
When it comes to gaining allies, "Fiscal comparisons are very effective," said Atkins. Present it as, "Had we not done this, what would we be spending?"
Publication date: 06/12/2006