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Know Your Building, Save Your Money

Stephen A. Varone in Building Operations on June 25, 2018

New York City

Know Thy Building

Find out if your building can support amenities, like this green roof on the Javits Convention Center.

June 25, 2018

A problem we engineers and architects encounter all too often is a board operating in a reactive as opposed to proactive mode. If you don’t know the condition and the life expectancy of your building’s systems, you’re just going to be chasing crises as they occur. More crises means higher costs, higher stress, and lower quality on every project you undertake. 

Simply put, there is no substitute for having up-to-date information on the condition and the quality of your building systems. If you know when a system is approaching its life expectancy, you can plan for the necessary work and make certain you have adequate funds in your reserve. That’s being proactive. If you don’t plan in advance and don’t have those funds available, then you’re likely dealing with surprise assessments and/or maintenance increases. That’s being reactive. 

You also need to know the regulations governing your building. For example, is your property subject to the Facade Inspection & Safety Program rules that require a report filing every five years? If it is, what did your last report say? Are there repairs to be done, and if so, what is the deadline and anticipated cost? And on energy usage, do you need to file annual benchmarking or conduct energy audits? If so, understanding those findings is key to planning for improvements. 

You should know your maintenance contracts – who services your heating plant, elevators, cooling tower? Are those contracts adequate? You may need a more elaborate maintenance contract for an older heating system than for a recent installation. You should also know the skill set of all your professionals – your engineer, architect, attorney, accountant, insurance broker, and property manager. Because when issues come up, you need to know whether your current team is able to help you or whether you need to look for supplemental help.

Technologies are changing all the time. Solar is coming into its own, with more attractive opportunities than just a few years ago. Even wind power is now being seriously discussed. Green roof technology keeps improving, so you may be able to obtain a lower-cost system with a faster payback. So keep an eye out for how those technologies are developing and how government incentives may come online and have an impact. 

Finally, try to be creative with opportunities for adaptive re-use of space that might help bring income into your building, increase enjoyment for the residents, and/or add value to the property – things like a community space, a roof deck, or a yoga studio. Don’t let any ingrained perceptions of your building’s “limitations” blind you to its true potential. 

Instead of chasing crises, you should take charge of your building systems and set priorities. If you can get ahead of the curve, then crises will become part of the past. 

Stephen A. Varone is president of RAND Engineering & Architecture.

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