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I’ve spent thousands of hours in airplanes either as a passenger or as a pilot. As a passenger, I’ve experienced good pilots and some … not so good.

For passengers, a good pilot gets you safely to the destination in a timely manner and as comfortably as possible. For a passenger airline, a good pilot gets the passengers to the destination on time and by using as little fuel as possible. Usually the two objectives align, but sometimes they don’t.

A good pilot also uses his Pilot Operating Handbook (POH for short) as a guide. The POH varies from plane to plane but generally provides the pilot the processes and procedures to operate the aircraft. It includes many tables and formulas for optimum performance in certain situations, but any good pilot also knows when to put down the book and listen to his experience.

Building owners, managers, and occupiers might see the correlation between a good pilot and that of the building operator in their facility. Both require empathy, efficiency, knowledge, and experience to keep their charge running smoothly.

Facility Management Texas

All buildings need a building operator. For your home, either you or another family member acts as the operator. For a small business the business owner most likely plays this role. In most large commercial facilities there is an individual specifically hired to perform this function. In each case, the building operator’s job is to control the facility's systems to cost-effectively maintain a building’s environment.

Typically the primary task of the building operator is to control the automation system that controls the building HVAC, lighting, and possibly access controls. Controlling these systems can be relatively simple for buildings with less complex systems (like a pilot on a single-engine private plane) to extremely difficult for building with considerably complex systems (a Boeing 787).

Here are a few ways a skilled building operator can maximize your facility’s output:

Energy Efficiency

A well trained and experienced building operator can have a significant effect on the energy usage of the facilities he or she oversees, particularly as those system become more complex with the use of chilled water systems and boiler heating. According to the Energy Information Administration, having a certified building operator can lower power usage by 0.30 kWh per square foot. Depending on the size of the facility this could mean millions of dollars in savings. Like an efficient airline pilot who takes advantage of weather, altitude, and aircraft settings to achieve savings, a skilled operator takes advantage of outside temperatures, system operating temperatures, building load, and system settings to achieve savings.

It’s also important to read your own POH – that is, the manufacturer’s recommended operating manual. If a chiller is supposed to run at 45 degrees, 43 and 47 will probably not be as efficient. Make sure the capacity is correct, and use environmental cooling when possible.

Comfort

You can probably recall certain flights which were so comfortable and smooth that you might have thought you were still on the ground. Most airline pilots’ goals are to provide such a flight, but in most cases a journey of this type might not be as efficient – something that greatly interests airline owners. A primary goal for a building operator is to maintain a certain comfort level for building occupants. Providing a comfortable building environment may not be a difficult task but providing a comfortable building environment efficiently is a skillful endeavor. Ken Scheepers, a TDIndustries project manager who leads an energy-advisory firm, utiliVisor Southwest, says fewer than 40 percent of building operators are properly trained in the use of their building systems, and fewer than 10 percent are truly exceptional – able to maintain maximum efficiency and building comfort.

Sustainability

Jet fuel isn’t cheap. Smaller, private planes use fuel similar to the gas in your vehicle, but even that can cost $25-$50 per hour. Should he use the higher-octane fuel? Would a half-full tank save enough weight and drag for a short flight, or should he top it off? Are tourists’ bags going to be heavier on the way back from Hawaii than on the inbound flight, and what does that mean for fuel economy? A good pilot factors these costs when determining his flight plan, but also turns to his POH and industry benchmarks for guidance.

A building operator must consider similar factors. One benchmark rating system is Energy Star. Run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy, this rating lists ways to improve your existing systems and provides a standard score for benchmarking. Energy Star’s methods can help a skilled building operator reduce risk, save energy, and reduce pollution. A score of 75 or higher will put your facility among the nation's top energy performers.

While that knowledge is helpful, common-sense experience is also valuable. On cool days, outside air can give your air handling units a break. Do your interior office lights need to be on from midnight until 4 a.m.? Do all the rooms need to be conditioned 24/7? There are surely more opportunities to reduce energy use in every facility. TD offers a free energy audit to help you identify these savings.

Asset Life

The standard private plane requires three or four oil changes per year. It’s also a good idea to clean the full body of any debris and fix any dents or scuffs promptly. In the short term, the pilot could save $500 and many hours of work each year by skipping these maintenance tasks.

We all know how that turns out. A building operator also has to take care of his equipment. While that statement is relatively benign, maintenance costs can be a red herring to management who aren’t seeing the opportunity savings. According to FacilitiesNet, for every $1 invested in chiller maintenance, owners can expect a $10 savings from anticipated breakdown repairs. Switching from chemical to mechanical cleaning of these machines, concurrent with a water flush, is another way to reduce future labor and replacement costs. If you need help determining what to check and how often to perform quality maintenance tests, consider using TDIndustries’ free facility checklist.

How to know if you have a skilled building operator

When you step on a plane, you might see your pilot. How do you know if he is a great pilot? The truth is, you have to look at secondary information and analysis. If the flight attendants look nervous, that does not bode well for your pilot’s reputation.

How many calls do you get for temperature changes? Are they repetitively occurring at a certain time of the day? A skilled building operator will be able to adjust temperatures in anticipation, and he’ll have the knowledge to know when to adjust the settings. You can also check your energy star score listed above to see how your facility performs against the industry benchmark.

Perhaps the best way to check your operator’s skill is asset life. Does it exceed manufacturer expectations? If so, is that maintenance attributable to your operator?

Conclusion

Now what?

Pilots and building operators that fail to innovate will eventually fall behind the benchmark. Here are a few ways to develop your building operator into a skilled leader:

Invest in your best employees: Too often we try to fix the squeaky wheel and ignore those who excel. Consider training your best employees in work processes, work flows, data-analysis software, and manufacturer-led suggestions. Many manufacturers have instructional videos, webinars, and blogs available on their website, and some hold seminars and/or will come out to instruct your team for free if you are using their equipment. Also consider certification courses. The Northwest Energy Efficiency Council says their Building Operator Certification can save facilities $20,000 each year.

Invest in monitoring equipment: How often do you walk by that third-floor break room with the broken arm rest? How long has that light been out over IT? Those small fixes add up to a large expense. If you don’t have a way to monitor these fluctuations, it can be truly hard to spot them. In some cases, a solid computerized maintenance management system (can help you quickly pinpoint outliers and identify ways to cut back on expenses. In turn, that frees up your skilled building operator to more urgent tasks.

Partner with a third-party integrated facilities firm: Sometimes employees seek other careers. If that employee leaves with the knowledge to run your state-of-the-art CMMS, that expensive equipment doesn’t help your team. When that happens, it might make sense to outsource to a company that has the breadth and depth of knowledge to take your facility’s output to new heights.

Whichever path you take, make sure you’re maximizing your team’s efficiency. 

Unsure how to select a third-party integrated facilities firm? 

Reviewing facility maintenance companies can be overwhelming, but following these tips can make all the difference.

TD's unmatched resources and capabilities keep your facility running with as little downtime as possible. Whether it’s assistance with operations and maintenance or full facilities management, our knowledgeable TDPartners ensure your sites are functioning at the highest level of performance and protecting your assets

Brian Lillard has 30 years of real-estate and facilities experience in a range of industries including corporate, healthcare, and education. Prior to becoming Vice President and Business Unit Manager of Facilities, he served as Chief Operating Officer from 2009-2018.

Brian also founded his own real-estate software company. With a background in facilities management and real-estate, and a passion for growing the business, Brian is an invaluable asset.

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