Property Australia

Tips for facility operations in response to COVID-19


COVID-19 is forcing facilities managers to take a fresh look at building services to cut energy consumption and boost wellbeing, says Schneider Electric Buildings’ Alan Chalmers.

Soon after the early signs of the pandemic, the people at Schneider Electric Buildings sat down to brainstorm how commercial buildings managers can make the most of a difficult time. And Chalmers, the firm’s corporate account manager, says the ideas are illuminating.

The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Airconditioning and Heating says there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through air conditioning systems. Good HVAC systems and well-ventilated spaces can help control the spread of the virus, Chalmers says.

“This is a positive health message to tenants who still want staff to turn up every day.”

150420 - Property Positivity - Alan Chalmers Schneider ElectricChalmers says Schneider Electric has utilised specialist security cameras that can monitor temperature and send notifications when someone enters a building with a high body temperature. This is of “particular benefit to operators with people in a single location”.

Increasing fresh air rates could have a negative impact on energy efficiency and NABERS ratings, but Chalmers says the NABERS team is already considering this in its published guidance.

“If far fewer employees are working on site, you may be able to dial down the fresh air you are cycling through the asset – thereby decreasing energy costs,” Chalmers adds.

Building management systems that support zoning will come into their own during this period. “Consider offsetting an increase of the fresh air to one zone by putting another zone on a standby mode,” Chalmers advises, adding that social distancing rules apply.

Whether the asset supports an agile work environment with hot desks or traditional cubicles, a “good cleaning regime” is essential, and can be complemented by smart technology Chalmers explains.

“Technology solutions that track vacant and occupied workplaces can help employees identify desks with no direct neighbour or find one that shows low contamination from volatile organic compounds picked up from sensing points.”

Other strategies to consider including stopping the HVAC systems earlier in the day or widening the control parameters.

“Ask yourself: is there less residual heat gain due to the lower occupancy rates? Can areas of low use be temporarily separated and disabled? Can we save energy and allow cleaning regimes to be focused on a smaller area?”

Many lift operating systems are pretty smart – but not all,” so consider taking some lifts offline. “Less people, less requirement, less energy,” Chalmers adds.

There’s also an opportunity to consider refits or upgrades while occupancy is low. While this may sound counterintuitive, Chalmers says “a downturn could support better pricing, as there are less users to avoid and contractors are focused on retaining workload”.

Finally, many building systems can be operated remotely, Chalmers explains.

“While this relies on the accuracy of the monitored data, it does allow clients to limit contractor attendance and at the same time be confident that their systems are operating optimally for the current times.”