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4  FM quick reads on

1. Minimize Distractions When Using Open Designs

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management. Today's tip is to take minimize distractions to take full advantage of the benefits of open office designs.

Many organizations have found that a more open environment, with movable partitions and plenty of meeting places, is more conducive to productivity than the permanent offices that prevailed 30-some years ago.

At the same time, however, openness means that employees are likely to be distracted by other employees' conversations, cell phones ringing and the like. In fact, more than 20 percent of the more than 1,000 respondents to a survey by consulting firm Randstad US ranked loud noises as their top workplace pet peeve. What's more, extraneous noises can be more than simply annoying. They also can impair workers' productivity.

The objective for facility managers is to leverage the benefits of open office designs while minimizing distractions. A range of acoustical goals come into play. These include controlling the noise in common areas, creating some level of privacy and sound absorption for workers at their desks, and enabling privacy in rooms where confidential discussions occur.

Specific needs and objectives vary from one type of building to another. Government offices, for instance, often require high levels of privacy. In most commercial buildings, the goal is to minimize distracting noises and provide enough sound absorption or background sound that employees can concentrate. In a few businesses — advertising comes to mind — managers actually may want a slightly higher noise level to project an environment of excitement and busyness.

Whatever the specific goals, it's easiest to achieve them when the building is designed with acoustics in mind from the start.

2.  Cooling Plant Optimization Offers Data Center Benefit

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management. Today's tip is that cooling plant optimization can offer energy-saving benefits in data centers.

Cooling plant optimization includes several key elements that, when combined, can produce significant savings in energy use over the life of the facility.

The first element is supply temperature control. Eliminating humidity control from the air conditioning units (ACUs) on the data center floor allows for the humidifiers and reheat coils to be removed from the ACUs. The result is a lower first cost and lower maintenance and operating cost for the system.

Because some outside air is required to ventilate the raised floor environment, an effective solution is a central ventilation and humidity control system that utilizes an ACU using 50 percent outside air and 50 percent return air to humidify and dehumidify the data center. The amount of moisture needing to be added or removed from the space is not a function of the total air circulated in the data center, but purely a factor of the condition of the outside air used for ventilation and the moisture migration through the building skin.

An efficient option is ultrasonic humidification, which uses high frequency sound waves to evaporate water and operates on one-tenth the energy of a conventional electric system that boils water. Ultrasonic systems use de-ionized water, which some view as a complication not worth the hassle. However, modern packaged de-ionized water systems are highly reliable and provide a boon in maintenance savings.

Elevating the chilled water temperatures is another element that will help optimize a data center's cooling plant. Because the data center can be cooled effectively with 60-degree supply air, it is possible to supply 50-degree water. This increases the efficiency of the chillers, and significantly extends the annual hour of free cooling with a water-side economizer cycle.

3.  To Save Energy, Improve Operations

Today's tip is about reducing energy use through changes in operations. A Texas A&M University study showed that energy could be reduced by 10 to 40 percent by simply making operational changes. This bucks the common misperception that vast amounts of money need to be invested in expensive equipment upgrades to see any energy savings at all.

Indeed, an efficiently designed building only represents the potential to be efficient. It's efficient operations that truly brings that potential to fruition. But operational changes don't just happen magically. One of the biggest steps facility managers can take is to make sure they’re properly educated about the equipment installed. This starts with having a seat at the table during integrated design meetings, so designers and facility managers can work together to specify equipment that is rightsized and can operate efficiently. Therefore, continuing education and additional certification are essential parts of operational changes with energy efficiency goals.

Another step is to retrocommission on a regular frequency, even as much as once or twice per year. Take stock of which systems are operating well, where occupants are happiest and most comfortable and what changes can be made. Does the AC really need to be running throughout the whole building until 8 pm if only one person is working that late?

Often, a key to operational changes is getting occupants to recognize energy efficiency goals and secure their interest. Communication is the key. Let occupants know about corporate energy savings goals and get them involved. Many veteran facility managers know that half the battle is getting occupants to want to change behavior, not feel like they're being forced to!

4.  How To Do A Pre-Occupancy Survey

Today's tip is about why facility managers should do a pre-occupancy survey before moving into a new space. Most facility managers are familiar with the concept of a post-occupancy survey — that is, asking occupants a number of questions regarding their impressions of the new space.

However, a pre-occupancy survey can be an important tool that can help normalize data about occupants, as well as finding out how attitudes about the space change as the organization moves from the new to the old, whether to new leased space or to a newly constructed building.

Before moving out of a space, ask the occupants about whether they're generally too hot or too cold, about how productive they feel in the space, whether the space is too bright or too dim, and how empowered they feel about changing something that disagrees with them. By engaging the occupants before the move begins, they'll feel like their opinion is respected and you can also discover some trends about how they feel about facilities as a population.

You can use this data, then, to determine if there are patterns — i.e., if the percentage of men over 50 who are too hot most of the time in the new space is about the same as in the old, it may be less indicative that you have a problem with your space, and more that you just have some cranky old men. But if the percentage is a lot higher in the new space, you may have a problem on your hands.

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