Now Is the Time to Upgrade Your Building Services

In this article, Paul Jackson, associate director with Tetra Tech’s High Performance Buildings Group in Perth, Australia, discusses how undertaking building upgrades during COVID-19—considering associated low occupancy rates—can deliver real cost benefits to building owners and managers.

Current low occupancy rates in commercial and retail buildings due to COVID-19 restrictions offer building owners and managers an unparalleled opportunity to upgrade building services faster and cheaper than ever before.

Service upgrades, such as chiller replacements, are typically required to be undertaken outside of business hours to minimize disruption to building users, often resulting in increased labor costs. Local government restrictions on noise and traffic outside of permitted hours also impact upgrade costs, as the window in which work can be undertaken can be reduced to just a few hours each night. This reduced window means that work that could be undertaken in a matter of days, if run concurrently, incur an increased program and increased costs along with it.

Low occupancy rates resulting from government COVID-19 and social distancing restrictions offer building owners and managers the opportunity to undertake upgrade work during business hours without causing disruption to a large number of occupants. Our partners in the maintenance and upgrade sectors see cost savings in the range of up to 50 percent when compared to work undertaken outside of operating hours.

These projected cost savings do, however, come with a caveat, as some plant items do have long lead times for supply. A chiller for example, can take between 16 and 20 weeks to be manufactured and delivered, unless you can source a locally available item. So, if you plan on taking advantage of cost savings, start the work now.

One question that owners and managers may have in proposing early upgrades is how to justify the cost. Reduced overall upgrade costs is just one answer. Owners and managers should also consider rejigging repair and maintenance budgets and use energy savings to finance larger maintenance work early. Return on this early investment can be modeled and proven through a reduction in energy costs, but also through the opportunity to select the right size plant—many plants are oversized and inefficient in low occupancy scenarios.

Photo courtesy of Arch Nexus

Paul Jackson

Paul Jackson

Paul Jackson, associate director for Tetra Tech's High Performance Buildings Group in Australia, has more than 35 years of experience in the building service industry and has been involved in the field of diagnostics and commissioning of a wide variety of building services and plants. His expertise encompasses mechanical, electrical, air conditioning, associated control systems, and building management systems. Paul is currently working with Standards Australia on the revision of guidelines around commissioning.

Additionally, Paul holds several roles for the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning, and Heating, including president for the Western Australia committee, chair of the Big Data and Analytics Special Technical Group, and member of the board of directors.