Building Renewal Series #5: Recognizing and Mitigating Common Pitfalls


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Whether your goal is to position your building for long-term, energy-efficient, high-value operations, or to meet a demanding energy performance standard, we all know that no project comes off without a hitch. All projects risk not meeting important milestones, cost overruns, and extended timelines, or something worse if planning doesn’t include a strategy for the “what ifs.”

One of the best ways to ensure success throughout the process of updating your building’s energy efficiency and performance is to create a roadmap with a clear idea of all project stages and components—including potential obstacles and the ways to address and resolve them. Taking an in-depth and informed approach before work begins may help alleviate some of the stressors that arise when things get sticky, e.g., missed milestones, extended or expedited timelines, overspent budgets, or unexpected additional costs.

Here are a few scenarios that can derail the process, and suggested solutions that may serve as a starting point for creating procedures that strengthen the project cornerstones of scope, timeline, costs, and labor.

Failure to establish performance targets: Without a clear end goal, blurred methodologies and trial-and-error can lead to costly changes or shortcomings throughout the project. While some issues cannot be fully controlled, they can be successfully worked through. An integrated plan that includes the goals of the completed project—such as meeting city, state, and/or federal regulatory requirements or modernizing your building to increase value across a commercial real estate portfolio—is essential to success.

  • Solution: At the beginning of the project, create clear objectives for meeting milestones. Detail how you’ll mitigate any potential fines and risks of not meeting performance targets. Set measurable boundaries of performance targets—qualitative or quantitative—that align with the overall investment strategy and establish metrics to monitor progress throughout the project.
Examples of different performance measurements to help manage the project.

Working from a fuzzy scope or timeline: The integrated nature of the building renewal process links market dynamics, financing, tenant needs, project timelines, proper sequencing of improvements, and the alignment of system lifecycles with other interdependencies. A poorly defined framework can increase the potential for scope creep, which can lead to missed milestones, inflated costs due to extended timelines, and accrued fines from not meeting regulatory deadlines.

  • Solution: Define deadlines for staged accomplishments to ensure the project progresses according to plan. Additionally, it is essential to create defined and agreed upon scopes of work for each team assigned, noting the sequence of their work and other dependencies, and their impact on project outcomes. As a result, a well-informed timeline can be established, communicated, monitored, and managed effectively.

Busting the budget: Exceeding the predetermined budget can occur because of poor progress monitoring, frequent change orders, unforeseen project needs, or unrealistic expectations. Throughout the project, there may be times when team members are asked to take on roles and responsibilities outside of their regular duties, which can increase costs for additional labor and training. A natural reaction for some contractors and consultants is to employ a price premium when the approach to new roles or deliverables feels risky.

  • Solution: Create and maintain a realistic project budget that depends on leveraging the expertise and collaboration of the team. Having a long-term capital plan that outlines expenditures and prioritizes where resources are allocated may also help uncover opportunities to save costs. Use the collective problem-solving skills of project stakeholders to overcome doubts and pierce inflated costs. Energy performance contracting—a partnership between a facility owner and an energy service company—can also be a cost-effective solution for completing energy efficiency improvements.

Unfamiliarity with code requirements and standards: A narrow focus on project specifications can mean potentially overlooking code requirements. Codes and standards establish the minimum efficiency requirements for new construction and building retrofits. They can also help establish the baseline for desired energy-use reductions and quantify the timelines for achieving them. Being unfamiliar with or unaware of current requirements can be costly in terms of having to pay fines related to being out of compliance and having to redo the work. Unfamiliarity may contribute to missed opportunities for future-proofing and could make the building more difficult to market to potential occupants.

  • Solution: Think beyond the scope to identify areas where retrofits and upgrades could compromise the building’s ability to meet code in other areas, such as seismic, safety, or emergency exit standards. Increased awareness of integrated design elements can help ensure the project meets required codes. The project team will also be able to budget the costs involved to maintain code compliance in all building components.

Value engineering: By only considering a lean project with the lowest upfront cost, you may unintentionally trim some of the most important energy efficiency measures and returns on investment, negate energy savings potential, and stray from your initial project objectives.

Failure to commission and establish a measurement and verification process: Buildings tend to drift from high to poor performance as systems become inefficient or obsolete, codes and standards change, or as the technology itself ages. Some cities and states require regular building tune-ups on a regular basis to mitigate performance declines. A robust plan to ensure a building and its systems are operating as intended is crucial to realizing project goals. Building retrofit and upgrade projects are only as good as their resultant savings, which is why establishing an appropriate measurement and verification (M&V) process before the project begins is crucial.

  • Solution: Routine commissioning of building systems and operations is key to maintaining a high level of performance. To accurately measure performance, establish a baseline of current energy savings. This benchmark can be used to create an appropriate M&V process—planning, measuring, collecting, and analyzing data to report and verify energy savings in a facility—before the project begins. With this information, you’ll be able to measure energy use before and after project implementation. You must also be able to verify the expected and actual savings by monitoring the methods and technologies used to generate them.

Managing and implementing a building upgrade project is no easy feat but it can be done—and having an energy-efficient, high-performing building that meets code is worth it. Careful planning should include documented processes for handling pitfalls across all aspects of your project, including funding, materials, construction, technology, and personnel. When thinking long-term, it is a best practice to regularly revisit the goals created at the beginning of the process (and before work began) to assess how systems are working together. With this documentation in place, you should be nimbler in your response to address issues as they arise—if not before—and keep your project on track.

Additional Resources
Check out the Building Renewal Series on BetterBricks.com to learn more about this important, comprehensive process:

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