The Better Buildings Challenge at the Department of Energy adopted goals of decreasing energy use of commercial buildings in the public and private sector by 20 percent in the next 10 years. One of the barriers to achieving this goal is that the value of energy management is not well understood by building owners and facility staff. Other barriers include:
• Energy-efficiency improvements with very favorable payback periods often do not get implemented due to other operational priorities.
• Energy-efficiency projects that are implemented may not be sustained due to lack of supportive operations and maintenance practices.
• Commissioning or recommissioning new equipment or systems only addresses performance at a point in time rather than continuous improvement.
• The only constant in the life of a commercial building is change.
Energy efficiency often is not integrated into daily management practices. In order to tackle this problem, staff at all levels within the organization need to be engaged in the management of energy on an ongoing basis.
Building operators manage the maintenance and operation of building systems and installed equipment. They also perform general maintenance to maintain the building’s operability, optimize building performance, and ensure the comfort, productivity and safety of the building occupants. Building operators, therefore, will play a vital role in achieving the goals of the Better Buildings initiative.
Part of the initiative is to identify the knowledge, skills and abilities that will be required of building operators to implement best practices in a variety of energy-efficiency positions. The knowledge, skills and abilities have been published and provide a guide for the required training and workforce development needed to meet the energy-efficiency goals by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In addition, the federal government, through the 2010 Federal Employees Personnel Training Act, requires that building operators receive training and certification in building operations and maintenance best practices.
Other building trends that will require a skilled and trained building operator workforce include:
• Utility energy-efficiency programs that emphasize strategic energy management and the maintenance of building performance over a long period;
• Increased emphasis on sustainability and the use of renewable energy systems;
• Cities and states requiring building performance disclosure and regulations to improve or maintain building performance;
• Cloud computing/big data allowing real-time monitoring of building performance;
• Smart building technology and the internet of thing integrated across all building systems;
• Net-zero energy buildings that will need to maintain peak operating efficiency to maximize the advantage of renewable energy systems; and
• Forty-six to 64 percent of 2014 workers are expected to retire in the next 20 years, according to a report from the National Institute for Building Sciences.
Building Operator Training and Certification Programs
Ensuring that building operators are trained in the proper operation and maintenance of energy systems is one of the most cost-effective ways for a building owner to improve the efficiency of his building and maintain optimal performance of energy and water systems. A building’s proper day-to-day operation contributes significantly to overall efficiency. With appropriate training, employees can better schedule and calibrate building control systems and perform necessary maintenance. This means less wasted energy, improved occupant comfort and more money saved. Studies have shown that well-trained staff can achieve savings in the range of 5 to 20 percent, according to “Putting the ‘O’ back into O&M Practices,” by the Portland Energy Conservation Inc.
Trainings and certifications typically are designed for building engineers and maintenance personnel and are tailored to the type of building. Different levels of complexity in a building’s systems require different levels of training and certification. An overview of several existing training and credential programs is summarized below.
• Building Operator Certification. The Building Operator Certification program is targeted to building engineers and operators and provides classroom training and hands-on projects in heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system operation, building controls and benchmarking, low-cost improvements, water efficiency, indoor air and environmental quality, facility electrical systems, and sustainable operations and maintenance practices. Training is available at two levels and upon successful completion of the program, graduates receive a training certificate of completion. Students can take an optional exam at the end of the training series and receive the Certified Building Operator designation, which is aligned with American National Standards Institute/ International Organization for Standardization Standard 17024 for certification programs.
• Sustainability facility professional. This training is provided by local chapters of the International Facility Management Association and is targeted to facility managers and building operators. The training includes classroom and online instruction on organizational strategies for sustainability, tenant engagement, communication, finance and portfolio management, energy and water, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and waste, and site impacts.
• BOMI High Performance Certificate. This training is provided through local chapters of the Building Owners and Managers Institute International and is targeted to building managers. The training includes classroom and online courses in HVAC systems operation, benchmarking, efficient lighting, water efficiency, portfolio management, tenant engagement and renewable energy.
• GPRO Operations & Maintenance Essentials. Offered by local chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council, this training is targeted to property managers and building operators. Coursework includes classroom instruction on fundamentals of green buildings and operations including construction management, electrical systems, HVAC and refrigeration, operations and maintenance.
• BPI Certified Multifamily Building Operator. The Building Performance Institute provides certification targeted to operations and maintenance of multifamily buildings. Classroom training is not required. However, individuals who complete training typically perform better on the certification exam. Topics covered include multifamily building operations and maintenance, energy and water efficiency, occupant health and safety, comfort and durability of materials.
In conclusion, the building operator profession is rapidly changing and the demand for trained and credentialed operators is expected to increase substantially over the next 20 years. Building owners and facility managers can get ahead of this change by adopting a workforce development program that focuses on their building operations staff and provides a return on their investment with lower operating costs. Various training and certification programs are available and can provide your staff the training and credentials required to meet your facility needs today and into the future.