Data-driven technologies mean owners of class-B buildings no longer need to rely on “one-size-fits-all” solutions to engineer significant improvements in their properties, Conflux Canada attendees were told on May 10.
“We’re all aware of class-A and how immediately an ownership will invest capital expenditure to improve their properties at class-A,” said Jeanne Medland, director of sustainability at KingSett Capital, said at an Ottawa forum focused on receiving class-A performance from class-B buildings.
“Class-B buildings are often thought of as being older and less modern, with fewer amenities and perhaps not as centrally located.
“Traditionally, owners have preferred to focus on their class-A, but there is a tremendous opportunity for class-B properties.”
The panelists outlined how full upgrades are not necessary to provide many class-A services — the same advances can be made through minor improvements to infrastructure.
By paying attention to tenants’ needs and efficiently dealing with the root causes of issues, landlords can simultaneously improve their ecological footprint and reduce the costs of operation, leading to a better experience for leaseholders and more opportunities to improve rented spaces.
Many options to upgrade
There are many ways modern technology can help these owners meet these goals.
Improvements in energy benchmarking, ventilation rates, retrofits, scheduling, carbon and green building rating systems were the main topics shared with an audience composed of property managers, portfolio managers, government workers and manufacturers.
The panelists discussed how green technologies not only improve a building’s public image, but also its economic viability. Knowing where they stand in an increasingly green market, and what improvements they can make to remain competitive within it, are vital for owners who hope to future-proof their properties.
“Not all buildings are the same size or in the same location. We need to be able to adjust for that in order to make meaningful comparisons between them,” said Fin MacDonald, sustainability analyst at Morrison Hershfield.
He advocated for the use of software such as Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which is used by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, to normalize building data such as occupancy and peak electrical usage hours into an easy-to-digest score.
This data allows users to avoid those expensive “one-size-fits-all” solutions and to make better informed decisions about facility upgrades. This is helpful when it comes to retro-commissioning buildings, as an older class-B building may have inefficiencies whose costs manifest over time.
Payback periods about three years
According to MacDonald, citing Natural Resources Canada, “Typical energy savings through the recommissioning process are five to 15 per cent, but they can be as high as 30 and you will find the typical payback period is around three years.”
Much of it is done by harnessing information. Through tools like carbon monoxide sensors in parking garages, building owners can optimize the energy use of automated services like ventilation, which affects everyone in the building.
This ends up being cheaper than replacing a constant volume system with expensive high-efficiency fans.
Trevor Gilbert, a sustainability manager at KingSett Capital, offered what he called some “quick-win fixes”
By focusing on improving common area management rates, he said, money can be saved in other areas bringing costs down by up to $1.50 per square foot per year.
Such small fixes can result in annual savings of $15,000 per 10,000 square feet. Instead of constantly drawing max power regardless of the current occupancy rate in the facility, energy savings can be made, freeing up money to go toward other upgrades.
Convenience, cost, comfort
All of these measures also contribute to keeping tenants happy and in the building. Efficient use of data allows for better transparency between landlords and leaseholders — and gets everyone involved in quality-of-life improvements.
“You don’t want to be starving out tenants,” Gilbert said. “You don’t want to be cutting their ventilation rates and turning out the lights to save money.”
He emphasized the three Cs of Convenience, Cost and Comfort as the most important things to consider when remaining transparent about changes affecting tenants’ bottom lines.
“It’s the tenants who are benefitting from these savings and you need to understand that,” he said. “Having these conversations early and often is really good.”
The panelists agreed that as green technology evolves, landlords and owners must keep up with the times. There are up-front costs to upgrades, but through smart use of data and decision-making, the return on investment can be significant.
Conflux Canada was billed as Ottawa’s largest gathering of sustainability professionals. It attracted entrepreneurs, investment and real estate experts to discuss the sustainable future.