Make the Operations Manager a Key Part of Your Controls System

We often are working with clients to improve a building’s intelligence, efficiency, and system operation. However, too often we leave out one of the most important parts of the design equation: the building-operations manager. The people who operate buildings may have various titles, may be required to perform multiple duties, and have a variety of experiences, backgrounds, and education. Most are very capable and resourceful. Partnering with them and bringing them up to speed on your system or any changes made to it will make them a critical component of a building’s successful operation.

In addition to this often over-looked human component, we should also consider maximizing the onslaught of new technologies such as iPads, smart phones, building-automation systems (BAS), advanced HVAC control systems, web-based interfaces, maintenance management systems, etc. This is often difficult when our day-to-day duties and increasing responsibilities take up a growing part of our daily workload. However, it can be done, with a long-term payoff that makes the upfront investment worth your time.

More than likely, at one time or another, the majority of us have visited buildings where clients took actions into their own hands to make a building operate the way they expected it to operate because they erroneously assumed they could do it better than the BAS. One particular building I visited had a new direct-digital-control system installed, but once the warranty was up, the owner did not renew the service agreement, so the building operator went to great steps to reactivate the pneumatic control system to operate the building. Another instance involved an individual who disconnected the actuators on the dampers of the air-handling units, and he would (supposedly) visit the building every day to adjust the dampers for that day’s building conditions.

These examples are not meant to point out the errors of our ways, but to raise awareness of the problem and point out the need for answers and solutions to correct it. These solutions can include education, financial support, and follow-up and communication.


Most building operators are well educated, but they need continuing education to keep up-to-date on their knowledge, especially in light of how quickly technology is changing our field. Each year operators should take short courses on air distribution, heating and cooling systems, and building controls systems. These courses should be taken quarterly, and may be in the form of webinars or on-site seminars. They could be service-company sponsored, manufacturer-sponsored events, or professional association training.

In addition, any new construction or renovation projects should involve the building operations staff. The design team should schedule an initial meeting with the building operations staff to determine the staff’s knowledge, share their past experiences, and ascertain their challenges, wants, and needs. The design team should also schedule meetings to review the drawings and explain the design and intended operation of the building systems.

During construction, the building operations staff should review the project’s progress, take pictures, and attend and document progress meetings. They should be an integral part of the contractor punch list, training, and operation-and-maintenance manual requirements. While the building operations staff might love to have time to perform all these functions, often they are not given the opportunity. Our role in educating the client can make this happen.

Financial Support

The ownership and management team must provide the time and money to allow for the continuing education of the operations team. Often, the type of post-project, ad hoc “fixes” noted above by the building operations staff are caused by the management team’s lack of investment and awareness or education of the new system. Maybe a system is not working quite right or fails and the operator must find a way to maintain occupant comfort in a very short time frame. This is where the system begins to break down. The operations team must have the knowledge and the resources to effectively maintain the system. The operations team should have service contracts, or at least on-call resources, to fix the system properly, reliably, and efficiently.

Follow-up and Communication

The last solution is that we must build a relationship with the operations team and support them from the engineering community. This is what service contracts, project close-out procedures, building operations plans, and retrocommissioning are all about. Give the operations team your contact information and don’t be afraid to take their calls. Many associations (ASHRAE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Building Owners and Managers Association, and others) are working on building operations improvements. The major control companies should join and support these initiatives. Building owners need to understand the opportunities they are forgoing when they skimp on supporting operations.

Additional Discussions

Click here to read how George Brown College and Cisco are working to improve this situation.

Also, the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub has an entire section on education.

J. Christopher Larry PE, CXA, CEM, CEP, CIPE, LEED AP, is the director of energy engineering for exp (the new identity of Teng Solutions), Richmond, VA. He has spent more than 20 years working to minimize the building industry’s energy and environmental footprint through refining building design, building modeling, performance optimization, and intelligent controls. He has held numerous positions within ASHRAE, including chairman of the Chapter Technology Transfer Committee and chairman for Technical, Energy and Governmental Activities. He is past president of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) and has instructed the certified energy manager training course for AEE. He is the current chairman for the Building Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) within the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), and also is a member of the Zero Energy Consortium.

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