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O & M in Green Buildings

Neglected but critical

According to the India Green Building Council (website), the number of certified green buildings are 129, with another 837 registered. The green building footprint is in excess of 500 million sqft! The LEED certification system covers the entire lifecycle of the building and has certifications for different stages in the building’s life.

Majority of buildings certified in India have the “New Construction” certification which focuses essentially on the building design and construction aspects. The Existing Building (EB) certification specifically looks into the aspect of operations of a building during its lifecycle such as energy & water efficiency, indoor air quality, etc. The Indian building industry is still in its infancy and hence, the focus of the developers and owners is towards obtaining the as high a LEED rating as possible to attract occupants. However, there is inadequate focus given by the developers on the need for implementing “green” operations and maintenance (O&M) practices resulting in defeating one of the very purposes of going in for a green certification – minimising damage to the environment. Improperly conducted maintenance activities, leading to discharge of used oil to the soil, use of hazardous pest control chemicals, leaking fuel lines leading to ground contamination are some of the ways in which poorly maintained buildings impact the environment.

Green Operations and Maintenance

Property managers have to analyse their current system of O&M and identify areas that impact the environment. Implementation of an environmental management plan will aid in undertaking Green O&M. Some of the areas that property managers can look at include the landscaping and roof maintenance.

Excess of nitrogen in fertilizer seeps in to the ground and pollutes the water table. Similar, use of water for watering should be monitored closely as this is a potential area for wastage of natural resources.

Drains should be cleaned regularly and not just before the monsoons. This helps draining any water accumulated due to leaking pipes and not seep into the walls. The roofs should be inspected monthly and waterproofing checked for damage. Buildings/ rooftops installed with utilities should be especially checked for leaking oil, grease, paint flaking, as these damage the environment. Another focus area should be the insulation on the roof top piping. Unwanted heat losses or heat gains reduce system efficiencies.

Even the basements that get least attention from building managers pose a substantial hazard in view of grease, oil and trash accumulation. Cleaning and maintenance are essential for high level of air quality. Chemicals used in cleaning of the building surfaces are potential source of bio hazards. Eco friendly chemicals having their material specification data sheet displayed on the container allow correct usage and disposal. Incorrect concentration levels, wrong chemical for the task and spillages/leakages from containers during transportation and storage cause immense damage to the environment.

Progressive building managers should also ask occupants to segregate waste in recyclable and biodegradable containers. The disposal of the waste should be done in a manner that least impacts the environment.

O&M of Utilities

Effective management of the operations and maintenance of the building utilities will help in minimising downtime as well as reduce the impact on the environment. Poorly maintained HVAC system, with low system efficiencies will result in higher electrical consumption and also higher maintenance effort. A planned maintenance programme covering all aspects of the building systems will lower unplanned interruptions and ultimately lower energy consumption – a key goal of Green Buildings. The indigenously developed GIRHA system of building rating has as one of the qualifying criteria specifically focused on operations and maintenance and the requirement of having documented procedures for O&M of electrical and Mechanical system. The HVAC system offers many opportunities for lowering energy costs by reducing leakages in conditioned air, regulating set points as per requirements and use of treated fresh air in cooler atmospheric conditions. Diesel generators too require special care. Incorrect loading can result in higher levels of pollutants in the exhaust. Care needs to be exercised during oil changes so that spillages are minimised. Used oil should only be disposed off to authorised agencies to avoid the oil finding its way into the local ecosystem untreated. Another potential hazardous operation is the “blow down” of the cooling tower water. This water contains harmful chemicals and hence excessive blow down should be avoided.

As can be seen, the opportunities to “Go Green” in the building O&M area are tremendous. The benefits of implementing a green O&M strategy are many, and result in savings in opex cost as well as bring about a sense of belongingness amongst the maintainers as well as the occupants. It is in the developers interest to recognise the need to operate and maintain their green buildings with a greater focus. An increase in the number of buildings applying for the LEED EB rating in the coming years will be a testimony of how many owners take this requirement seriously.

Aneesh Kadyan
Sr Associate Director
Asset Services CB Richard Ellis

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