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The SOL VISTA Building Audit

July 17, 2018

SOL VISTA's building performance efficiency team executes a customized process for every property it inspects. In this series, SOL VISTA SVP of Customer Solutions & Co-Founder Zack Moore describes the base assessment that takes place for every customer, and then goes in-depth to exhibit findings from recently-completed audits.

Most property assessments begin with gathering data remotely – the team works to line up all the information about a building's occupancy, historical utility use, kitchen and laundry operations, and other basic equipment on site. If the property is subscribed to SOL VISTA's Skywalk® software platform, this information is already tracked and can save time and effort leading up to the audit.

The SOL VISTA Building Audit

"That way, our team knows what they're walking into," says Zack Moore, SOL VISTA SVP of Customer Solutions & Co-Founder. "Then, the team goes on-site and is usually there for a day or two. They want to observe everything that we call 'front of house', which is where guests and visitors are, common areas, lobby areas, corridors, attached restaurants. They also want to dive deep into the 'back of house' where the building team works behind the scenes to prepare and keep guests and tenants happy, including all kitchens, laundry facilities, mechanical rooms, equipment."

Why Perform a Property Assessment?

SOL VISTA's team has performed thousands of audits, and more importantly, has implemented thousands of efficiency projects. This gives SOL VISTA's team a huge advantage over most assessment firms by knowing first hand which projects look good on paper and which are actually viable in the real world.

The recent audits that SOL VISTA performed came about for various reasons, Moore says.

"The San Francisco audit was required by the city," he says. "They have a regulation that buildings have to complete an energy audit every five years. So they have to do it, but they also want to know everything they can do to save money."

In Chicago, SOL VISTA's Skywalk platform had already identified two hotels in an owner's portfolio that offered the greatest opportunity to save money.

"That, coupled with the city's new water tax, has the owner really motivated to do anything to reduce costs," Moore says. "We used our Skywalk data analytics platform to first analyze the full portfolio to find hotels that had the most opportunity for cost savings. These were two hotels that were close to the top of the list, and then because of the recent taxes, they were doubly motivated to make improvements."

Upgrades and Retrocommissioning

For many properties, improvements typically include efficiency projects such as upgrading lighting, water fixtures, installing HVAC controls, and more efficient equipment. Most properties also have actuators, sensors, meters, and other equipment that fall out of calibration over time.

"After a while, these things get rusted or the controls can fall out of whack, and things aren't running the way they're supposed to," Moore says. "The thermometer might read 75 when it's actually 80, or a damper control might say it's bringing in 25 percent fresh air, but it's actually bringing in 75 percent. We're essentially doing a building tune-up. You get a lot of savings right away just by spending the time and effort to go through everything."

The SOL VISTA Building Assessment

Making these adjustments also improves guest comfort, Moore says. When air conditioning isn't running efficiently, guests may be getting blasts of hot or cold that isn't in line with individual room settings.

SOL VISTA calls this process "retrocommissioning" – it's an option for every property and most see payback on the effort within one or two years.

What Custom Results Look Like

Most importantly, the results of a property efficiency assessment must meet several standards, Moore says.

"What is a good assessment report? It needs to meet ASHRAE standards, and it needs to be more than just an engineering report," he says. "You need detailed financial analysis that includes payback, ROI, net present value, and there needs to be recommendations that the assessment team has actually implemented."

Too often, assessment reports make recommendations that have unseen impacts on other parts of a business. For example, in a hotel, changing out plumbing equipment to include low-flow showerheads will save water, but it might make guests unhappy.

"We have found that there are certain low-flow showerheads that have adjustability and the way they provide the flow of water makes them not seem low-flow to guests," Moore says. "So it's easy for an engineer to come in and say, 'Hey, you should change this,' but not take into account the impacts that could have for ongoing operations. Our engineers have implemented these projects in the real world and gotten feedback about what works and the longevity of the recommendation. This experience has helped our customers cut utility use and costs in their buildings more than 40%, while improving tenant and guest comfort."

Check back for follow up articles with details from recently-completed audits. Sign up for SOL VISTA's email list to ensure you're kept up to date.

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