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Energy Conservation & Cost-Saving Measures for Commercial Properties in Response to COVID-19

Lee Dunfee • 3/20/2020

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As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold and cases have been reported in all 50 U.S. states, several corporations have encouraged or are mandating that their employees work from home. Retailers have temporarily shuttered store operations or transitioned to limited hours. National and local governments, schools and major sports organizations have suspended activities that encourage the congregation of large groups. And some areas, like Northern California, have taken the extreme measure of effecting shelter-in-place policies to curtail COVID-19.


With increased vacancy across the country in commercial properties, decreased economic and business activity, and the potential loss of income for owners, property management teams have an opportunity to institute energy conservation and cost-saving measures to help contain building operating costs. Such measures, if implemented, could help reduce energy costs by an average of 25–30% and as much as 50% while still maintaining appropriate space conditions. The move into springtime and less severe weather conditions is also ideal for maximizing energy cost-savings and the use of HVAC economizer systems.


Modifying Building System Controls & Runtimes

A building’s electrical, lighting and HVAC systems all consume energy. Shortening the runtimes of these systems, such as cycling HVAC systems when possible (on for a few hours, off for a few hours) or optimizing lighting controls in unoccupied tenant or common area spaces, can make a big difference in reducing energy consumption. In addition, collaborate with tenants to minimize the energy use of their specific systems or appliances, such as coffee machines, conference room IT equipment, lighting, blinds, TVs or monitors.


Favorable weather conditions will allow for relaxing setpoints of the HAVC system and maximizing the use of economizer operation. Space temperatures and humidity levels can be monitored for acceptable conditions with reduced occupancy.


When the risk of freezing weather has passed, suspend operation of freeze protection equipment, such as unit heaters, heat tape, slab heaters, ice or snow melting systems, and cooling coil pre-heat protection. Other considerations include turning off domestic hot-water tanks and/or recirculating pumps in unoccupied spaces, as well as domestic water chilling units.


Since most or all tenants will be working from home and not commuting into the office, another idea is to reduce garage ventilation and confine parking to select areas.


Once making these adjustments to building systems, engineers or property managers should conduct after-hour building walkthroughs to ensure all systems are functioning as expected.


Assessing Opportunities to do Work In House

With the ever-growing concerns around the COVID-19, it is possible that key vendors will be unable to fully service commercial properties. Given this and the fact that the lack of tenants may slow requests for service, it might make sense to evaluate vendor contracts and scopes, looking for opportunities to reduce overtime or take tasks in house. Property teams must prioritize property management tasks with the increased demands and workloads placed on staff that would normally be done by outside vendors.


Restructuring of Staff Allocated Work Hours

Property managers who manage larger buildings with multiple engineers might want to consider staggering or modifying work shifts to reduce the risk of exposure. Reallocating staff to assist at buildings with roving engineers can help improve coverage and resources should there be an emergency. Many engineering teams are cross-trained on “sister” buildings with similar systems and features, and can shift seamlessly among properties and respond should there be an emergency or additional staffing needs.


While the situation remains fluid and the long-term impact of COVID-19 is still fully to be determined, property managers can help clients navigate through this unprecedented time with a sharp focus on proactive strategies that manage operating expenses.

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