Whether you are a sideline spectator or a fierce competitor, any sports aficionado has witnessed the test of time. That point when things don't work quite like they used to: when tennis elbows and creaky knees mean deteriorating performance. Or, worse yet, the threat of injury nips at the heels. Like any machine or piece of equipment, our bodies have limits, require regular maintenance cycles, and in the event of a malfunction, warrant repair.
Like the human body, building systems and equipment are also subject to wear and tear, overuse, and ultimately breakdown without proper care. But beyond the obvious parallel, where can athletes and building operators find common ground?
When you think about the athlete's paradigm, it's easy to sit with eyes fixed on the rearview mirror after an injury has taken place. A tweak here, an adjustment there, and perhaps the athlete would be in the game, rather than on the injured list. After all, hindsight is 20-20. But, what if foresight was 20-20 too, and athletes used tried and true statistical facts to predict injury and took steps to prevent it? To that end, what if building operators used statistical data to preempt breakdown in a way that goes beyond routine preventative maintenance?
Enter the concept of prehabilitation -- conditioning the body (or building) in such a way so as to ensure optimal performance, prevent injuries (or equipment breakdown), and facilitate recovery (or repair) if injuries do occur. It is a proactive approach that helps to prevent injury rather than mending it after the fact.
So can the concept of prehabilitation be carried over from sports medicine to building science? Absolutely. The fact of the matter is routine preventative maintenance by itself isn't enough to condition buildings for optimal performance. Just as professional athletes must condition their bodies to stay at the top of their games, building managers must also go beyond routine preventative maintenance and incorporate key aspects of prehabilitation -- such as being data centric, targeted and proactive -- to achieve optimal building health. In short, healthy bodies drive longevity and better performance for athletes, just as healthy buildings drive longer equipment life, lower energy use and optimized, cost-saving performance.
Here's how building owners and operators can go from sitting idly by on the sidelines to becoming game MVP.
When taking a prehabilitative approach, whether in buildings or in sports medicine, statistical analysis is the cornerstone for defining opportunities for performance improvement.
In sports medicine, being data centric requires collecting data on the risks of various athletic endeavors. What joints or muscles tend to deteriorate over time if not properly conditioned? How can those joints and muscles be monitored over time? What data sets are there to benchmark performance and gain insight into strengths and weaknesses?
For building operators, relevant data are those that impact the risks of the building underperforming. These data sources include energy usage, control system data, sensors, weather, schedules, occupancy, energy market data, and so on. Once you understand the data you should be analyzing (in other words, the data that impacts your energy consumption and costs), data can be interpreted in context to determine where opportunities for improvement lie. Or, from a statistical perspective, where outliers exist, enabling prioritization of opportunities for improvement.
Athletes utilize prehabilitation to target specific areas of the body. For example, a baseball pitcher might focus on strengthening muscles around the elbow, while a basketball player hones in on the knees and ankles.
For building operators, being targeted means recognizing that some systems will be functioning well and some not so well at any given time. However, knowing you have a problem (i.e. an outlier) is only the first step. Once you have utilized data analysis to identify outliers, it's important to take the next step and deploy additional tools to ascertain why those outliers are having problem. At this stage, the concept of Fault Detection Diagnostics (FDD) comes into play.
Fault Detection Diagnostics (FDD) targets energy and mechanical issues, and though the concept has been prevalent in the building science world for time, it seems FDD is gaining ground in the mainstream. FDD tools sift through your various data sources and, instead of saying "this building is having an issue," they say, "this air handler, or chiller, or rooftop unit is having an issue." Furthermore, FDD tools not only pinpoint equipment issues, they also ideally tell you how much it's costing you, simplifying the prioritization process.
In short, FDD tools provide crucial steps toward targeted, smarter decision-making relative to your energy budget. However, a "buyer beware" statement is in order. Be aware that some companies advertising FDD tools might glaze over the fact that extensive new sensor and hardware installation will be required for their tools to return results. This can translate to significant expense, as well as a slow return on investment. If you are considering FDD tools, hone in on those that utilize your existing infrastructure and data sources, and then add on as necessary once you've realized positive ROI.
Proactive practices replace reactive responses
Last but not least, prehabilitation is proactive. For an athlete, this means anticipating injuries rather than waiting for them to happen, as well as knowing that if the body is properly conditioned it can heal faster than if not.
For building operators, being proactive involves leveraging predictive analytics to facilitate smarter and faster decision-making. Predictive analytics tools utilize historical data to look for patterns, and then use forecasted data to determine how those historical patterns will shape future performance. Many companies are already using predictive analytics to find out about their customers' behavior, the direction of the market, and so on. These same tools can help building operators run their buildings more intelligently.
For instance, utilizing predictive analytics, you might look at warm weather that is expected or high occupancy that is scheduled and preemptively pre-cool the building to offset the spike in demand. Or, you might use market pricing in conjunction with historical usage data to make better-informed forward and real time energy purchases. In essence, once you have an understanding of the past that is based on historical data, you are able to make well-informed predictions about the future. And, you'll find it much easier to stay ahead of the curve than playing catch up.
The possibilities for applying prehabilitation methods to buildings are endless with a clear understanding and correct application. Whether you're a building operator, energy manager or facility manager looking for ways to take the next step in reducing your energy and maintenance costs, take a hard look at one of your favorite athletes who's at the top of their game and consider how their physical conditioning program can inspire you to condition your buildings for optimal performance, too.
Runner photo via Shutterstock.