3 Best Practices To Get Acoustics Right

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3 Best Practices To Get Acoustics Right

Building Operating Management

Acoustics PAGE 3 Best Practices To Get Acoustics Right How Acoustics Contributes To a High-Performance Building
Acoustics is tricky, especially in open office environments. But with some thoughtful design strategies, your space can make occupants happier and more productive.

In office space in which people are frequently on the phone, one good strategy is to have workstations facing different directions so that voices aren’t traveling the same way.

By Greg Zimmerman, Executive Editor Facilities Management   Article Use Policy

Whether an open office, hospital patient room, or grade-school classroom, proper sound control and acoustics are critical to happy, productive people in those spaces. But in many cases, acoustics is overlooked, not only because it’s one of the hardest facets of a space to get right, but also because of the difficulty of calculating a specific return on investment for spending money on upgrades that improve sound control. What’s more, “there are no code requirements for acoustics,” says Felicia Doggett, president and founder of Metropolitan Acoustics. “No one can force you to do this.” So in a competition for scant funds, acoustics may slide lower and lower down the priority list in favor of items like fire sprinklers that are mandated by code or energy efficiency upgrades with easily measurable results.

But as data grows about how acoustics affect people in buildings, sound control is finally becoming more of a focal point for facility managers. Acoustics is one of the leading sources of dissatisfaction with space. A study of workers in seven office buildings by the Center for the Built Environment found that 72 percent of office employees were unhappy with the level of speech privacy in their workplace. Imagine if 72 percent of occupants were unhappy with the temperature — facility managers would be either tweaking their setpoints immediately or polishing their resumes.

Improving acoustics means matching sound levels and sound control strategies to a particular space. A classroom — where speech intelligibility is paramount — may require different thinking than an open office, where the signal to noise ratio should be much higher so that conversations can blend into each other and also into the background.

To get sound control and acoustics right for any type of space, here are three areas facility managers can focus on.

1. Materials and space layout

If noise is an issue in a space, one option for facility managers is to use sound-absorbing materials and surfaces. Of course, this is always easier done in design, but retrofitting is possible. Acoustical ceiling tiles, walls and windows, furniture, and even spray-on acoustical treatments can all give overall better acoustical performance.

According to Chris Pollock, associate principal with Arup, the ceiling is actually ground zero for controlling sound in a space. “We aim for the ceiling plane to be the focal point for sound absorption,” he says. “All voices that might be bouncing around a space will eventually hit the ceiling and be absorbed.” He says the best strategy is to aim for a noise reduction coefficient in the range of .7 to .8 to give a truly high-performance acoustical ceiling.

These days, more and more products are available to help control sound. “The physics of sound absorption hasn’t changed,” says Doggett. “But manufacturers are getting more creative in how they deal with it.” She mentions new acoustical window shades and even light fixtures hitting the market. 

As well, facility managers should be creative in how they lay out space, especially in open offices, says Pollock. “Not only is absorption a good thing, but layout dictates proximity of people to one another,” he says. “Consider the density of people and orientation of seating.” In spaces where people are on the phone a lot, it’s beneficial from a sound control standpoint to vary the direction people are facing so that all voices aren’t traveling in the same direction, he says. Doggett suggests using partial height barriers between workstations as well. The idea here, she says, is that blocking the line of sight and therefore also sound transmission reduces sound levels and intelligibility.

2. Soundmasking systems

Most often used in an open office environment, soundmasking systems are beneficial for helping occupants “tune out” background noise in a space. These systems, which usually include a series of speakers in or near the ceiling (but can sometimes be used under the floor, too), match the frequency of voice sound so all occupants hear less. They produce a “neutral, pleasant sound,” says Doggett.

Contrary to a space like a classroom where the signal (the teacher’s voice) should be about 15 dB above the background noise level, in an office a different signal-to-noise strategy is ideal — where the background noise and the signal are the same. “Occupants interpret this as much more comfortable,” says Pollock. “The occupant actually hears fewer voices and less noise around them.”

“I’m a big fan of soundmasking,” says Doggett. “The point is to get an even sound. You don’t want your occupants to hear all the conversations happening in a space. Soundmasking must be incorporated to do this.”

 3. Combatting HVAC noise 

Due to more highly efficient HVAC systems, bothersome HVAC noise is much less an issue than it was in the past. Doggett mentions that HVAC noise was a big problem in the 1970s and 1980s when engineers loved using unit ventilators in spaces. They were cheap, she says, but they put out a ton of noise into a room. Thankfully, those have gone out of fashion.

But even today, for new buildings, HVAC noise must be a key consideration in design — though Doggett says acoustics isn’t often top of mind for mechanical engineers. Pollock agrees: “It’s important to understand where the mechanical rooms are, and whether peripheral equipment dotted through a space creates pockets of sound,” he says. “These are discussions that must be had early in the process.” It’s often up to building owners to be sure acoustics is considered during design, though they can also hire an acoustical consultant to handle these questions for them.

In existing buildings, controlling annoying HVAC noise in spaces where it’s bothersome to occupants can be a little more challenging. “If you have the ability to enclose equipment creating noise, you can get it to be quieter,” says Pollock. Otherwise, moving HVAC equipment may be considered, though this may be much more costly.

posted on 5/7/2018



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How Corporate Culture Influences Workplace Design

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How Corporate Culture Influences Workplace Design

Building Operating Management

Cover Story: Office Design PAGE How Corporate Culture Influences Workplace Design New Concepts in Office Design Gain Momentum People, Purpose, Principles: How Workplace Design Responds To Corporate Culture
office cultureEvery company is unique. Here’s how companies are making their workplaces reflect who they are.

Darris Lee Harris

By John Chapman and Susan Foong Commercial Office Facilities   Article Use Policy

The day of the cookie-cutter workplace is over. There are companies for whom cubicles remain an efficient and effective solution to housing workers. But even the most traditional enterprises have discovered that the best workplace is one that reinforces the company’s culture. The workplace is one of the truest expressions of a brand — a living testament to company culture and values that impacts employees and customers alike, every day.

The single most common theme heard from facility managers? They want a workplace that aligns with the company’s culture.

This importance of brand-aligning space is even more crucial as the Baby Boom generation ages and younger workers, with different values and desires, enter the workplace amid fierce competition for workers.

When prospective employees — or customers — first walk in the door, will they see a soul-deadening array of monochromatic installations? Or will they find themselves in a space that bursts with the promise of collaboration, creativity, and thoughtful attention to their needs? Collaboration among all parties in the design process is the key to creating a workplace that announces: This is who we are.

Architecture and design are team activities in which the facility manager plays a critical role. The ideal process is one that reflects the dedication and sensibility of the facility manager as much as the contributions of the architect, designer, and engineer. The best design process also embraces input from employees. The people who staff your workplace have a good idea of what they need to do their jobs well — and what they’d like to work even better.

The design and layout of space can encourage the kind of cooperation that nurtures a culture where great things happen. And great culture is the secret sauce for a thriving company. Let’s look at how this simple idea can come to life.

One space, many uses

Digital Measures, a fast-growing software company based in Milwaukee that serves the higher-education market, had outgrown its space. Despite the desperate need for more room, leaving it behind was a tough decision. They had a great space they loved, which had served them well. Their challenge was to create a bigger, better space that retained the flavor of the place where they’d built their success.

(Digital Measures new office space is airy and light-filled, with floor to ceiling windows. An employee survey had showed that staff was interested in access to daylight and views. Photo credit: Darris Lee Harris)

An employee survey, commissioned with support from the C-suite, revealed that Digital Measures employees were interested in accessibility to daylight and views, better acoustics, a conference space large enough for community meetings, accommodations for staff members ranging from Generation Z to Baby Boomers, and a rooftop terrace with views of Milwaukee and Lake Michigan.

Their new space sits atop a historic building combined with a new addition in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, the city’s booming arts and fashion district. With an open floor plan, floor-to-ceiling windows, glass interior walls, and an atrium spanning two of its five floors, it’s airy and light-filled.

Yet within that space are many areas that serve different needs. All staff have access to small, private rooms — especially the sales staff, who tend to be the noisy ones.

There are a variety of conference rooms and touchdown spaces of varying sizes, as well as a large, open kitchen adjoining a collaborative work, meeting, and entertaining space. That also provides a space for the whole company to meet, which many organizations say is a must-have.

A connecting stair between two floors became a showplace branding feature: a “mug wall” displaying coffee mugs from each of the hundreds of client campuses Digital Measures visits. This feature creates a unique connection that highlights the company’s essential mission for every employee and visitor.

Employees also got their rooftop terrace, a feature that is increasingly in demand. Organizations really value the ability to connect with the outdoors.

posted on 5/4/2018



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Developing an Effective Arc Flash Safety Program

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Developing an Effective Arc Flash Safety Program

Building Operating Management

Arc Flash PAGE Developing an Effective Arc Flash Safety Program Understand Arc Flash Codes, Standards, and Regulations 5 Steps To Arc Flash Safety
arc flashArc flash safety requirements have evolved over time.

By Chad Jones and Ron Mojica Data Centers   Article Use Policy

As OSHA and NFPA 70E continue to develop and enforce electrical safety requirements, it is important for facility managers to be informed about arc flash and to implement appropriate safety procedures into an electrical safety program that minimizes the likelihood of injury to employees.

A range of regulations, codes, and standards address arc-flash safety. (See “Sources of arc-flash safety requirements” below.) The requirements of those regulations, codes, and standards are separate but cumulative; that is, they are interrelated and build on one another. All of them must be considered to develop an effective arc-flash safety program that complies with OSHA requirements.

How requirements developed

In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed by the United States Congress to reduce the number of job-related injuries and deaths. In 1976, NFPA 70E was developed to provide electrical safety requirements and standards for employees in the workplace. It wasn’t until 1995 that arc flash hazards were first mentioned in NFPA 70E. Since then, constant progress has been made toward determining the hazards associated with arc flash in a facility, most notably with the IEEE 1584 Guide for Performing Arc-Flash Calculations, published in 2002.

By 2011, OSHA had begun to further depart from its position on acceptable exceptions to performing work near energized equipment. Previously, employers used an exception to OSHA’s lockout/tagout requirements permitting electrical maintenance near energized parts in 24/7 facilities (i.e., equipment serving a data center’s critical business operations) due to an “infeasibility” exception stated in section 29 CFR 1910.333.

Official OSHA interpretations of that section show that this “infeasibility” exception should only be applied to situations in which de-energizing the equipment would introduce additional or increased hazards and should not be applied if de-energizing equipment would merely interrupt facility operations. Financial considerations should not be considered an adequate reason to allow work on energized equipment. OSHA continues to stress the importance of minimizing electrical hazards present in the workplace and will often cite employers who are not in compliance.

posted on 5/2/2018



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How To Get The Most Value Out of Big Data

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How To Get The Most Value Out of Big Data

Building Operating Management
New expertise required for facility manages: data translator, data scientist, and data champion.

By Edward Sullivan, Editor Facilities Management   Article Use Policy

Whether the numbers involve energy consumption, equipment performance or occupancy patterns, buildings are a rich source of data. But getting the value from Big Data, like mining gold from a lode buried deep in the earth, takes some doing. 

One person whose help you’ll need is a data scientist. That’s the person who can figure out how to crunch the stream of data available from sensors and building systems so that the numbers can be turned into useful information. Facility departments won’t be hiring data scientists any time soon, if ever. But that’s not a problem. Data science is being built into a wide range of building products and services. 

Let’s say you’re in a position to acquire data-science expertise in the form of fault detection and diagnostics software. To get the value from that investment, you’ll also need to fill a role known as the data translator. A data translator does everything from making sure that the right data is being provided — in this case, the right FDD tool selected — to ensuring that data is actually used.

While the name is new, the need for data translators isn’t. Building automation systems have long been able to provide data that most facility departments haven’t taken advantage of. But for a data translator to be effective, the facility department and the organization as a whole have to appreciate the opportunity that facility data presents. That’s where a data champion or data evangelist comes in. That person has to sell the value of data, be aware of options for getting data, identify places to start, justify resources, push to get projects done — get the ball rolling and keep it moving. 

Data champions and data translators aren’t so much jobs within the facility department as functions that need to be performed by someone, regardless of title. With the proliferation of connected building devices and systems, the volume of data and the opportunity for action will grow. At some point, responsibility for data will be a bullet point in every job description within the facility department. But for now it’s probably a good idea to ensure that data is an important responsibility for at least one person on the staff.

Tell me what you think at myfacilitiesnet.com/edsullivan

posted on 5/1/2018



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Buildings May Interact Directly With Occupants in Future

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Buildings May Interact Directly With Occupants in Future

Facility Manager Cost Saving/Best Practice Quick Reads
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Naomi Millán April 27, 2018 – Building Automation

In the not too far off future. buildings might have interactive personalities to help tune the facility to occupant needs in real time. This is the vision of Dr. Burcin Becerik-Gerber, a researcher focused on human/building interaction at the University of Southern California.

“I see buildings as cognitive entities, similar to autonomous cars in a way,” Becerik-Gerber said to PC Magazine.

Through the use of sensors throughout the building, as well as wearable devices, correlating data points such as a person’s heart rate and the humidity and carbon dioxide in the air for example, the researcher hopes to enable buildings to be much more attuned to the needs of facility occupants.

Though her research is also focused on industrial facilities and automated manufacturing, with one firm focused on commercial real estate she is working on investigating how machine learning can be applied to improving occupant productivity, as well as comfort and health.

Through the use of avatars or voice interfaces, it might be possible in the future for the facility to operate as a “cyber-physical” system that can directly interact with its human occupants.

What was once firmly in the realm of sci-fi, has already edged closer with interfaces such as Siri and Alexa. A building interface avatar, like Star Trek’s holographic doctor, might still be a little further away, but autonomous buildings are here now.

In California, for example, NVIDIA is building an AI laboratory that is designed to be autonomous. “When it’s up and running, this building will literally run itself,” says Greg Zimmerman in Building Operating Management. Basically the building’s BAS will monitor the building and itself through a vast network of sensors to apply machine learning to optimize the facility’s operation.

This Quick Read was submitted by Naomi Millán, senior editor, Building Operating Management.

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Remote Monitoring Centers Aim to Turn Building Performance Data into Action

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Remote Monitoring Centers Aim to Turn Building Performance Data into Action

Building Operating Management

Remote Monitoring

remote monitoringAs volume of data grows, so does need for expertise to take advantage of it.

By Rita Tatum Building Automation   Article Use Policy

The volume of real-time building performance data that can help facility managers improve operations has grown exponentially. But taking advantage of that data can be a challenge. One solution is creating or contracting with a remote monitoring center to provide experienced facility engineers to watch over a building, so that any issues are identified and problems corrected before they adversely impact building operations or their occupants. Sophisticated analytics demands that level of attention, even though staffing and training an in-house facilities team to accommodate that need may be too costly to achieve.

“The value of remote monitoring centers is simply the economies of scale,” explains Andy McMillan, president of BACnet International. “Many organizations cannot afford to staff experienced engineers to monitor their properties continually. So they buy time from a remote monitoring center service provider. When the costs of sophisticated analytics are spread across 50 buildings, for example, the cost for this monitoring is significantly less.”

The same basic principle applies to economics within the center itself. “Remote monitoring centers can afford to develop algorithms and spread them across their building portfolio,” notes McMilllan.

Some remote monitoring centers have been set up by building owners, while others are offered by vendors. Often a team of building monitoring management professionals can monitor a range of systems, including security, fire, HVAC, building automation, lighting, electrical, etc. 

McMillan stresses that monitoring is just part of what they do. “Through the remote monitoring centers connections, they can put feet on the ground should a problem occur,” he explains. The centers often have arrangements with local tradespeople to handle nearly everything from energy management to glass breakage.

Often, remote monitoring can be customized so that customer-specific protocols are followed to respond to critical alarms or other conditions. Remote troubleshooting and diagnostics also may be offered.

“Some FMs use [remote monitoring centers] purely for monitoring, analytics, and anomalies,” explains McMillan. “Others use their feedback to improve operations.” 

One advantage of expert eyes on operations at a range of facilities is shared data, which can identify common problems and use that information to prevent trouble. 

According to McMillan, remote monitoring today requires two different kinds of engineering expertise. “Building engineers understand the relevance of lighting, HVAC, and security models,” McMillan explains. “But they also need engineers with software expertise so that they can create their own analytics in a fairly automated fashion.”

Effective remote monitoring uses both, says McMillan. The building engineer can then take an observed anomaly and ask the software developer to consider creating an algorithm. Their combined expertise then is pooled to make buildings work better. 

Rita Tatum, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, has more than 30 years of experience covering facility design and technology.

posted on 4/17/2018



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Autonomous Buildings: What Happens When Buildings Run Themselves?

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Autonomous Buildings: What Happens When Buildings Run Themselves?

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Greg Zimmerman April 5, 2018 – Building Automation

Some time during the next decade, the number of internet-connected devices will surpass the number of humans on this planet. That’s mind-boggling, if you stop to think about it. In commercial buildings, connected devices as part of the building internet of things are growing exponentially as well. Humans simply don’t have the capability to sift through all the data these connected devices create. Thankfully, as buildings get smarter with machine learning and artificial intelligence, buildings will be able to practically run themselves.

They may seem like a scary concept to a facility manager whose job really is to manage a building. What does she or he do if the building manages itself?

Like the rise of driverless cars, the notion of autonomous buildings is gaining steam. At a recent Siemens Building Technologies media and analyst event held at its software research and development hub in downtown Chicago, president David Hopping offered some insight into how autonomous buildings will shift the roles of facility managers, but also how they’ll be beneficial in terms of energy savings.

“Buildings are brimming with data,” Hopping explained. The Internet of Things, machine learning, and artificial intelligence can help facility managers shift a building from a cost to an asset. “Facility managers can spend more time on occupants, and less time running a building,” he said.

Of course, no building will be truly autonomous, so expertise for facility managers will have to change a bit to understand how to tune and manage these AI and machine learning systems. In an article in the April issue of Building Operating Management magazine, Rob Knight of Environmental Systems Design explains that “there’s no plug-and-play piece of software that just goes and tells you everything you need to know about your building. These tools are still complicated and need to be used by an expert to get the most benefit.”

So take a deep breath: The facility management profession isn’t going away. Like most things related to technology or that rely on technology, the profession is simply changing. And facility managers must be ready for that shift, and be willing and able to shift their expertise as well.

This Quick Read was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, executive editor, Building Operating Management. Read his cover story profiling Northwestern University’s vice president of facilities management, John D’Angelo.

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Alarm Fatigue: FDD Failure At Cleveland Fertility Clinic Has Devastating Results

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Alarm Fatigue: FDD Failure At Cleveland Fertility Clinic Has Devastating Results

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Greg Zimmerman April 2, 2018 – Building Automation

Fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) is one of the most useful functions of a building automation system. But tuning a BAS to the right level and sensitivity of alarm can be challenging. Too few alarms, and you’re not really able to respond to issues as quickly or with as much impact as you’d like. Too many alarms, and “alarm fatigue” can set in, causing facility managers to ignore or even turn off alarms.

A recent story about a fertility clinic in Cleveland, Ohio highlights the importance of making sure fault detection, diagnostics, and alarming systems are working properly. The clinic, as reported by CNN, lost more than 4,000 eggs and embryos when a storage tank failed on a Saturday night when no employees were at the facility. A remote alarming system was supposed to alert staff when temperatures fluctuated, but an investigation revealed that the alarm had been turned off, and officials at the clinic didn’t know why it’d been turned off or for how long. The kicker to the story too is that the clinic knew the storage tank was failing and had been working with the manufacturer on a replacement and had been about to start the process of transferring the specimens to a different tank. That never happened, and all the specimens in that tank were lost.

A recent story in Building Operating Management magazine by Michael Brusic, a senior energy engineer at Bright Power, explains the criticality of fault detection and diagnostic systems and how they can be tuned appropriately. One of Brusic’s main arguments in the story is that fancy machines are fun, but you can never underestimate the human element in fault detection and diagnostics. Proper training for staff and complete understanding of the system – both what it can and can’t do – are critical to ensuring the success of any FDD initiative.

This Quick Read was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, executive editor, Building Operating Management. Read his cover story profiling Northwestern University’s vice president of facilities management, John D’Angelo.

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