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Sat 3 Jul 2010 04:00 AM

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It’s not my problem

Should you deal with facilities management early on or just pass the buck and pay the real price later?

It’s not my problem

Earlier this month I spoke to a developer in Saudi Arabia to enquire about writing a case study covering his up-coming business hotel. The article would focus on how his company has planned for the maintenance of the building and which facilities managers and consultants have been involved in the project so far, to ensure sustainable systems and solutions are implemented effectively. His response? "This hotel is currently a shell of a building. We are therefore not thinking about facilities management at the moment. How can we if the hotel hasn't even been built yet?"

Another developer I spoke to a couple of weeks later hadn't even heard of facilities management, before I mentioned it to him. Unfortunately, these two are not alone with their approach to construction. With tight budgets, many developers are thinking about what they are spending their money on right now, not what they might be spending their money on in the future, if they don't take the advice of facilities managers and consultants.

Many developers think solely about the beautiful master plan and selling their properties to investors. What they don't think about is how a square metre of grass needs 54 litres of water per day to keep it hydrated, how motion sensors can control lights and therefore help reduce electricity bills, or indeed how walls inside a hospital need to be anti-allergenic to stop the spread of infections.Simply inserting a window into an office unit will have a knock on effect on overall operational costs.

Air conditioning can be turned down or even switched off during the winter months if a window is there to open. This can be planned for at the design stage of a project. As for the summer, service providers know the difference between high-cost, carbon-unfriendly air conditioning systems and the air conditioning systems which run on low levels of energy.

Before a project is complete, facilities management contractors often advise developers to implement sub-metering systems in a building, which provide accurate billing to individual users. In addition to ensuring that tenants are only charged for their actual consumption, rather than a percentage of the overall consumption of the building, this solution has been proven to provide both financial and operational cost savings to the building owners, due to a drop in energy use.

Even a poor choice of floor material can result in unnecessary expenses. Any contractor worth his salt will know that a hard-wearing floor would be put to best use in a high-trafficked area because it requires little maintenance, but a wooden floor placed in a hotel lobby couldn't take the pressure of stiletto heels and suitcases for very long and would require frequent restoration and even replacement. Large areas of a building would then have to be cornered off while refurbishment takes place and revenue would ultimately be lost.

Using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) recommended by service providers will result in less heat generated and less money spent on cooling a building. Implementing water pressure reducing valves will help conserve the region's most scarce resource and fewer blackouts will occur if energy efficient lifts are put in place. The list is endless.

The truth is, the decision as to whether or not to bring in a facility manager at the design stage of a project could determine the life-cycle of a building and how long residents will be willing to stay. Just because a building is designed to be a high-performance structure does not make it sustainable. You have to think about long-term maintenance. And, if developers think facilities management is not their problem at the start of construction, they certainly will ten years down the line.

Sarah Blackman is deputy editor of Facilities Management Middle East.

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