Optimize Building Operations

In 2017, approximately 39% of total U.S. energy consumption occurred in residential and commercial buildings, which equates to about 38 quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) of energy use. (U.S. Energy Information Administration). The best way to reduce operating costs and lower our environmental footprint is to optimize the performance of New York State's office buildings with an eye to our future goals. By doing so, we reduce energy waste, support the health, comfort, and productivity of building occupants, and maintain our collective iterative movement toward our net zero carbon future.

New York State owns and operates a wide variety of building types and ages, with varied uses. While each building has its own challenges in operations and maintenance, there are many things that facility managers, energy managers, maintenance staff and building tenants can do in any building to improve energy use, save money, and make the space more comfortable and healthy for the occupants. We can also make informed decisions in individual projects that will move us away from fossil fuels. Learn more about how you can help to reduce yearly energy costs and increase the usability and comfort of your buildings.

Plug Loads

Plug loads are one of the most controllable, yet least-managed areas, of a building's energy waste and efficiency. As modern building design improves air sealing, insulation, and HVAC performance, the plug load burden becomes a greater percentage of overall energy use. Here's how both facility managers and tenants can reduce plug load burdens:

  • Power Strips: For a simple and effective way to take control of energy waste, place power strips in easily accessible locations throughout the office. One example would be putting a power strip on top of desks (for ease of access) and training staff to use them appropriately by shutting them off overnight and over weekends and vacations.
  • Smart Power Strips: Many newer power strips include a master outlet which shuts down all the other outlets when the device connected to the master outlet is shut down (or in sleep mode). In an office environment, these power strips could be used to control all peripheral energy consumers commonly found at desks such as task lights, radios, and chargers. 
  • Occupancy Sensor Controls: New occupancy sensors can control power to certain outlets.
  • Feedback Modules: Consider a plug-in monitor to display power-use data at each outlet. A feedback module can be helpful when considering equipment upgrades or space planning to centralize loads on specific circuits.
  • Plugged-in Appliances and Equipment: Refer to the GreenNY Approved Specifications for guidance on appliances and equipment. It is important to have a plan for maintenance to ensure equipment is functioning at its best performance for the staff, and for energy use. In addition, when it is time to replace equipment, your team should take some time to:
    • determine if the equipment is still needed,
    • if the type of equipment is appropriate (there may be some pieces of building energy equipment that can be changed to electric, and support GHG reduction goals), and
    • if new training or planning needs to occur regarding use and maintenance processes.

Daylighting and other Lighting Strategies

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lighting accounts for an average of 38 percent of the electricity used in commercial buildings - more than any other building system.

But we're in luck! Nature provides lighting and heating for free if we can access it. The following strategies can help harness daylighting in existing buildings without major capital expense:


Daylight is not just an energy-efficiency strategy but also a natural way to improve employee productivity, comfort, and health. Design office layouts to be open, where all occupants can see windows and allow daylight to penetrate the space.

Photo Sensors

Photosensors are a great way to reap the benefits of daylighting by automatically turning off mechanical lights when natural light levels are sufficient. Photosensors are most effective when rows of light near windows can be turned off as a group and should be re-tuned each year.

Occupancy/Vacancy Sensors

Vacancy sensors are required in the New York State Energy Code.

Vacancy sensors: these turn lights off when you leave the room, but must be physically turned on when you enter - an energy-savings strategy because it may not always be necessary to turn on the lights when you enter a room, especially if there is sufficient daylight.

Occupancy sensors are no-touch: the lights automatically turn on and off as you enter or leave a room and are often used for areas where daylight is inaccessible. These are old-school. Current energy code requires vacancy sensors.


  • Consider ultrasonic technologies in offices where movement is minor. These sensors detect small movements, such as keyboard typing.
  • Consider installing sensors in stairwells, with each floor triggering the floor above and below. These should never be 100% dark (as stairwells are typically required exit paths) but can be set at a dimmed level when there is no occupancy.
Lighting Retrofits

Re-lamping projects can be one of the best return-on-investment (ROI) strategies. During a lighting retrofit, old fixtures are switched-out for more efficient ones, either reducing wattage or changing to a whole new type of fixture, such as fluorescent to LED.


Check your utility provider for incentive or rebate programs.

  • Use a lamp recycling program to reduce mercury (from CFLs) in landfills.
  • When shifting to LED, take advantage of color scheduling to enhance diurnal cycles for better productivity and health.
Lighting Redesign

Take your lighting project to the next level with a lighting redesign project that replaces an entire fixture or ceiling layout. Save money and energy year-after-year with these good-to-know tips:

  • Design your layout with fewer fixtures.
  • Use fixtures with better lighting profiles that throw out more light to the work surface.
  • Invest in task lighting for specific work areas.
  • Measure lighting levels at desk surfaces to be sure you are not over- or under-lighting the space.

Re-circuiting your office's lighting will ensure only the needed energy lights are on the emergency or "night" operational circuit. Line-up other fixtures with photo sensors to maximize daylight. In conference rooms, use circuit lighting to shut off lights closest to project screens to optimize viewing.

Lighting that Staff Brings In

If employees prefer to bring in their own lighting, provide them with the most efficient bulbs possible.

Continual Improvement

It is incredibly important (and frustrating) to know that buildings change over time. They are never “set it and forget it” commodities, due to changes in occupants, shifting of office spaces, and aging of equipment. The following strategies will help facility managers and maintenance staff cultivate a continual improvement approach toward planning and commit to periodic re-assessment of performance.

User Comfort Surveys

Design a simple survey to inquire after your tenant’s level of comfort. Survey tips:

  • Try a one-question survey with a 5-point range from “not comfortable” to “comfortable”
  • Allow input via the comments section.
  • Act on the data results! Don’t collect information without the intention to address deficiencies and implement changes.
  • Acknowledge data results and communicate back to tenants the actionable results of the survey. This approach builds faith in future facilities management strategies and creates a valuable collaboration between facility management and tenants.
Re-Commissioning (rCx)

An intense evaluation of what systems have drifted over time, what operational parameters have changed that may affect setpoints, and what ongoing maintenance strategies need to be refined. Check out incentive programs through BuildSmartNY, NYSERDA, or your utility provider.

Maintenance Schedules

Plan and execute maintenance assessments and procedures with operations staff and building occupants. Creating schedules and sticking to them will reduce emergency situations and repairs increase the value of the building and reduce operations expenditures.