Our Industry

Managing Performance Drift: The Role of Smart Technologies

By Brian Uher


What is performance drift? Why is it something that building owners and managers should care about? Performance drift (or performance degradation) is the decrease in a building’s energy efficiency over time. Drifting out of required performance parameters can be expensive, consume more and more of a building’s operating budget – because of both increased utility cost and jurisdictional penalties. Moreover, equipment that runs poorly degrades faster, accelerating the capital replacement cycle. Managing performance is a cornerstone of quality building operations.

Research from Texas A&M University and Lawerence Berkeley National Laboratory showed that energy efficiency in buildings can deteriorate from their baseline by 10-30% within a year or two under normal operating conditions. The same study also revealed that upwards of 98% of this performance drift is due to three things: equipment breakdowns (75%), neglected preventative maintenance (16%), and human error in operations (7%). Managing these will yield as much as a ten-fold reduction in drift, essentially solving the problem.


How can a building owner or manager control performance drift? Ongoing or monitoring-based commissioning is an essential component. Integrating monitoring and energy performance scoring into a daily routine allows facility owners and managers to gain actionable and real-time insights into their building’s operational health. This enables them to proactively address issues before they snowball into major inefficiencies that lead to degraded performance.

Monitoring and reporting are typically done through software-based analytical engines. These engines are run from a database of information gathered from the building. The operator’s observations and intuitions are backed by quantitative reporting from the building itself.

Monitoring systems, ranging in complexity and detail, should offer the same basic solution: evaluation of a building’s performance and direction on the source of the drift. Providing guidance on the source of the drift accelerates the work order and repair cycle, which reduces the risk of excess utility costs and energy law non-compliance. Long-term, such systems provide quantitative data on patterns in the break-fix cycle that can improve capital planning decisions.

Using predictive analytics and smart building management tools, building managers can receive notifications allowing them to address the problem in minutes or hours and not days or months. These systems also estimate the impacts of those timely fixes of equipment in need of repair. A simple example of the latter is shown below in a break-fix dashboard output. The cost of addressing the broken equipment is around $47,000; waiting to repair that equipment adds upwards of $140,000 to the total operating costs for the year.

This real-time, break-fix budget projection allows decision-makers to quantify the actual costs associated with decisions, rather than making guesses.

Performance drift is a reality that does not need to be a problem. By integrating drift management tools into the workday, building owners and managers can prioritize energy performance and optimize their building operations.

Connect with Brian at buher@wbengineering.com to learn what smart technologies may suit your building.