In the spring of 2014, Tom Javins, then-associate director for engineering and utilities at the University of Montana (UM), reshaped his approach to his job. Largely due to continuing education through the Building Operator Certification (BOC) training, Javins expanded his view of his role beyond “the numbers” for a broader consideration for how his department’s work impacted the occupants and learning environment at this Missoula, MT campus.
An initiative of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council, BOC is a nationally recognized, competency-based training program for building operators. The program teaches participants how to make a building more comfortable and efficient by making its systems work better together.
Across the 220-acre campus of the UM there are hundreds of buildings. They range in age from well into triple digits to nearly brand new. And there’s always a project to do. While working at the university, Javins oversaw both energy production and energy use there. The library at the school has state- of-the-art systems in place to control heating and cooling, while other buildings are still heated by steam, with no control more advanced than a hundred-year-old on-off valve.
In these many and widely varied places, though, one goal stood above all others. “Making sure that people are comfortable is the primary goal of doing any work in a building on the HVAC system,” Javins says.
Brian Dougherty, who worked with Javins in the Technical Service Department and also earned BOC Level I Certification, echoes Tom’s philosophy. “The most valuable thing I learned at the BOC training was what is the most important thing for the building. And that’s occupant comfort.”
This guiding principle of the department’s operations at UM was stressed during Javins’ and Dougherty’s BOC training, which took place in Spring 2014. High-level analysis of building systems and long-term planning were important parts of the curriculum.
“Over the life of a building,” Tom points out, “the energy cost is about an order of magnitude less than the cost of personnel. Energy conservation is also a goal, but if you do that to the detriment of comfort, you’re not saving money. It’s not just about saving money.”
Listening To Facility Occupants, Not The Gauges
Maintaining comfort is not without its challenges. In addition to having the broad disparity between building technologies across campus, UM sits in a place that sees, on average, 45 days a year when the temperature does not rise above freezing. In summer, an average of 24 days see temperatures above 90°F (32°C).
Complicating matters is that, as Javins admits, there will always be some people who aren’t quite comfortable. “You can have two people sitting side by side, and one person will be too hot and the other person will be too cold,” he says. “But when you’ve satisfied 80% of the people — which is a hard thing to do — you’re successful.”
Dougherty notes that the stressing of comfort in his BOC training has reshaped his approach to his job as well. “Before that,” he says, “I just looked at the numbers. I’d look and say, ‘Hey, it’s 72. You’re fine.’” Now, though, he makes it a point to listen to occupants closely and take their concerns to heart. “I want to check in with them and get them dialed in,” he says, “Once they’re dialed in, I know they’re working efficiently and they’re doing their job.”
Of course, temperature is just one factor to consider in maintaining comfort. Both Javins and Dougherty studied and worked regularly to improve other elements of indoor environmental quality, including ventilation, lighting, and acoustical measures. As their BOC training emphasized, it’s all important. “Our goal here at the University of Montana, in facilities, is to provide a space that allows the best learning possible,” Tom said. “That’s our mission: to support academics.”
Javins is no longer at the university system, but was so impressed with the BOC training that he is now a BOC instructor.