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The process of identifying these lessons in existing buildings is commonly referred to as Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE). Typically, the building owner contracts with a firm or individual experts who were not involved in the original design or construction, to evaluate the building's successes and deficiencies after occupancy. This requires that the building be occupied through at least one, and preferably several, heating and cooling cycles.
The POE is not conducted to grade the building or develop recommendations for the solution of identified deficiencies. These are usually accomplished through separate building assessments. The cause of the deficiency is identified so that lessons can be compiled for the owner in order to change practices and criteria to eliminate the problems in future buildings.
In the building life cycle, the POE is applicable at various stages:
- Lessons learned from Post Occupancy Evaluations of best/similar buildings inform briefing/programming of new buildings.
- Designs are reviewed in terms of lessons learned from Post Occupancy Evaluations.
- New buildings are evaluated in their first few years, for fine-tuning, to inform similar projects, and for quality assurance.
The POE team evaluates the building through a series of inspections/walk-throughs of the building to investigate elements, systems, and subsystems through observation, recording of performance metrics, and interviews with various building stakeholders.
Stakeholder groups should include: individuals who created the building through design and construction, those who manage, operate and maintain the building, and those who occupy and utilize the building for various activities including work and pleasure. These specifically include:
- Employees providing a service in the buildings (occupants, staff, professionals, etc.)
- Clients who visit buildings to receive a service (customers, shoppers, students, prisoners, patients, tenants)
- Professionals who provided the final building(s) (architect, engineer, builder etc.) and those who manage, operate, and maintain the buildings (building managers, tradespeople, cleaners, system operators etc.)
- Replacement costs through reduced costs of replacing poor qualify systems and equipment and inefficient replacement accessibility.
The basic elements of a POE include:
- Determination of the Purpose and Objectives of the POE
- Identification of Building Elements and Systems to be Evaluated
- Determination of Metrics to be Evaluated during the POE
- Development and Review of Building Occupant Questionnaire
- Physical Evaluation of the Facility
- Conducting Facility Occupant Interviews
- Development of POE Report
They are each discussed below.
Determination of the Purpose and Objectives of the POE
The POE Team should conduct initial meetings with the owner's on-site and operations personnel to ensure that the purpose and objectives of the POE are documented and understood. The initial meeting should include a briefing by the on-site personnel, who provide an overview of the project and its perceived successes and shortcomings.
The POE Team and on-site personnel should finalize the schedule for conducting the interviews, reviewing on-site documentation and conducting the walk-through with an emphasis on identifying areas of primary interest, areas that are restricted from the walk-through, and establishing a walk-through protocol, including the use of photography, measurement devices, etc., and revisits by selected Team members for more detailed observations. It may be necessary to conduct off-site interviews via videoconference or conference calls if key personnel are not located near the project.
Identification of Building Elements and Systems to be Evaluated
The POE Team, in consultation with the owner, should identify the building elements and systems that will be inspected and evaluated during the POE.
The site and exterior environment should be evaluated to determine the ease of access by pedestrians, employees, service and visitor vehicles; the operation of security features of physical access control at entrances; the function of the perimeter barriers such as vehicle barriers, bollards, stanchions, fences, etc.; impacts of the facility on local traffic; use of public transportation; availability of parking; access by persons with disabilities; use of on-site energy resources; site features that conserve energy and reduce adverse environmental impacts; landscaping, irrigation systems, site hardscapes, and water features.
Architectural planning and configuration/adjacency issues should be evaluated including: observing entrances and vestibules, circulation, and vertical transportation for persons and materials, public spaces, main lobby and atria, secured areas, private spaces, service areas including loading docks and processing areas, and adequacy and effectiveness of building wayfinding signage for all users.
The building envelope should be evaluated including: the inspection of exterior walls, fenestration, doors, ceilings, soffits, roofing, etc. for thermal transmission, moisture penetration, air leakage, control and access to daylighting and views, sound transmission, impacts on security or safety, energy management, and other functions.
Mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems should be evaluated including: the inspection and analysis of the central heating and refrigeration plant, air handling units (AHUs), terminal units, hydronic systems, and other system components, thermal and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) conditions at the building's perimeter and interior zones, and the ease of use and effectiveness of control systems, sound and vibration control from HVAC operations, and Building Automation Systems (BAS), including monitoring and control.
Plumbing systems should be evaluated including: observing fixture quantity and performance, water consumption and reuse and efficiency of heating and distribution of domestic hot water.
Lighting and electrical systems should be evaluated including: the observation and analysis of artificial and natural lighting illumination levels, glare control, availability of views to the exterior, means of control and conservation of energy and ease of maintenance.
Fire and life safety systems should be evaluated including: its coordination with security and physical access control measures.
Security systems should be evaluated including: the inspection of perimeter and entrance security, intrusion detection, security camera system, and command center operations.
Determination of Metrics to be Evaluated during the POE
The POE Team will identify and determine the information to be collected and metrics to be evaluated during the POE walk-through. An example of the type of information and metrics to be collected is shown in Table 1.
Development and Review of Building Occupant Questionnaire
A standard questionnaire should be developed and provided to the building occupants to solicit their personal evaluations of their individual workspaces and the overall building. The survey should ask for their satisfaction with the functionality, circulation and attractiveness of the building, and their satisfaction with the thermal, acoustic, lighting, cleanliness, and maintenance aspects of the building. The survey should ask for their ratings on specific aspects and examples of their satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The survey results should be combined to provide an overall satisfaction/dissatisfaction level of the building and highlight areas that should be further investigated by the POE team.
Physical Evaluation of the Facility
The POE Team should conduct a walk-through tour of the property accompanied by knowledgeable representatives of facility management, operations, and/or the original construction project manager. Team members should document as appropriate with photographs, measurements, and other means to support the observations for the written report. The following is a suggested typical scope of a POE walk-through. It should be modified to suit the facility and its environment, including adjacent buildings, streets, and other features potentially impacted by the facility.
- Indoor Environmental Conditions should be measured in selected areas during the walk-through. Primary observations by the POE Team should be qualitative and focus on judgmental assessments of documented requirements. Qualitative measures may be recommended because of the observations during the walk-through. As a minimum, the following conditions should be observed:
- Acoustics: Noticeable sound and vibration levels, especially in critical areas
- Lighting: Unusual and/or distracting illumination levels or glare issues, including transition from exterior to interior, any occupied spaces where sharp contrast or glare might result from windows or lighting fixtures, and where surveillance or security is of concern
- Thermal: Noticeable hot/cold zones or air distribution (e.g. ventilation) patterns
- Indoor Air Quality: Noticeable odors, presence of moisture or stains (e.g. mold), dust, and other contaminants, especially in areas where health, safety, or security is of concern
- Security Systems should be observed regarding space allocation and environmental conditions for 24/7 operations.
Conducting Facility Occupant Interviews
The POE Team should conduct interviews with building occupants and maintenance/operations staff, landscaping staff/contractors and janitorial staff/contractors. To help obtain a free flow of information, it is recommended that:
- Tenant representatives should be interviewed separately from other tenants and from property and operations management.
- Project management should be interviewed separately from design and construction teams.
- Design and production architects should be interviewed separately.
- Consulting MEP engineers (i.e. HVAC, plumbing, power, lighting, communications) and other consultants (e.g., BAS, energy, safety, security, acoustics, Guiding Principles, LEED, etc.) should be interviewed separately from architects and contractors.
- The General Contractor should be interviewed separately from the architects and engineers.
- The Construction Manager should be interviewed separately from the designers and contractors.
- The Commissioning Agent should be interviewed separately from the construction manager and the designers and contractors.
At the end of the on-site visit, the POE Team should conduct a closing meeting with operations staff to present an overview of specific issues observed for their comment.
Development of POE Report
The POE Team develops the Facility Post Occupancy Report. The POE Report should be concise and based on the identification of high and low levels of performance, as well as the documentation and substantiation of the underlying reasons that supported these levels. Data obtained and observations made by the POE Team before and during the site visit should form the basis of the POE. Results of this evaluation should be presented in a standard report format to allow comparison among buildings, and the format may be adjusted to suit the specific purpose and objectives of the POE.
The following example describes how a typical POE is conducted, based on an amalgam of a large number of POEs performed by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) for the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Selecting the POE Team
Building owners should select a POE team comprised of appropriately qualified members with the necessary past POE experience to perform work of a similar nature and scope.
At a minimum, the POE team should be comprised of four or five members including a team leader, and experts on architectural systems, building envelope/structural systems, mechanical/plumbing systems, and lighting/electrical systems.
The team leader/architectural systems expert examines the facility in terms of:
- Site/exterior environment
- Circulation, lobby, atriums, loading docks
- Wayfinding, including signage
- Building function
- Functional interrelationships (capacities and capabilities)
- Anti-terrorism protection strategies
- Security systems
The building enclosure/structural systems expert examines:
- Structural systems
- Building envelope (acoustics, air and water leakage) (walls, fenestration, doors)
The mechanical/plumbing systems expert examines:
- Thermal conditions and measurement
- HVAC systems
- Plumbing systems
- Fire and life safety systems
- Building Automation Systems
- Indoor Air Quality
The lighting/electrical systems expert examines:
- Artificial lighting (illumination, glare, control, maintenance)
- Natural lighting (illumination, glare, control, maintenance)
- Electrical systems
Organizing the POE Schedule
The POE team should develop the POE schedule in consultation with the facility owner. Typically, conducting a POE on a building of 200,000–400,000 gross square feet requires two full days. Evaluating larger buildings may take longer, depending on the number of non-repetitious floors.
A typical POE first day schedule includes an initial meeting and interview with the building manager, followed by a team review of building documentation which includes:
- Construction Documents (As-builts, specifications)
- LEED Report
- Utility Records / Metering Records
- Commissioning Report
- Design Reviews
- Surveys and Evaluations that were completed
- Tenant Guidelines
Following the review of the building documents (sent to the team before the actual POE to save time on site), the POE team usually conducts a total facility walk-through that includes direct observation and measurement of performance metrics.
The second day of the POE will typically include interviews with the building occupants and building staff/contractors. The interviews take approximately 30 minutes each to gather both facts and impressions of the facility. The team should inquire about the appropriateness and satisfaction with the site location, including discussions regarding access, accessibility, parking, public transportation, and other amenities. The appropriateness and sustainability of the landscape should be determined, including the use of native plants, irrigation, watering efficiency, and resource allocation required for landscape maintenance. The durability and maintenance requirements of the exterior elements should be determined, including pavement, plaza, exterior stairs, and water features.
Concerning the building itself, the team should determine satisfaction and functionality of the layout, including appropriateness of its room sizes, adjacencies, circulation, restrooms, service areas, and wayfinding. Materials also need to be considered. The team should examine the durability of exterior and interior materials, potential problems with water penetration and moisture migration, and the fitness of interior finishes and flooring, including for the maintenance and cleaning of the building's exterior and interior.
The team should inquire about the building systems' energy performance including: the availability of performance data, problems during heating/cooling seasons, performance of high-efficiency equipment and maintenance/service issues, availability and understanding of energy analysis documentation, and functional testing and metering. The building's ability to provide thermal comfort and indoor air quality should be determined, taking into account the efficacy and efficiency of air movement and temperature control, moisture control, and solar gain issues. The building's water usage performance should be determined and discussed, including: the availability of water usage data, conservation and sustainability of water usage, operation of high-efficiency fixtures, irrigation water usage, and storm water management. Finally, the appropriateness and satisfaction with artificial and natural lighting should be observed and determined including: illumination levels, location of lighting, use of task lighting, daylighting and shading, and lighting/daylighting control and training.
As the workplace continues to evolve at an ever-increasing pace, evaluators should be cognizant of emerging performance issues that should be incorporated into POEs. At the time of this writing, emerging issues included evaluation of workplace productivity based on the building design, and evaluating the safety of the building to prevent the spread of the COVID–19 virus.
Workplace Productivity Evaluation
Employee productivity, also called workplace productivity, is an assessment of an employee's or a group of employees' efficiencies. It is evaluated by looking at the total workforce or employee output in a given time in a given physical configuration.
Today's work style varies radically from work practices of 20 years ago. Organizations are less hierarchical, processes are more collaborative, and mobile technologies provide people with robust tools to perform complex work anywhere, at any time. Moreover, the next generation workforce has very different norms and expectations about the workplace compared to expectations of prior generations. In the past, most owners viewed the workplace as a static physical container for work that reinforced status through rank-based standards.
This view is completely out of step with today's world of mobile devices and fluid team-based organizational processes. The workplace is now an integrated system of space and technology that enables work, wherever it occurs. It takes integrated planning, and a change management approach to optimally leverage space and technology to lower costs and positively impact the performance and satisfaction of workers. These new enhanced productivity elements could include:
- Workspace configurations
- Telecommunications spaces
- Teleconferencing spaces
- Agile workspaces
- Enhanced circulation
- Adjustable furniture and conference tables
- Communications infrastructure, and probably most importantly
- Collaborative work environments
Collaborative work environments should provide universal connectivity, flexible interiors, as well as an emphasis on functionality and support space to promote person-centric services.
Effective collaboration in the space entails both individual, focused tasks and interactive group work. Accordingly, collaborative work environments require spaces, furnishings, and technologies that support both individual focus and group interaction, while also facilitating transitions between these activities. Finding the right balance and types of support for individual and group work requires an understanding of both social and cognitive processes.
The social components of collaborative work effectiveness involve three related types of social behaviors: Awareness, Brief interaction, and Collaboration.
Awareness involves knowing what is happening in the surrounding space as well as the meaning of events and actions. Processing of this information is primarily through peripheral channels and is used to maintain an on-going knowledge of others' locations, activities, and intentions.
Brief Interactions are largely unplanned and occur as part of the natural behavior system of knowledge work as people ask questions, check facts, set up meetings, and joke with colleagues during the workday. Brief interactions aid information flow, spark new ideas, promote internal learning, and aid the development of working relationships.
Collaboration and its successful implementation vary according to the nature of the work. Key considerations include:
- Cognitive complexity of the group task. Multidisciplinary understanding and complex problem solving are likely to require group technologies and tools, including information displays, surfaces for tracking progress, shared databases, and visualization technologies. Spaces specifically designed for collaboration include project rooms, informal teaming spaces, open bullpen workstations, and the high technology mobile workspace.
During the POE, areas of investigation to evaluate the productivity enhancing features of the building include:
- Task seating. Task seating should be provided with adjustable components so individuals can tailor them to fit their bodies. Furniture that is well designed can create such a desirable look and feel for the individual environment that a decrease in space may be easier for an employee to accept. Because space and employees have higher related costs than furniture, buying higher quality/well-designed pieces that occupy less space will be more cost-effective than large, un-ergonomic and ill-considered pieces.
- Equipment and power. Equipment, appliances, and technology are critical components of the workplace. These items need to be integrated into the overall workflow and design sequence of the space. Location, creating access, specifying, and integrating the equipment are critical parts of the overall workspace design process. Computers, printers, fax machines, copiers, coffee makers, dishwashers, icemakers, and refrigerators all require specific power/data access, wire management, surfaces, and/or enclosures to function effectively. It is important to provide for power and data in locations that might become equipment locations in the future.
- Flow. Design the space to create a logical flow and sequence in areas that are equipment intensive, including kitchens, break rooms, reception areas, etc.
The 2020 Coronavirus pandemic dramatically affected health and safety concerns within the workplace. Future POEs may well incorporate a component that evaluates the inherent safety of the building in terms of COVID–19 infection as well as conditions for coping with future pandemics. These new POE elements include:
Relevant Codes, Standards and Guidelines
- ASHRAE Standard 180, Standard Practice for the Inspection and Maintenance of Commercial Building HVAC Systems ASHRAE, June 2018.
- LEED v4.1
- Assessing Green Building Performance: A Post Occupancy Evaluation of 12 GSA Buildings , 2008.
- Enhancing Building Performance by Shauna Mallory Hill, Wolfgang F.E. Preiser, Christopher G. Watson. Wiley-Blackwell, March 2012.
- "Going Beyond the Punchlist: Why Architects Should Embrace Post-Occupancy Evaluations," by Lance Hosey. Metropolis magazine, 2019.
- Learning from Our Buildings: A State-of-the-Practice Summary of Post-Occupancy Evaluation by Wolfgang F. E. Preiser. Federal Facilities Council. National Academy Press, 2001. The evolution of post occupancy evaluation toward building performance and universal design evaluation.
- Post Occupancy Evaluation and Building Performance Evaluation Primer by RIBA. Architecture.com, 2016.