Technology continues to transform our lives in seemingly infinite ways. Choosing the right technology to help with our daily tasks literally makes everything from shopping to tracking our health to entertaining ourselves easier, every day. Not only has technology changed how we live, it has also been changing the places and spaces where we live; the building systems themselves are now smarter and, in some instances, able to learn – and respond to – patterns and behaviours that translate into more efficient and cost-effective building operations, from energy usage to environmental impact.
And it’s not a moment too soon. In addition to more traditional management challenges, global issues such as the COVID pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis are having a significant impact on our multi-residential buildings and how we optimize their operations. Likewise, large urban centres across North America are embracing carbon emission mandates meaning building owners and operators are responsible for finding ways to comply with these new environmental regulations.
All of these changes can be stressors on building systems and equipment that might already be struggling to meet demand, often relying on outdated, disjointed or siloed technology. The good news, as we begin a new year, is that newer approaches to leveraging building system data and more comprehensive algorithms are available and constantly evolving to drive more holistic results for building operations. When applied to a building’s heating, cooling and ventilation (HVAC) systems, these algorithm-driven solutions can gather the data necessary to identify and impact operational efficiencies, generate cost savings, and protect resident comfort.
By learning the energy use patterns of a building, data driven platforms can adjust the HVAC system in real time. In this way, HVAC costs can be reduced by up to 30% and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 50% depending on the fuel source. The best part? Platforms like this typically require no upfront cost – they can be installed alongside existing building systems and are paid for by the energy savings the system delivers. Additionally, platforms that take a holistic approach to leveraging and applying data insights, can help reduce the need for major retrofits which can often be expensive, wasteful and disruptive.
Installing and running a smart building automation system is a straightforward process. However, when reviewing and evaluating data-focused technology for a condo building, there are a few things to consider:
1. A building system assessment. An assessment of a building and its current system and energy consumption is an important first step in this process. As they say, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Properly done, with consideration of seasonal demands and weather patterns, an engineer will measure a building’s true energy demand with trend data. Once complete, an assessment helps identify the precise amount of energy required to optimize an HVAC system for peak performance in every season.
2. Access to real-time information and trend data. Data fuels the success of these building-wide systems; the more data that is gathered, the easier it becomes to monitor and adjust the building’s systems in real-time – and the more savings and efficiencies can be achieved. The better the data is visualized and displayed as a composite, the easier it is to see how a system is performing at any given time. When considering a platform, be sure to evaluate the dashboards and displays. Easy-to-access, easy-to-decipher, user-friendly dashboards should offer property managers and owners, along with mechanical vendors, a comprehensive view of energy performance and savings, whether in one building or across an entire real estate portfolio.
And while real-time access to a building’s operations is critical, access to historical data adds an additional layer of value. This means property management teams, owners and consultants alike can revisit the information, identifying trends and gathering insights to better understand the building’s HVAC infrastructure and how it performs both piece by piece and as a whole.
3. Real-time alerts and collaboration. Building managers and teams need to be able to see when processes or equipment is veering off track in real time, so make sure that the platform you choose provides data and alerts that are shareable with all the stakeholders responsible for the building’s care – including on-site building management staff and mechanical contractors. When buildings’ management teams have access to the same information, the ability to collaborate increases – making it easier to address issues and work together positively and productively on solutions. Similarly, the ability to communicate via the platform helps build a robust record of what’s happening, how, and why.
4. Hardware agnostic. Some automation solutions require the installation of a proprietary black box which can only be used by the automation company controlling it. If the contract with the provider is terminated or not renewed, the hardware ceases to be useful and the investment falls short. Most automation equipment (sensors, variable frequency drives, controllers, gateways) should last 10-15 years, so it is important that it be open source and vendor agnostic so that any future automation provider can leverage the hardware investment to capture its full lifetime benefits. Where feasible, choose equipment that adheres to the industry standard BacNet automation protocol for two-way communication, as well as programmable logic controllers that operate using open-source programming language.
5. Dedicated support. When choosing an HVAC optimization platform, be sure to identify a knowledgeable and committed team of energy efficiency professionals with dedicated technical support. It is critical to work with a team that is innovative, helpful and will be there to support your operational strategies over time. When the system and the technology are supported by a great team including technicians, engineers, designers, sales reps, and customer service folks, then the building can function better, delivering the optimal results whether that’s higher cost savings or improved energy efficiency.
In summary, the introduction of advanced, data-driven HVAC control technology has revolutionized the optimization and maintenance of HVAC equipment, resulting in decreased capital investment costs and improved opportunities for environmental stewardship. With access to the right data and reporting, owners, operators and property management teams can make informed decisions on the best approaches to reduce energy waste and costs across the portfolio of buildings they are responsible for.
Brad Pilgrim is CEO of Parity (paritygo.com), the North American software solution driving innovation to transform building automation tech, eliminate energy waste, reduce CO2 emissions, and advance ESG initiatives for real estate owners and operators.