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Submetering Best Practices for Multi-Tenant Buildings

July 8, 2019

Submetering systems in existing buildings often require some amount of manual input, which introduces opportunities for mistakes. In this article, industry experts discuss how you can ditch the clipboards and automate your building’s submeters.

Is your team still using clipboards to record submetering data? Many buildings with submetering systems still rely on manual input for at least part of the process, which creates plenty of opportunities for mistakes.

Find waste, eliminate bad data and make the whole process easier and more efficient by automating as much of your submetering as possible.

Common Submetering Problems

Buildings with outdated submetering systems and old infrastructure tend to bill tenants by assigning proportionate shares that correlate with the physical spaces tenants occupy, says Anna Buglaeva, vice president of growth for Aquicore, an IoT-driven asset management provider.

The obvious problem with this strategy is that not all organizations use the same amount of electricity. An office may only need a few watts per square foot, while an energy-intensive data center would use much more. A submetering system that can support tenant billback solves this problem.

[Related: Smart Grid Initiative: Financial Benefits for Owners]

“Sometimes building owners choose to purchase cheaper equipment that doesn’t have industry standard language protocols other data loggers can plug into and send data,” Buglaeva says. “Some owners opt to purchase ones that can only be manually read. That presents a problem because you’re investing in a tool that will forever have to have a human walk around and read it. People are best used to make decisions, not write down numbers day in and day out.”


“People are best used to make decisions, not write down numbers day in and day out.” - Anna Buglaeva

Spending time recording numbers and putting them into an Excel spreadsheet is error-prone and tedious. The time spent manually entering measurements could be better used looking for trends and anomalies, such as pinpointing and addressing areas that are using a disproportionate amount of energy, explains Bala Marimuthu, product manager for digital products and solutions for Siemens.

Get Smarter about Submetering

Before you upgrade your submetering system, Buglaeva recommends hiring a mechanical engineer to update your building’s electrical documentation, especially if you’re not the original owner of your building.

[Read also: The Truth About Submetering]

“Things get complicated and challenging [with] outdated and old building systems that have been renovated time and time again but not documented, because owners choose not to pay for updated drawings,” she says. “You end up with a hodgepodge of comingled panels that don’t feed multiple floors, and you don’t know what you’re picking up when you implement a tenant billback solution with submeters.”

Next, decide which building systems you’ll monitor, Buglaeva advises. Central plants and air handling units are a good place to start. For a deeper dive, you can monitor BTU consumption and see how much energy it takes you to supply air at a given temperature. However, some building types don’t need information at the BTU level.

With office buildings where you have a pretty regular schedule, you can make a fair amount of decisions without going too granular.


“If your current transformer is oversized for the load, you’re not collecting enough money as an owner. You’re basically giving your tenants free electricity.” - Anna Buglaeva

You can pick up two or three major systems and set the load curve,” Buglaeva says. “You have an input of the building running from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., so you know that something is not working properly when your base load is really high between the hours of 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. You can do that easily, so you’ll only pick up the major systems like a cooling tower or chiller plant.”

Buildings with nonstandard operating hours, like hotels, convention centers or any other facility that doesn’t have a regular schedule, need more information. That means submetering additional systems or even separating individual floors, Buglaeva adds.

You should also periodically tune up any other automation infrastructure that’s installed in your building and make sure your automation software and submetering solution can speak to each other, Marimuthu recommends.

How to Shop for Submeters

Marimuthu recommends investing in a submetering solution with remote data logging (thus ending the physical journey to read each meter in person once and for all), as well as automatic notifications whenever the system detects a significant issue.

“The system should be able to trigger an alarm point, and facilities managers can get notifications without getting a surprise later because the monitoring is continuous,” Marimuthu adds.


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All submeters should be web-enabled and capable of being manually read for accountability purposes. They should also use one of the most common communication protocols so they can alert you when they need to be replaced, Buglaeva says. They should also be paired with current transformers that are appropriately sized for the load going through the panel they’re on.

“If your current transformer is oversized for the load, you’re not collecting enough money as an owner,” Buglaeva explains. “You’re basically giving your tenants free electricity.”

Overwhelmed? Don’t be.

Find a solutions provider who can implement both the software and hardware elements of your tenant billback solution thoughtfully. Insist on a contract that includes quality control and verification that all the systems are functioning properly, and make sure you’re working with an MEP engineer and an electrical contractor on the installation.

“If you don’t have a team, don’t do it,” Buglaeva adds. “I don’t think anybody can do it alone.”

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

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