Individual HVAC control, an amenity that’s becoming increasingly popular, puts some amount of decision-making over heating and cooling into the hands of each person in a space.
How Individual HVAC Controls Work
The execution depends on your HVAC system and the HVAC controls you invest in, but most of the individual control products have these characteristics in common:
- They’re linked to a building automation system that monitors use and communicates between the controls and the HVAC equipment.
- There are still some boundaries about what tenants can and can’t do with the controls. For example, many products let you choose temperature setpoints that occupants can’t override just like you would with a regular smart thermostat. Others operate for a short time, then scale back to a more energy-efficient operating mode. For example, Comfy emits 10-minute bursts of heat or cooling in response to occupant feedback, then returns to its normal setting. Often, just 10 minutes is enough to make an occupant more comfortable, and you end up saving money because the change in the thermostat setting isn’t forgotten.
- Many products can control more than HVAC, so think about what other systems you’d like people to have more individual control over and keep that in mind when you’re comparing potential investments. Space planning and scheduling are popular features. Some can even control humidification and dehumidification, ventilation rates, window shading, lighting brightness and color temperature and more.
- The HVAC controls are generally linked to an app or a desktop pop-up. This strategy is convenient for users, and you won’t have to find a place to mount a new thermostat.
Important Considerations for Individual HVAC Controls
Not every facility needs every possible control capability, so think hard about which features you really need and why. With individual HVAC controls, the priorities are often energy savings and occupant comfort. Determine what your occupants need to be comfortable and productive, then use that to narrow down your options. That might include things like:
You don’t want anyone controlling the system who isn’t supposed to. For facilities like healthcare centers, that’s extra important because comfort aids in healing. The new pavilion at University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), which uses EcoStruxure for Healthcare, links patient records to the building management system and uses the patient’s birthday as a logon credential so that strangers can’t make changes.
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The system scales back temperature settings and air exchanges while the patient is out of the room for testing and procedures, then returns them to a comfortable level when the patient returns.
Additional Control Needs
What other types of control would benefit the people in your building? Penn Medicine’s system lets patients choose their shade control, humidity, lighting brightness and color temperature, TV and more, and monitors noise levels. Some products can even incorporate weather data and respond to outside conditions.
“Empowering patients increases Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores, which means that the health system gets more reimbursement from the federal government,” explains Warren Rosebraugh, director and solution architect for Schneider Electric, which produces EcoStruxure for Healthcare. “It’s also eliminating nuisance calls that are going to the nurses or facilities teams.”
What Usage of the System Tells You
The way your occupants use individual HVAC controls can give you quite a bit of information about how the rest of the building is functioning. Pair your HVAC controls with an analytics package that can collect and interpret data about user behaviors, recommends Logan Soya, founder and CEO of Aquicore.
“A personal control product gives you a new data point that’s essentially an ability to collect survey data about occupant comfort levels in conjunction with any other system you have,” Soya says. “Normally, the way a facilities manager gets that insight is directly through a hot or cold call mechanism where the tenant is complaining, so they’re already dissatisfied by the time they submit their request.”
Linking it to your building management system can also help you correlate the data from the individual controls with other related information, explains Philip Smyth, director of product management, commercial ducted systems, at Johnson Controls. “My office has a cube farm and sometimes it’s extremely cold. With a building automation system, you can look at that specific space, confirm that what I’m talking about is happening and then look at the other components in the system,” Smyth says. “Maybe the morning cooldown period is cutting into my work hours, for example.”
The individual controls should be able to speak with other controls in the space and with your building automation system using a common language. Mike Monteith, CEO of ThoughtWire, recommends a system that uses standard protocols and addressable endpoints.
“The next layer is about the 3D world of a building, including layouts, indoor mapping, the positioning of controls and naming of spaces, so that it’s easy to understand the relationship between the physical HVAC and the spaces people are engaged in,” he notes.