Buildings Buzz

Leveraging New Technologies To Impact Top Building Problems

Facility managers have been asked to do more and more as their budgets have decreased, equipment has aged, and experts in the field are retiring.  It’s no surprise, given the constraints they face, day-to-day that buildings are not run as efficiently as they could be.

Verifying that a building’s HVAC and lighting systems perform efficiently and according to the design intent and owner’s project requirements can offer enormous savings.  The DOE estimates that a building that is not running correctly costs 8-20% more to operate.  

The same DOE energy study of 60 commercial buildings reported that:

  • Over 50% suffered from control problems.
  • 40% had problems with HVAC equipment.
  • 33% had sensors that were not operating properly.
  • 15% of the buildings studied were actually missing specified equipment.

Many facility managers are turning to modern centralized standardized reporting, to help prioritize work and move from a reactive to proactive approach to facility operations.

This type of software pulls data from existing systems and identifies areas for improvement. It provides more context around issues to help teams manage their work flow more efficiently. In particular, new plug-and-play software allows small-to-medium sized commercial buildings to use automated data alignment for rapid and affordable onboarding.  Most buildings have data that can help reduce operation time of equipment, improve tenant comfort, and potentially make an impact on the environment, and centralized standardized reporting can turn that data into actionable insights used to streamline operations.

The new technologies which act as a cloud-based analysis tool, work with existing and legacy systems, and address the issues of fault detection and diagnostics.  Data can be monitored and analyzed 24-hours a day.

When the data is examined, what are the major problems? How can buildings leverage it to lower costs and increase environmental impact?

Problems tend to fall into three distinct areas:

  • Setpoints: Temperature and CFM (cubic feet per minute) airflow.
  • Schedules: When building equipment is set to run.
  • Sequences: How equipment should stage on. (For example, simultaneous heating and cooling issues)

How often your data should be reviewed and audited will depend on how often your building has schedule changes and the variation in your area’s seasons. Sequences can be set up and appear to run fine in winter and colder months, but issues can become apparent during summer time.  Experts recommend checking setpoints and schedules quarterly and sequences during cooling and heating periods in fall and spring.

While interim measures such as raising or lowering the setpoint so the unit is always heating or cooling can be temporarily effective, they don’t address the actual issue. Consider resetting all setpoints during unoccupied hours. This will reduce the runtime of your equipment increasing its overall life. 

Minimums and maximums should also be applied. Deadbands should not just be +/- one or two degrees on a general setpoint. ASHRAE design standards recommend not allowing heating setpoints above 70 or 72, and cooling setpoints shouldn’t be lower than 74 or 76.  Each degree outside of intent increases the runtime of your equipment, reducing its life. It also makes equipment cycle rapidly, reducing tenant comfort.

Additionally, equipment performance needs to be verified. Just because the schedule is set correctly does not meant the equipment is following it, so FMs need to verify schedule adherence with runtime data from the equipment.

Maximum schedule resolution will result when zone level scheduling is used.  Buildings should avoid a single schedule for the entire building. For example, holiday and exception scheduling can be nested to apply global changes from one location.  Finally, effective optimal start maintains a memory and trains itself to heat or cool based on the individual zones rate of change in heating or cooling mode.

While many of these things can be manually identified, the time to do so reduces the amount of time the facility team can be in the field fixing problems and working with tenants. By leveraging modern analytics, teams are realizing improvements not only to their team’s effectiveness but also to their building operations and tenants’ happiness.

Jason Burt is the VP Product Manager & Co-CEO of BuildPulse. You can reach him at www.buildpulse.com or by e-mail at jason.burt@buildpulse.com.

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