NIST Research Leads to Revised Building Code

Sept. 18, 2008
In August, California revisited its Title 24 Building Standards Code to incorporate use of the automated fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) technology developed at the Gaithersburg, MD-based National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). FDD uses artificial intelligence rules and statistical analysis to find the location of mechanical problems in HVAC systems - whether the problem lies in valves, temperature sensors, dampers, or coils - to improve the performance and energy efficiency of the system.

Buildings consume approximately 40 percent of all energy used in the United States, and a substantial portion of that energy is used for HVAC to keep building occupants comfortable and computers cool. "Optimizing the way HVAC systems work will cut energy costs by improving efficiency," explains Steven Bushby of NIST's Building and Fire Research Laboratory.

The research began in a NIST lab equipped with an instrumented air-handling unit, similar to ones seen on top of small office buildings, and a set of variable-air-volume boxes that control air flow into offices. Engineers evaluated typical problems that occur in these systems - for example, what happens when a leaky valve is producing hot air during air-conditioning season. Later, the engineers used a Virtual Cybernetic Building Test Bed at NIST to simulate what faults occur in different types of buildings under a variety of weather conditions.

Next, the FDD technology was installed and tested in buildings. "In one high-rise building in California, the variable-air-volume boxes were so unreliable that one employee's full-time job was to go throughout the building, checking the condition of each variable-air-volume box, and, when finished, to start all over again," says Bushby. With FDD technology installed, building technicians know precisely which variable-air-volume box needs work when there is an HVAC problem.

The state of California funded part of the FDD research, and, after seeing its potential, added the automated fault detection and diagnostics tool to its strict building code. The air-handling units and variable-air-volume boxes are just two components of complex HVAC systems; Bushby and his colleagues will continue to apply the FDD technology to other pieces of the system.

This information was provided by the NIST. For more information, visit

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