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Smart HVAC & Sensor Technology for Smart Buildings

Learn how smart HVAC technology is
designed to modernize your workplace

Ian Morely

By Ian Morley

This blog post shares strategies and advice for implementing smart HVAC technology from Michael Rosone, Vice President of Service Sales & Marketing for Arista Air Conditioning, New York City’s leading provider of HVACR services.

Why are companies investing in technology for smart buildings? The obvious draw is the significant cost reductions that can be achieved: on energy consumption, on operating expenses, and even on the cost of space itself. Yet there are other compelling reasons that smart HVAC, sensors and other smart buildings technology give companies a competitive edge:

  • Reduced operating expenses allow companies to invest more in revenue producing initiatives, such as development of products and services
  • Savings can be re-invested in workplace transformation programs that can help attract talent, improve collaboration, and drive new ideas and innovation
  • Greater control over building systems, as well as the intelligence needed to make better facilities management strategic decisions

BONUS: you can even use smart buildings technology to improve employee experience.

Wondering where to start? Read on to learn about smart HVAC and space optimization technology designed to modernize your workplace while also cutting facilities expenses.

Why smart HVAC is so smart

Smart HVAC technology reduces energy costs, lessens the workload on facilities staff, and provides better comfort conditions for employees. But what exactly is smart HVAC and how does it work?

Like other types of smart building technology, smart HVAC uses sensors that integrate with your building automation system. These sensors collect data about the conditions throughout your building. Other specialized HVAC equipment provides the ability to fine-tune temperature, humidity, and air flow in various zones (based on data from the sensors) to optimize comfort while reducing energy consumption.

Here are some of the components:

Thermal sensors
Strategically-placed thermal sensors can detect the differences in conditions in each zone of your space. For example, a crowded conference room can get warm in a hurry, while an open office area with high ceilings can get chilly (since warm air rises and people are closer to the floor). A smart HVAC system uses that data to adjust to changing conditions throughout the day or week.

CO2 sensors
According to a recent study by Harvard School of Public Health, high CO2 levels in a building can have a direct negative impact on thinking and decision making. CO2 sensors can detect the levels of CO2 gas in a space, which can increase to undesirable levels as occupancy increases. When the threshold is reached, a smart HVAC system can increase levels of fresh air supplied to the space. This technology can have a significant impact on workforce wellbeing.

Occupancy sensors
Occupancy sensors are useful for office environments (like most) that don’t have uniform usage all the time. Increasingly mobile workers are leaving desks and conference rooms empty as much as 50 to 60 percent of the time. Meanwhile, you’re heating and cooling space for people who are not there.

Occupancy sensors detect the presence of people (typically by detecting motion) currently using individual spaces within an office. That data can be used to adjust temperatures based on real-time utilization, saving you money on energy consumption.

While your HVAC system consumes anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of your building’s energy usage, electricity for lighting is also a huge expense. That figure can be 25 percent or more. In addition to controlling a smart HVAC system, occupancy sensors also control lighting to further reduce lighting costs.

Light sensors
Today’s modern office spaces are being designed to let in more natural light. However, the variation in daylight from morning until evening, and from one part of the building to another, can wreak havoc on the operation of your HVAC system. As a result, sunny spaces wind up too hot while areas with less natural light can become too cold.

The answer? Sensors that detect ambient light in a space and adjust both your smart HVAC and your lighting accordingly.

Demand Controlled Ventilation (DCV)
This smart HVAC technology that lets you fine tune building conditions based on input from occupancy sensors. When utilization levels drop below design-based occupancy rates, this specialized ventilation equipment reduces your outdoor air intake which decreases energy usage.

Variable speed fans
Traditional HVAC fan motors run at only a single speed: full blast. Variable speed motors can adjust fan speeds to appropriate levels based on occupancy levels or current conditions. Variable frequency drive kits can also be installed to retrofit existing single-speed fans.

VRF systems
If you are renovating or building out a new, modern office space, VRF technology is the latest and greatest in heating and cooling comfort. Here are some of the reasons these new systems are becoming the smart HVAC choice for modern office spaces:

  • The efficient design means they use considerably less energy
  • Quiet operation is ideal for an office environment
  • The system is designed for zoned operation, resulting in consistent comfort with no hot or cold spots
  • Modern controls for easier operation by facilities staff
 

Here’s more about smart HVAC technology:
High Rise HVAC: New Technology Saves Space & Energy
The Ultimate Guide to NYC Light Commercial Air Conditioning

Smart buildings technology helps you make smart decisions about space

We probably don’t need to tell you that your office space is under-utilized. Take a walk around your building and the fact becomes obvious: half or more of your workspace sits empty at any given time.

So you’re not only wasting money heating and cooling a space that no one is using, you’re wasting a lot more money paying for that space. That’s what’s driving so many companies to move to “agile” work spaces with a non-assigned seating model.

These agile work environments are designed to provide the right number of work points based on actual utilization patterns. Instead of assigning each person to a cubicle or desk, each team is assigned to a “neighborhood” and people choose a spot to work each day. Or even better, move around throughout the day to task-specific spaces like meeting rooms, quiet desks for focus work, or collaboration spaces. That means no more wasted space: you can reduce the size of your office space, or avoid taking on additional space you don’t need.

What does all this have to do with smart buildings technology? Here’s the part you might not know: the same sensor technology that can power your smart HVAC and lighting systems can also be used to design and manage these cost-effective modern office spaces.

Occupancy sensors and other types of utilization tracking technology provide intelligence about how your space is actually being used in real time. That data helps you make the best possible use of your space, which can save millions.

Tracking utilization data allows companies to accurately pin-point which parts of their property portfolio are working for them, and address problem areas. For example, a recent study at one of our large financial clients found booked meeting rooms are only used 42% of the time. This smart buildings technology provides concrete, indisputable data to support decisions to consolidate footprint or move to modern agile work spaces that are significantly more efficient and provide a better employee experience.

Learn more about utilization tracking technology: Managing Workplace Utilization.

Don’t underestimate the value of employee experience

Another challenge facing modern business is attracting and retaining top talent, especially from the millennial generation. Younger workers are placing a high value on their workplace experience when choosing an employer: according to research by CBRE, 71% would give up other perks for a comfortable and well-designed workplace.

That’s another important reason (beyond the cost savings) why companies are choosing to invest in modern, agile office spaces. The dollars saved on space and FM costs can be reinvested in the workplace to provide a better experience for employees; with more daylight, comfortable furnishings, better food options, wellness programs and tools that enable employee efficiency.

Wayfinding systems are an example of smart buildings technology that improve employee experience while also increasing productivity and collaboration. Workers can stop at a kiosk or use a smartphone app to quickly find a space to work, locate a colleague, or find their way around an unfamiliar building.

You might be surprised to learn that wayfinding tools are powered by the same sensors and utilization tracking technology described above.

Learn more: Wayfinding Apps Help Employees Work Smarter & Faster

For smart corporations, there’s no question that investing in smart buildings technology, especially sensors and smart HVAC systems, is an important step toward reducing costs and optimizing the workplace.

Download your guide to managing workplace utilization today.

A guide to managing workplace utilization

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