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Your Building Operating Network has a Heart Beat… Can You Feel It?

By May 31, 2020 July 2nd, 2020 No Comments



Buildings are things, just machines, only metal, steel and concrete. They don’t have heat beats, pulses or feelings. Or do they? Most technicians would disagree, here are some examples:

1. A race car owner, may say things about their car such as, “She purrs like a kitten.”
2. Some mechanics can listen to their car’s engine and hear what is wrong with it. They can hear the steering fluid going bad, they can hear if the engine is knocking and missing a cylinder firing.
3. A chiller technician can hear if the compressor is surging or if the refrigerant is low.
4. Most good building technicians know their buildings and can “feel” when things are not right.

I used to listen to “Car Talk,” a radio show where people would call in to ask questions of two brothers who seemed to know everything about cars.  Of course, these brothers, Click and Clack, would joke all the time and often asked the caller, “What does it sound like?”  The callers would respond with all sorts of sounds, some detailed and some not so accurate, but without fail, just by the sounds the caller made, the hosts would determine the issue, outline what was causing the problem, and instruct the caller on the appropriate correction for getting the car back in running order.

If we want to make our buildings work better we need to listen better and take some readings which help us understand when they are not feeling well or not performing as well as they can. So instead of their blood pressure, vitals, listening to their lungs with a stethoscope, or just listening to the sounds they make; there are other ways to give your building regular checkups. Or even put them on a wellness plan. Here are some things to monitor:

A. Data Sharing – does you building have data to share? Older systems or pneumatic controls need to be updated to allow for a remote check-up. Plan to update to allow for monitoring. If this data is not being shared, if it’s value is null or comes back “failed”, you have an issue which needs medical attention.
B. Interconnection system – this is the building’s nervous system. You need a facility network which connects the various systems in the building some they can be monitored. The speed of this network, if a system is not communicating, is there a switching error or a virus or security concern? Looking into the interconnection system is like a CT scan for your building.
C. Metering – connecting meters will help you determine the building’s usage – this is like watching a patient’s pulse – at night is it beating low (50-60 bpm)? During the day does it go too high (>120 bpm)? Reading this pulse can help determine how “in shape” your building is.
D. Systems Interfaces – outline the systems you want to collect data from. Recommendations include:
a. HVAC – checking the HVAC is akin to taking your building’s temperature but can include a blood test if you monitor the arteries (pipes) and lungs (ductwork) of the building.
b. Electrical – evaluating your electrical is like taking a EKG but knowing the voltage drop across your facility and understanding how power is used throughout your building.
c. Video Surveillance – this activity is like a visit to the optometrist, or getting scopes. Being able to look more closely is important.
E. Data Storage and Mining Vault – this building data must be collected and stored. Looking at time-stamped data can develop conclusions sometimes missed during one-time analysis. This is the brain of the building and how this data will be used and accessed will determine its layout and location.

Considering those examples, your building functions can be thought of as having similar functions as your body. It makes sounds (outputs), it has a pulse, but not many people take the time to listen to it, or read it. The new science and technology of intelligent building analytics allows operators to read entire rivers of data which were ignored for so long. This new technology is much like an EKG, MRI or doctor’s stethoscope which allows us to see and hear inside a building’s data network to decipher the many messages being transmitted.
By collecting the building systems’ data into an enterprise network, various operators can read this pulse and find evidence for different types of scenarios, such as:

• The building is running too hot, and is using more energy than it should. This could possibly lead to a malfunction.
• The building’s chiller is vibrating every afternoon at the same time due to a valve that has been programmed to close based upon a change in the tenant’s occupancy.  This may lead to surging and early compressor failure.
• The building’s air system has high VOCs or CO2 which indicate poor ventilation.
• Air-cooled compressors are running when the outside air temperature is below 30F.  This can reduce the equipment life of these machines.
• Building compressors are cycling on and off frequently which may lead to high energy use and reduced equipment life.
• The security cameras see a few unrecognized faces enter a secure area or who have elevated temperatures which may need closer inspection.

The data derived from building building systems is a treasure trove of information which can tell you a lot about the health of your facility. Often this data is hidden, not shared by proprietary systems, or isolated within the vertically-separated systems.  The goal of intelligent buildings is to:
1. “datatize” the information as a critical first step (connect devices and systems using open protocols),
2. interconnect the many systems in an open non-proprietary enterprise network [this may require a separate high speed facility network (which your building may not have)] ,
3. collect this (time data/tagged) data and store it for analyzing,
4. apply analytics to the data to translate that data into pulses, or heart beats, (sometimes called faults) to determine the “health” of the building.

One of the Click and Clack brothers passed away recently. I know if they were still on the air they would appreciate the analogy, and yes, they would make it into a funny joke like they always did, and I would join them in the laugh.
J. Christopher Larry PE, CXA, CEM, CEP, CIPE, LEED AP, is the Director of Energy Engineering for exp, in Richmond, VA. He has spent more than 25 years working to minimize the building industry’s energy and environmental footprint through refining building design, building modeling, performance optimization, and intelligent controls. He won “Energy Engineer of the Year in 2000” from AEE. He has held numerous positions within the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), including chairman of the Chapter Technology Transfer Committee and chairman for Technical, Energy and Governmental Activities. He is a past president of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) and has instructed the certified energy manager training course for AEE. He is the current chairman for the Building Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) within the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) and also is a member of the Zero Energy Commercial Building Consortium.