Once reserved solely for supersized skyscrapers, energy management is downsizing — at least according to a number of industry leaders.

“A couple of years ago, nobody was talking about energy management, tracking, and control for small commercial buildings,” said Marc Petock, vice president, marketing, Lynxspring Inc. “Today, that has changed and there is a lot of talk and effort being devoted to this market.”

While there are still misperceptions that deter some in the small-building market from investing in building management systems (BMS), many expect small-building owners and operators to continue to invest in BMS.


Daryld Karloff, executive vice president of Baker Group in Des Moines, Iowa, has more than 30 years of facility operations experience and is a member of the InsideIQ Building Automation Alliance, an organization of independent building automation contractors. He believes sustainability is desirable regardless of a building’s size.

“The increased awareness of the Internet of Things [IoT] across our industry has also increased awareness of BMS connectivity opportunities. The two initiatives feed each other.”

Petock added the small building market offers a great deal of potential for improvement.

“There is no shortage of opportunities to improve building performance and energy efficiency,” he said. “According to U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics from the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, 95 percent of commercial buildings in the U.S. are 50,000 square feet in size or smaller. These small buildings account for 44 percent of all commercial buildings’ energy use.”

Kevin Callahan, product owner and evangelist, Alerton, believes small building owners’ interest in BMS is related to energy codes and costs.

“We’ve noticed a growing interest in tracking energy use in buildings smaller than 100,000 square feet in size,” he said. “This is due to more stringent energy codes — California’s Title 24 comes to mind — and increasing energy costs. Building owners and operators may want to take advantage of the opportunities provided by building management systems.”

In particular, Callahan noted, schools and government facilities are interested in the cost savings that result from BMS adoption.

“K-12 schools are big players in the smaller building energy management arena. They don’t have a lot of money, so cutting energy costs is crucial for them,” he explained. “Many government buildings are in the same situation with limited budgets.”

Callahan added, “BMS is also commonly used in health care facilities, such as community clinics or hospitals. Beyond energy savings, we also see BMS used in many critical environments such as computer server rooms, laboratories, and hospitals, where it’s critical to keep indoor environments within tight specs.”

Gene Shedivy, building automation systems (BAS) product leader, Trane, also noted the small building sector is heating up, especially the school market.

“The adoption of BMS is much higher today than it has been in the past for small- to medium-sized buildings,” Shedivy said. “For example, within the education market, K-12 buildings are applying BMS in order to control the varying spaces they have, which range from cafeterias to classrooms and offices.”


Even as interest picks up, there are still many hurdles to greater adoption of BMS in the small building market. Many owners of small buildings are concerned about both the cost and complexity associated with BMS.

“Even though BMS is the preferred way to implement many energy-efficiency and demand-responsive strategies in buildings, its penetration rate into small commercial buildings is low,” Shedivy said. “This is because BMS is perceived as expensive, and building owners are not fully aware of the benefits. Knowing the options that are available and staying up to date on the latest technologies is vital to overcoming these hurdles.”

When considering cost, it’s important to take return on investment (ROI) into account, according to Callahan.

“Many smaller building owners think a BMS will be too costly or is only appropriate in larger buildings. But, BMS can be surprisingly affordable with a fantastic energy-savings payback,” he said. “Many systems can also be customized to the building’s specific needs to help manage the initial investment costs.”

Steve Nguyen, senior director of marketing, BuildingIQ, added it’s not just the initial cost of implementation that worries owners, but also the cost of BMS updates and turning.

Plus, he said, “The other big hurdle is that teams at small buildings don’t necessarily want more data — they want insight. Most solutions just provide data.”

Fears about not being able to understand the data or the technology are common in the small building market, according to Paul Rauker, vice president and general manager, systems and controls, Daikin Applied.

“Advanced technology can be hard to use and complexity prevents adoption. This is especially true for small-building owners who don’t have a dedicated facility manager on-site,” he explained.


Yet there are smart solutions available that can make it possible for any size of building and any type of owner to benefit from BMS. Contractors can play a crucial role in making building owners aware of the variety of BMS options available.

“Most small building managers continue on their paths without realizing that declining costs and increasing capabilities place new technology applications easily within their reach,” Karloff said.

“To prevent this, mechanical contractors need to focus more on what happens after they leave construction sites. Have they talked to the building manager about how they plan to operate the facility? Have they offered insights and suggestions that help the operation? Have they provided the building manager with the tools to be successful at delivering a productive workplace?”

Petock said contractors need to actively reach out to customers and show them how energy management programs can improve their buildings’ performance.

“Share simple, easy-to-understand information about the buildings with the owners and operators,” he urged. “Share real-world use cases that are similar to the buildings and operators’ environments so they can relate to them.”

Since small buildings aren’t staffed with as many facility operators as large buildings, simple solutions are typically best.

“A key to getting the most benefit from a BMS is to choose a system that has easy-to-use software. This is especially important for smaller buildings with few facility management pros,” Callahan said. “You want to find a program that doesn’t take a lot of time to learn and not a lot of time to get done what you need to get done.”

He noted that Alerton’s Compass software was developed using human-centered design principles. “Under this approach, software developers observe how actual users interact with systems. They evaluate how people navigate through the software and note areas where users have difficulty making it work. The developers then reconfigure the software and continue to refine it until new groups of users do not have those problems.”

Another option is software-as-a-service (SaaS), which BuildingIQ offers as an easy solution for small-building owners and operators, explained Nguyen.

“SaaS approaches are low- or no-cost installations, can be implemented without interfacing with the BMS, and in the case of our solution, include a third-party set of expertise to analyze and interpret the data,” he said.

Shedivy said it’s crucial to explore a variety of options so that the best BMS solution is chosen for the building.

“It is important to look for building management systems that are designed to work easily with a wide variety of building systems. This enables building owners to optimize their buildings today and in the future as facility and location needs evolve,” he said, adding that Trane’s Tracer Concierge platform was designed with this in mind.

“Trane’s Tracer Concierge is built on a platform that supports open standards, making future expansions and the integration of new systems and equipment easier,” Shedivy said. “So multiple building systems, such as HVAC, lighting, and other devices, can be managed and adjusted via one single interface. This saves time and makes operating a building easier and more efficient. It also makes remote management and service easier.”

Rauker also discussed the importance of finding the right setup for a small building owner or operator.

“Primarily, building energy management system settings should be customizable depending on an individual user’s specific needs,” he said.

He pointed to Daikin’s Intelligent Equipment offering as an example of a simple, cloud-hosted solution for small building owners.

“Daikin’s Intelligent Equipment is ideal because it simplifies how users interact with the complexities of the HVAC systems within their building,” Rauker said. “Intelligent Equipment sensors connect directly to an HVAC unit, which enables it to gather deeper insight into system performance.”

By adopting an equipment-monitoring system like this, Rauker said, “Small building owners can still achieve clear insight into energy consumption rates and occupant comfort without needing to make a major investment.”


As more small buildings adopt different BMS solutions to fit their needs, their owners and operators will begin realizing the tremendous benefits that accompany a greater level of energy management.

“If an investment is to be made, then the benefits include marketability and market value, high tenant comfort and productivity, low operating costs, and brand uplift,” Nguyen said. “We’re seeing a shift away from energy savings to comfort as the driver for owner/operators in decisions related to energy management and BMS.”

Petock said that once small building owners and operators get a closer look at energy consumption, they realize “how it can be turned into an opportunity to reduce energy expenses, improve comfort and occupant experiences, achieve better indoor environmental quality, and reduce maintenance costs.”

Karloff added that “speed to business” is buzzworthy, and investing in a BMS can aid companies in riding to the top of this trend.

“Building managers can offer a strong contribution to their company’s initiatives by assuring an efficient, productive workplace,” he said. “The BMS offers a powerful toolset that building owners need to be effective. Add in increased security desires, and you have a strong reason to invest in an integrated platform that will help decision-makers effectively manage their facilities and reduce corporate risk.”

Publication date: 8/22/2016

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