Small- to medium-sized buildings — usually considered to be under 50,000 square feet — make up about 94% of all commercial buildings in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, yet only 13% of those buildings have a building automation system (BAS). In a white paper entitled, The Untapped 87%: Simplifying Controls Technology for Small Buildings, author James Dice, PE, CEM, CMVP and founder of Nexus Labs, says that cost and complexity are the main reasons why BAS are often only installed in larger buildings.
“Controls technology is complicated — and determining the why, who, what, where, how, and when is just plain difficult,” said Dice. “Despite the benefits, the owners of small buildings simply don’t have the time, resources, or capital to wade through this muck.”
And the benefits of installing a BAS in a smaller building can be substantial. According to the white paper, “Small structures can cut energy use from 27% to 59%, depending upon building type, using economically viable and commercially available technologies. Implementation of these technologies would reduce the overall commercial building energy footprint by 17%.”
By explaining these benefits to smaller building owners and offering simple and cost-effective controls solutions, HVAC contractors can improve their bottom line as well as strengthen their relationships with customers.
Most BAS are built for large-scale, complex buildings, which is why so many small- and medium-sized buildings often use simple HVAC control systems that are designed for residential use, said David Witherspoon, global sales leader of Honeywell Small and Medium Building Administrator at Honeywell Building Technologies. That may leave a lot of energy savings on the table.
“A BAS can help optimize a building’s operational productivity and energy efficiency,” he said. “Leveraging BAS technology, small- and medium-sized building owners can begin to measure, monitor, and optimize their energy usage across all the buildings within their portfolio. Once building owners have insight into their portfolio, the same BAS can help identify trends and collect data to support operational changes that not only support a company’s overall sustainability goals, but can impact occupant comfort and their experience.”
Indeed, implementing a modern BAS can give facility professionals a deep level of customized automated insight and remote control over their building(s), allowing them to easily push building parameter adjustments and schedules that simultaneously save energy and improve comfort and IAQ, said David Koerner, vice president of marketing at 75F, which uses smart sensors and controls to make buildings more comfortable and efficient. That said, there is always a cost/benefit analysis that needs to be considered.
“A BAS needs to return on its investment within a timeframe that makes practical sense for the building owner. When buildings are really small, the investment needs to be proportionally sized,” said Koerner. “However, this does not exclude very small buildings from the controls realm, especially if it’s part of a portfolio of buildings. Even if a building has just one thermostat, a portfolio of buildings like this would benefit from an energy management system, because the facility manager could make the facilities adhere to a set schedule, leading to energy savings across the portfolio.”
Without an integrated BAS, owners with hundreds or thousands of small- and medium-sized buildings in their portfolio may lack insight into numerous performance and optimization opportunities, said Bryant Bilal, senior offering manager at Honeywell. Some BAS also allow a convenient central dashboard to monitor and control the portfolio, whether it’s ten or thousands of sites, he added.
At 75F, the company’s goal is to offer a simple, cost-effective solution that allows owners of all building sizes to justify investing in a BAS. The company’s vertically integrated, full-stack IoT Building Management System includes cloud-based software and software-defined hardware that work out of the box — no programming required — to deliver predictive and proactive HVAC automation for more efficient and comfortable spaces.
Components in a typical installation include smart sensors that connect to 75F’s AI for analysis; a 75F Central Control Unit as a supervisor with built-in wall interface; the 75F Smart Node as a software-defined terminal equipment controller; 75F Smart Dampers in various configurations; and 75F Facilisight, which is the user portal for secure remote monitoring and control across a building or entire portfolio.
SUCCESSFUL PAIR: One of 75F’s lead field service technicians pairs a Central Control Unit to a Smart Node. (Courtesy of 75F)
“Our sensors capture millions of data points daily,” said Koerner. “These data points are uploaded to the cloud via a 900 MHz wireless mesh network and combine with a live weather stream and forecast data so 75F’s AI can predict and direct optimal control strategies. This saves our average customer 42% in energy for the equipment we control, making for a rapid ROI.”
Honeywell offers its Small and Medium Building Administrator powered by Honeywell Forge, which is an affordable and scalable building portfolio management system designed specifically for small- to medium-sized buildings. Based on the Honeywell Forge enterprise performance management platform, the Small and Medium Building Administrator provides insights into building portfolio operations and efficiency and is a fully customizable, plug-and-play solution.
The Honeywell Small and Medium Building Administrator powered by Honeywell Forge aggregates data from a wireless ecosystem of hardware that includes a color touchscreen thermostat, a Smart IO module, and wireless sensors into a secure, cloud-based dashboard that provides insights on occupant comfort, operational productivity, and portfolio management. The system is suitable for small to medium buildings such as banking, retail, convenience stores, restaurants, grocery stores, medical clinics, education, and government facilities.
“We created the Honeywell Small and Medium Building Administrator with simplicity in mind when it comes to design and installation,” said Witherspoon. “The system can be fully customized for a specific building, yet it’s simple to install, use, and maintain.”
Vice President of Marketing, 75F
Many HVAC contractors think that BAS are too complicated to install, which is why they shy away from offering them to their customers. But they should be embracing them, said Bilal, because they can actually help a contractor stay on top of demand.
“The availability of labor is tough in today’s industry, and contractors are having trouble keeping up with servicing all of their customers,” he said. “Being able to quickly diagnose and service all customers and not having a problematic rollout is important for contractors. In addition, with easy-to-install and simple maintenance support on BAS like the Honeywell Small and Medium Building Administrator, contractors only need minimal training and are able to get started quickly.”
Unfortunately, many building owners also have a false perception that a BAS can be too complicated or complex for their building portfolio, so HVAC contractors should help educate them by providing a mock-up site or demo to showcase ease of use. By keeping it simple and removing any intimidation, contractors can provide customers with a simplified and understandable experience, said Bilal. In addition, they should be sure to show the potential return on investment.
Offering BAS to customers is also good for business, because when HVAC contractors succeed in getting controls installed in a building, they enter a position of knowledge, which makes them better able to sell profitable maintenance and service agreements, said Koerner.
“Eighty-seven percent of existing buildings under 50,000 square feet don’t have a controls solution now, making this building type a sizeable — though historically tough — market,” he said. “While most control solutions may not have been economical for mid- and small-sized buildings in the past that is rapidly changing with the spread of technology like 75F’s.”
While numerous BAS are available for larger, complex buildings, many controls manufacturers are now offering simple, cost-effective solutions for smaller buildings. These solutions can help building owners save money on energy costs, while helping to create a more comfortable environment for occupants. HVAC contractors who can offer these options to their customers will likely find themselves in high demand.