It’s only 8:00 AM on an August morning and the sun is already beating down, while the humidity is intolerable. Building manager Jeff Epstein drives to work, parks his car next to the loading dock, and goes into the building through the back entrance, walking through the package room to the elevator lobby. Relieved to be in the cooler confines of his building, he enters his floor number on the destination dispatch control elevator panel. As he waits for the system to send him the closest high-speed elevator car, he looks down at his smartwatch, which reminds him about an alert he snoozed two hours earlier.
The warning came from a sensor on a building boiler, which detects vibration and temperature amongst many other things, and warned: ‘Domestic Hot Water Boiler #3 Down.’ Jeff knows that the boilers sequence and there is no need to panic, but he already called the contractors earlier in the morning to fix the issue and proactively prevent the burnout of other boilers, which are picking up the slack while boiler #3 is out of commission.
As the elevator climbs the 53-story building, Jeff knows the contractors are in the basement, as the camera in the boiler alerted him when the crew walked in a half hour earlier. Using the two-way radio on the camera, he already chatted with the crew and explained the problem to them. Before leaving the elevator, Jeff takes a quick look at the building’s electric load on his phone, and notices that the building may reach its billing demand peak for the month at around 2:15 PM today. He knows exactly how to respond.
Once in his office, Jeff radios his staff to act on the demand management protocols we call ‘Defcon 1’. After spending a few minutes answering emails, he checks on the building dashboard, and sees that several of the ‘Defcon 1’ protocols have already been implemented. Because his staff members logged their actions as they attended to the various protocols on their mobile apps, he knows exactly who has taken care of which demand management protocol, and when each step was taken. The building’s Wi-Fi tracks user activity in back-of-house spaces, so Jeff also knows that the elevator maintenance crew is onsite today, and he heads to the elevator machine room to meet them. In the background, due to the protocol actions taken by Jeff and his team, the building is slowly but steadily shifting the afternoon electric peaks into the morning hours, for example, raising temperatures in rarely-used common areas by a few degrees, thereby avoiding a billing demand event.
This is no fictional account, but a typical day at Journal Squared, KRE Group’s 538-unit, state-of-the-art, high-rise apartment building in the fast-transforming Journal Square neighborhood of Jersey City. At Logical Buildings, we built a holistic, smart building platform that services over 300 buildings across the United States like Journal Squared, with the goal of effectuating change using advanced data-driven insights.
In discussing the importance of smart building services, Jeff said, ‘Business today is driven by analytics. From professional sports to Wall Street, the importance of having accurate, meaningful data at one’s fingertips is the first step in the decision-making process. Building management is no different from these industries and smart building services are guiding property managers through this process’.
Journal Squared is newly built, highly amenitized, and filled with sophisticated building systems, including heat pumps, condenser water loops, cooling towers, heat exchangers, modular boiler and hot water heaters, VFD pumps and high-speed elevators. The Jersey City market is highly competitive with new apartments constantly coming on-line. Therefore, as Jeff put it, ‘Building owners look for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, building amenities spaces that accommodate a resident’s every need. Receiving top-notch service is paramount to a renter’s quality of life, something that smart building services assists managers in providing to their residents’.
Some of Jeff’s primary operational objectives are keeping utility expenses in check and detecting faults before they transform into major problems for the building or its residents. To address these two key challenges, we developed a holistic plan, starting with a connectivity backbone—the prerequisite for smart building success.
During the property’s construction stage and after the building envelope was in place, we coordinated a building-wide ‘radio frequency survey’ to understand the cellular coverage, strength and other parameters inside the building. As Journal Squared is a high-rise in a largely mid-rise neighborhood, it was particularly important to explore existing cell coverage and come up with connectivity alternatives should the cell service be questionable. Post-occupancy, in concert with the building’s IT staff, we helped centralize the IT infrastructure in the building, with separate, secure networks for in-building Wi-Fi communication by staff as well as sensors. There was an ancillary benefit in strengthening and extending Wi-Fi coverage.
Once a centralized, manageable, Wi-Fi network was in place, Jeff worked with our team to develop a sensors’ needs analysis, exploring questions like: What are the building’s pain points? What sensors provide the most value? Where are they most effective? What is the right mix of sensors? Which strategic locations and sensor types can detect the so-called ‘pulse’ of the building?
Less than a week after this analysis was completed, Journal Squared was outfitted with an optimal set of IoT sensors that are wireless, inter-operable, secure, robust, low-bandwidth and capable of sharing data. Through previous experiences, we recognized the limitations of closed, proprietary, custom-built, building management hardware and protocols. Instead, we integrated the technology innovation wave by researching, testing and adopting already established and warranteed IoT and data backhaul products developed by leading firms, including Samsung, Nest, Ecobee, Amazon, Comcast and Verizon.
For many of these products, analytics is instrumental in bolstering the value the hardware provides. As Garret Van der Boom, Business Development Director of Samsung’s SmartThings noted: “Samsung SmartThings sensors are designed to digitally transform a silent, analog property into a communicating smart building, and integration creates the optimal outcomes for our sensors at a multifamily property. With our hardware integrated with intelligent software, the Journal Squared property management team is immediately apprised of potential operational red flags and equipped with the tools to fix and monitor them in real time.”
For Jeff, the value of the SmartKit AI platform is hard to overstate. With visuals, visual analytics, vibration, acceleration, position change, occupancy, temperature, humidity, HVAC controls and other sensory points, Jeff is able to leverage the platform to sense everything happening in the building, whether it’s an overflowing sewer ejector pit, underperforming boiler module, package retrieval in the mail room, overheating elevator rooms, frequent pressure drops in sprinkler lines, malfunctioning cooling tower, voltage fluctuations from the Grid, or even overflowing trash in the compactor room. Logical Buildings also began developing ‘skills’ on Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant—which quickly turned into Jeff’s go-to voice assistant for all things Journal Squared.
Working with Jeff, we were able to engineer a responsive building. Journal Squared now responds to the behavior of its occupants, Grid pricing of electricity and other commodities, building system performance, current and future weather patterns, building operational schedules (like move-ins/move-outs and pool parties) and various utility load management programs. Journal Squared is the perfect example of a connected, resilient and healthier building, which translates to happier residents as well as lower building operating costs. By increasing net operating income through better management of operating expenses, the platform also substantially increases the market value of the asset.