The HVAC industry has always been searching for a way to be more proactive. Failure in equipment, even the smallest component, can really hurt a building’s profitability so preventing problems is one of the most important jobs for any facilities manager. But, it seems like only recently has the industry turning the corner and becoming more predictive in remediating failing assets. Couple this with the fact that many HVAC contractors are adapting their services to provide a seamless customer experience and it looks like we might be on the cusp of a rather large shift in an industry that hasn’t changed much since its inception.
One of the big reasons for this is the IoT, or the “internet of things” if you have been living in an air duct for the last few years. IoT technology can provide early detection of problems, allowing time for building owners to proactively plan for repair and replacement. IoT technology collects the data that supports systems that analyse for signs of degradation that could lead to problems in the future. Recent advancements in IoT technology has already shown to positively impact buildings by optimizing services, energy efficiency and, ultimately, tenant satisfaction.
But the increase in sensors and connected devices can start to create a lot of noise that become hard to filter out the signal from. Service providers need to start with a baseline of the insights into the asset in order for it to be “IoT-actionable.” Then, these insights have to be connected to an asset, its condition, location and performance. Asset tracking, when done right, can provide the necessary identifiers, in this case things like the brand name, the model number, the serial number, age, run time, unit efficiency and its impact on the building’s performance. All of those pieces of information enhance the ability to appropriately respond to a stress signal reported from an IoT-enabled device.
The promise that IoT holds is a steep upward trajectory in customer satisfaction. For example, when the weather is hot or extremely cold, an HVAC emergency service call needs to be addressed in a very short window of time. And when hot weather strikes, often many HVAC systems break down and it can be very hard to triage all those requests while maintaining a high service level, meeting the service level agreement that you have with the client.
With the advent of IoT, service providers are able to do better than relying on the client to reactively report a problem. An apartment complex might be getting a complaint from a tenant some hours after the problem actually starts, and then by the time they get a service request initiated, several hours more. And by the time the contractor is on the scene to resolve the issue, it is possible days or a week or more has passed.
It is rare that a piece of equipment would be operating with perfect efficiency and then, all of a sudden, fails to function. What typically occurs is a period of degradation that starts in the equipment, and being able to detect that degradation, when things are starting to go bad, before a complete failure, is some of IoT’s value. The early warning signal that something’s wrong prolongs the service level timeline. If that detection occurs days or even weeks ahead of the actual failure, what could have been a four-hour emergency job now becomes a job that can be scheduled with advance notice not inconvenience tenants. The luxury of more lead time is the benefit of IoT. There is also a growing amount of add on sensors that can retrofit units for IoT insight. For example sensor kits that might have refrigerant pressures inside the unit, pre and post filters, provides additional insights into the operation of that unit, enabling the user to do more than just remotely detect a problem, but instead, remotely diagnose it.
Besides efficiency, there are plenty of marketing benefits for an IoT enabled building. In 2016, a survey was conducted by Wakefield Research that showed 86% of Millennials said that they would pay extra for properties set up with smart technologies. One of the big reasons for that is energy efficiency and environmental concerns. Smart devices, IoT, smart thermostats are not just providing savings for tenants, but also improving the overall eco-friendliness of multi-family facilities and also increasing tenant satisfaction.
When you speak with multi-family and commercial property owners and operators today and ask about “asset management,” they often think of assets as the four walls of the building, the year it was built, the square feet, the number of bedrooms. They are not considering building systems like HVAC, water heaters, electrical or any of the other subsystems that make up that particular property.
The initial costs of connecting an HVAC system will only go down with time. Old units will be able to be easily retrofitted with state of the art (often wireless) sensors. New units will ship from the factory with sensors embedded in them. Connected HVAC will just become the new normal. The thermostat itself might even disappear as part of this evolving product space. Metering will be effortless and predictive analytics will be laid seamlessly on top of it.
In the very near future we will no longer have to hear about how “HVAC will implement IoT.” The will become one and the same. Any modern HVAC system will be yet another spoke on an IoT hub and any good building’s IoT will have to have granular HVAC input as part of its dashboard. In the very near future when we think about facilities management we won’t think of a greasy guy with a wrench in the basement, but a technician in a control room monitoring over a vast IoT network. In some buildings, that is already the case.