Moving Past X-ray Logic in Buildings: Why Many Building Tests Aren’t Telling You the Whole Story
Many people experience circulatory issues. It’s a common phenomenon that often leaves the sufferer with the undesirable symptom of losing feeling in a limb because blood flow isn’t getting to where it needs to be. Sometimes, the cause is straightforward, e.g. being in the same position for too long. And, the solution is equally simple - standing up and stretching. Other times, however, it is symptomatic of something more serious.
In these more serious situations, understanding the symptoms becomes a critical step in diagnosing the problem. However, pinpointing the symptoms can become problematic if you’re limited to certain diagnostic tools. Generally, a doctor wouldn’t skip the bloodwork and send you for x-rays. Only basing the diagnosis on partial data may lead the doctor to prescribe the wrong treatment.
So why do we use that logic when it comes to assessing a building’s health?
Much like the human body, a building has several systems that need to be functioning efficiently to maintain overall health. One malfunctioning part can cause an array of issues.
Currently, when conducting a commercial building audit, auditors will take a look at the building’s energy consumption data, mechanical systems and the building’s envelope. Once the data has been collected, the auditor identifies and provides savings and cost analysis of measures and potential capital improvements. The details provided in the analysis will vary depending on the level of audit. Finally, based on these findings, a report is drafted.
There is no doubt that these are all important components in identifying improvements. But, they are not showing the whole story.
A recent example:
ioAirFlow recently assessed an older Class C building.
Each floor had four thermostats that could be manually controlled by the facility manager. The occupied setpoint temperature was steady at 22°C with setback temperature was 23°C, but a number of occupants were complaining of hot and cold spots across one floor. We placed wireless sensors throughout the floor in strategic locations to measure thermal comfort variables.
What was highlighted was a mean temperature difference of over 3°C across the floor. Not only does this point to an issue, but it also exceeds acceptable ASHRAE standards and is over three times greater than the setback temperature difference.
Building automation systems can help track some anomalies in buildings. However, most systems are still only measuring the ‘bones’ of a building (its mechanical system, and its thermostats and control points). They’re missing a fundamental part of the equation – how is air flow reaching zones with no sensors? Is air flowing as it should be? Are there ‘dead zones’ where air flow is not reaching, creating areas that run too hot or cold?
Even with advancements in technology, these systems are still out of reach for many building owners. They are expensive, implementation can be invasive, and interpreting the data often requires someone with some engineering expertise on staff.
Traditional building audits remain the most feasible option for the majority of building owners interested in understanding the best ways to improve their building’s health. By using temporary, wireless sensors to track additional variables, ioAirFlow can compliment and digitize part of the auditing process.
The benefits to a building with this method can be overwhelmingly positive. Poorly insulated areas or how occupancy and your office space is interacting with the building can be identified, and whether changes can be made to increase occupant comfort. You can even understand if your HVAC system really is working as it's supposed to be, or whether an aging system needs repairs.
As we continue to refine our algorithm, these symptoms will be flagged automatically, and will pinpoint to precise problems found in the building. This is the first step to automating the auditing process.
If you’re an ESCO or a firm that provides energy audits or IEQ assessments to commercial buildings, and are interested in testing our process and providing feedback, please don’t hesitate to contact us.