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What is Smart HVAC? – The Advantages And Disadvantages

Commercial buildings are incorporating many smart HVAC systems into their building designs. These heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems help building owners automate processes, boost energy efficiency, reduce cost, and improve the comfort of tenants.

The post-pandemic demand for smart HVAC systems has increased as tenants reenter their office spaces.

Unfortunately, conventional HVAC systems cannot monitor building occupancy and adapt airflow accordingly. Non-smart HVAC systems that don’t have room occupancy data work on the assumption that the room is at full occupancy. They often over-ventilate rooms and cause discomfort to the room’s occupants. They also waste energy because they run when they shouldn’t.

What is a Smart HVAC System?

A smart HVAC uses networked components like sensors and internet-of-things devices to decide when to activate. Smart HVAC systems enable building owners to control the climate of the building at very granular levels. To reach a defined comfort level, they can regulate several conditions, including fan speeds, humidity, and lighting.

You can also operate a smart HVAC with a mobile device, which is virtually impossible with conventional HVAC systems. Furthermore, it is possible to program smart HVAC to prioritize or deprioritize areas based on people’s location.

In contrast, the traditional HVAC system controls the temperature in a building, but it needs you to control it manually, often leading to wasted efficiency. The system air-conditions all rooms unsystematically regardless of their occupancy.

building ventilation system

What Makes Smart HVAC Possible?

A smart HVAC is part of a building automation system (BAS) and similarly uses sensors integrated into the building. Several levels of automation exist for smart HVAC systems. The most advanced ones can fine-tune airflow, temperature, and humidity in zones and sometimes at room level.

The following are the components that make up the intelligent HVAC.

Thermal Sensors

They are placed strategically to sense the temperature of various building zones. Thermometers help maintain uniformity of temperature because rooms heat up differently depending on their characteristics and occupancy. For instance, a conference room with people heats up quickly, unlike a wide-open space with high ceilings.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Sensors

High carbon dioxide levels in a building diminish peoples’ thinking and decision-making abilities, according to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health. CO2 sensors detect when the gas levels reach a high threshold. The HVAC uses this information to increase airflow to the area.

Occupancy Sensors

They are ideal for offices and other workplaces where people usually don’t turn off the lights or AC when they leave. Workers are becoming more mobile. Regardless, a conventional HVAC system will cool or heat empty rooms and waste energy in many cases.

Occupancy sensors enable automated systems to reduce a building’s lighting expense.

Light Sensors

Modern buildings let in plenty of natural light. However, significant discrepancies exist between the brightest and darkest areas of the building. Areas getting direct sunlight need no artificial light. Yet, areas toward the building’s interior could get too dark. These areas use light sensors and occupancy sensors to turn on the lights.

Variable Speed Fans

Conventional HVAC system fans have few to no speed controls. On the other hand, smart HVAC fans can adjust their speed depending on the demands of the building.

There is another automated technology called variable refrigerant flow. It adjusts cooling needs based on data from sensors installed in the building.

VRF HVAC systems use smaller satellite air handlers to cool various building sections. The system varies the amount of refrigerant delivered to each of these smaller units to increase or decrease their ability to cool the area. A VRF system uses data from the same sensors as a smart HVAC.

smart HVAC system

Advantages of Smart HVAC Systems

Smart AC systems are becoming more prevalent because they have many benefits compared to traditional HVACs. The following are their most prominent benefits.

 1 | Minimizes Operational Cost

Almost 40% of the total energy consumption of commercial buildings goes to heating, cooling and ventilation. Businesses looking to tame runaway costs install automated HVAC systems that use various sensors to deliver heating and cooling only where it is needed.

A smart HVAC gives you precise climate control to ensure everyone in the building gets a comfortable environment. It can achieve this while saving up to 20% energy consumption compared to traditional systems.

2 | Use Sensor Data To Make Strategic Decisions.

An intelligent climate control system gives you data about your energy consumption and how the system is operating. You do not have to make blind guesses when setting the climate controls like you would with older systems.

3 | Control all equipment from a single interface

Traditional climate control systems are difficult to manage because their controls are distributed all over the building. However, you can control a smart HVAC system from a single interface and set different lighting, airflow, and heating or cooling levels for separate building areas.

4 | Intelligent Scheduling

A smart HVAC system allows you to choose when it turns on and off. You can also add daylight-saving time to avoid it kicking in when nobody is in the building. Thanks to scheduling, you can set the system to heat or cool the building just before people arrive.

You can also air-condition specific rooms like conference rooms before people go in for meetings. 

5 | Remote accessibility

It is one of the unique features of intelligent building management systems. Smart HVAC systems are connected to the Internet so that you can control them from anywhere.

6 | Seamless temperature variability

You can use a smart HVAC to set the temperature difference between one room or zone and another.

7 | Environmental Friendliness

Installing more efficient air conditioning systems minimizes the environmental impacts of commercial buildings.

8 | Reduced downtime

Smart HVAC systems have built-in diagnostics that tell you when to service or clean them up. They can also warn you about impending failures so that you can do preventive maintenance.

The robust self-diagnosis ensures that your AC never goes offline unexpectedly.

Disadvantages of Smart HVAC systems

These modern systems come with a set of drawbacks, including:

  1. Slow return on investment. Despite the significant reduction in operating expenses, it will take a while before you recoup the initial investment.
  2. Steep learning curve. People who are not tech-savvy might find the system too complex. Furthermore, a smart HVAC requires frequent adjustment to reap maximum benefits.
  3. It can be costly to set up. The most advanced intelligent ACs can cost up to four times more than conventional climate control systems.
  4. You could experience difficulty installing a smart AC system. Some of them require complex installation procedures and configuration before you can start using them.
HVAC systeam on large commercial building

How do Commercial Buildings use Smart HVAC?

HVAC systems account for a large percentage of the energy consumed by commercial buildings. Companies have taken advantage of the benefits of smart systems and IoT devices to rein in the power consumption of their HVACs.

Companies collect data from the sensors to find wasteful energy usage patterns. They combine it with data from other sources to make informed decisions regarding power consumption.

There are four prominent use cases for commercial properties that use smart systems to attain energy efficiency, including

  • Real-time condition monitoring – companies monitor their HVAC systems in real-time so that they can dispatch technicians only when needed. Companies maintained older HVACs on a schedule. They could not tell how well the equipment was performing between servicing periods. Condition monitoring helps companies to improve their HVACs uptime.
  • Remote diagnosis – smart devices allow technicians to diagnose commercial HVAC systems remotely. When customers report malfunctions in the system, the management can find the root cause of the problem before dispatching maintenance specialists. Remote diagnosis helps the management of commercial buildings to reduce site visits. Early diagnosis also helps them reduce fixing time because they know which tools and parts to carry for repairs.
  • Preventive maintenance – commercial buildings analyze historical data to pre-empt failures of intelligent HVAC installations. These predictions inform their decision to maintain the AC and prevent unexpected downtime. Preventive maintenance also helps increase the lifespan of the HVAC.
  • Automation – technicians in charge of commercial HVACs can configure the system to take automated actions when certain conditions are met. For instance, they can set it to alert the facility manager when the performance of an intelligent HVAC system dips below a certain level. They could also set the system to alert the tenants about energy consumption by the HVAC.

Conclusion

A smart HVAC system aims to monitor the climate in a building, heat and cool areas as required, and mitigate potential misuse by building occupants. The HVAC achieves all those objectives using integrated sensors to monitor the facility. It also provides valuable data for building owners to help them decide how to manage their climate control infrastructure. Despite the higher cost and complexity of smart HVAC systems, they provide great value. Building owners also do away with the unpredictable maintenance needs of older HVAC systems.

If you want to learn more about smart buildings, smart cities, sustainability, and PropTech, feel free to take a look at our other articles.

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