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How Do IoT Sensors Improve Building Performance?
How Do IoT Sensors Improve Building Performance?

Sensors have been used in buildings since the invention of air conditioning to understand how buildings are performing, from in-room temperature sensors, to sensors on plant equipment, motors, ductwork and pipes. The Internet of Things (IoT) has enabled more sensors of different types to be deployed in more locations throughout the building easier than ever before. The point of installing and using IoT sensors is to gain deeper insight into how buildings are performing, and ensure buildings are healthier, more productive for people to work in, more effective to run and more energy efficient. This article looks at in-room sensors, such as temperature, air quality and occupancy, and how IoT sensors can help improve building performance. The benefits of IoT sensors is that they are easy to install, both physically and from a commissioning perspectiveThe benefits of IoT sensors is that they are easy to install, both physically and from a commissioning perspective. Cabling is usually minimal or not required at all: IoT sensors are battery powered, or require simple USB power (from a plug socket) or utilise Power over Ethernet (PoE). IoT sensors use low power wireless protocols (such as Bluetooth, Mesh etc) to send data, and thus can be placed anywhere within a building and do not require multiple physical IOs for integration. Unprecedented amounts of data IoT sensors are usually cost-effective such that thousands of sensors can be deployed throughout the building without much effort. This gives an unprecedented amount of data to building managers, which comes with its own challenges – How to make use of this data? There are two ways to utilise this data to improve building health, performance and efficiency: Use an effective monitoring platform or data analysis tools to turn raw data into actionable insights. This can provide the building and facilities team with insights to be more pro-active, and spot temperature, air quality, overcrowding, etc issues even before the users or tenants begin to notice e.g. it’s too cold, too drafty, too stuffy, etc. Integrate the live data from the IoT sensors straight into the Building Management System (BMS) and create new control strategies to automate the building further. This requires a bit more integration and commissioning work upfront, but the performance and efficiency benefits through automation will give a fast Return on Investment. The key here isn’t the sensor integration itself, but the building control strategy that will be the logic to which the building automation fucntions. Some use cases of IoT sensors are: Temperature and HVAC A common problem I’ve heard from many buildings is that existing temperature sensors that connect to the BMS have been placed in the ceiling, and not at head height. Using battery powered IoT temperature (and humidity) sensors, and sticking them to the wall at head height, is a quick and easy way to measure temperature where it actually matters.Data can be used to plot temperature heatmaps, find hot or cold spots, or analyse the solar heat gain Data can be used to plot temperature heatmaps, find hot or cold spots (e.g. if two nearby FCUs are working against each other, one heating one cooling); or analyse the solar heat gain, and adjust internal loads. The IoT temperature sensors can be connect to the BMS to provide more accurate temperature data to FCUs instead of the sensors in the ceiling. In general, IoT senors can easily be reconfigured and moved, e.g. during a fit out. But care needs to be taken to keep a close eye on the sensors and which room/space they relate to. Battery will need to be changed every 5 years. The IoT temperature sensors are cheap enough that they can simply be replaced with new ones e.g. the sensors element need recalibrating. Indoor air quality sensors and HVAC Accurate CO2 level sensors (which use duel channel NDIR technology) with IoT connectivity are getting cheaper and can also be used to do ‘heatmapping’, of the building, and provide accurate insights on indoor air quality. Similarly, heatmaps can be done with particulate matter sensors (PM10, PM2.5, PM1), VOC sensors and others embedded in an IoT connected sensor. CO2 level sensors in Accurate CO2 level sensors  with IoT connectivity are getting cheaper and can also be used to do ‘heatmapping’particular are important as the level of CO2 indoors affects our cognitive ability. High indoor CO2 levels hinder our productivity. Indoor CO2 levels of 900ppm to 1400ppm and higher, which are seen in buildings with poor ventilation, reduce our ability to make decisions and use complex information by 15% to 50% and higher, respectively. Indoor CO2 levels are also a good indication of the risk of infection, as people breathing are usually the main source of CO2 in buildings. So being able to monitor CO2 levels in every space inside the building will provide building owners, tenants and users with reassurance with regard to COVID-19 related challenges. ‘eCO2’, a derivative from VOC sensors, should NEVER be used as a measure of CO2 levels. All CO2 sensors elements need to be recalibrated every 3-5 years. Occupancy level and HVAC Knowing the occupancy on every floor of the building can be used to control HVAC systems. Through BMS integration, controlling the flow of ventilation dynamically, based on real-time floor-by-floor occupancy, allows the building to ‘breathe’ with actual demand.Employing an occupancy-based, dynamic control strategy on the BMS reduces the energy consumption for buildings that rarely see full occupancy This balances the building from a technical perspective, and improves air delivery by opening up more ventilation capacity. Employing an occupancy-based, dynamic control strategy on the BMS, not only improves the indoor air quality, but also reduces the energy consumption for buildings that rarely see full occupancy, or have dynamic use (which will only be more common as we begin to work-from-home more often) Measuring the number of people is difficult, which usually means expensive. One way to count people is using PIR sensors places under each desk. This can get expensive for 1,000 desks even if one IoT PIR sensor is relatively cheap. Another way is to use a less accurate, but cheaper method, e.g. using long-range sensors that count the number wireless devices in a vicinity / floor, and using that as a proxy for percentage occupancy levels. Summary 1,000s of IoT sensors can be easily installed anywhere throughout any building. To get the best out of an IoT system a clear use case (or set of use cases) is necessary. By understanding the use cases and benefits, the right design, UI or integration can be used to maximise the cost-benefit ratio for the specific use cases, for example: BMS integration for IoT temperatures sensors; Relevant platform UI and analysis to extract actionable insights for the Facilities Management team from the raw IoT sensor data; or Correct HVAC control and automation strategy based on occupancy level data.

COVID-19 and the Renaissance of Digitalized HVAC
COVID-19 and the Renaissance of Digitalized HVAC

It is said that the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the single biggest driving forces behind the digitalization of industries ever seen. And although not new within HVAC infrastructures – especially within the food retail environment where it has been rolled out extensively – remote management and automation of HVAC systems is increasingly being used to support supermarket responses to COVID-19. From air filtration through to dynamic scheduling, digitalization of HVAC within the food retail sector is going through something of a renaissance. Pre-COVID Digitalization Software solutions that use Internet of Things (IoT) technology to analyze data from HVAC infrastructures, for example, are common in food retail stores. These solutions work by monitoring mission critical aspects of HVAC systems, from simple temperature data through to complex asset monitoring. This data can then either be fed back to the retailer for them to perform their own analysis or, using more advanced IoT technology, can be used to enact automated HVAC outcomes. Software solutions that use IoT technology to analyze data from HVAC infrastructures are common in food retail stores From preventing HVAC asset’s overworking – and therefore expending too much energy – through to detecting the first stages of a fault and alerting the relevant maintenance engineers, automation has been shown to deliver numerous benefits. These combine to serve the retailer’s primary purposes; enhancing the consumers in-store experience, improving the bottom line and decreasing energy usage to lower carbon footprint. But not only is the digitalization of HVAC helping food retailers drive down costs and energy, advances in areas such as air filtration and dynamic scheduling have meant that it is also being seen as a potential solution to COVID-19 related issues. Filtering Out the Virus Air filtration is a primary focus when looking for ways to keep internal spaces free from pathogens. While not exactly a new feature for HVAC systems, food retailers have been increasingly working towards implementing or improving their existing air filtration techniques in their stores. The solution to keeping air clean and fresh is actually quite straightforward and relies on the same technology that many stores already use to monitor CO2. Advances in areas such as air filtration and dynamic scheduling have meant that HVAC is being seen as a potential solution to COVID-19 By connecting CO2 monitors to a central controls panel (the technical way of describing the place where all of the sensor data is collected and, in some cases, analyzed), sensors are able to detect the CO2 levels instore, signal if they begin to drift past a pre-determined base level, and automatically alert the HVAC systems to provide more fresh air into the store. This is a simple process of optimization. Additional sensors detect when fresh air is either too humid, hot or cold to be filtered into the store and rectify this by automatically adjusting the HVAC. Essentially, monitoring CO2 and air quality levels makes sure the air in a store is constantly fresh and filtered to keep the chances of airborne transmission as low as possible without causing the HVAC systems to expend any more energy than is necessary. Research has shown that COVID-19 spreads through small respiratory droplets that are released into the air from an infected person when coughing, talking or even breathing. Within a store environment therefore, where surface contamination and proximity to other people are likely to increase the chances of transmitting the virus, optimized fresh air flow to dilute indoor air is desirable. By detecting higher levels of CO2 within the air which in turn increases the chances of pathogens floating around, food retailers can automate their HVAC systems to filtrate the air and significantly reduce chances of transmission. Dynamic HVAC Response Air filtration isn’t the only way that food retailers are combining digitalization and HVAC systems to help them navigate the ‘new normal’. With store opening times continually changing, fewer people inside a store at any one time and staff performing additional and stricter clean regimes after hours, the requirements for optimum store temperature have moved from static to dynamic. Before the pandemic, HVAC systems would have to keep an average non-24 hour store at the optimum temperature for between say, 7am and 11pm, and would have to work a little harder to deliver more air into the store during the lunch time rush and post-work peaks – a mostly predictable routine. Research has shown that COVID-19 spreads through small respiratory droplets that are released into the air from an infected person Now, however, with adjusted store schedules and social distancing regulations, the footfall and peak traffic times have changed dramatically. Through digitally enabled remote management of HVAC temperatures and schedules, new schedules could be deployed across the estate at the touch of a button. Real-time monitoring of in-store temperatures and the volume of people inside also enables HVAC systems to run more efficiently by stopping them from filtering in more outside air than is necessary in a shop that contains fewer customers than normal. IoT solutions are ensuring HVAC infrastructures are running efficiently, saving energy, helping a retailer’s bottom line and most importantly, ensuring the comfort and safety of customers and colleagues. However, as retailers look for solutions to the challenges posed by the post-COVID landscape, digitalized HVAC is breathing fresh air into the industry. From improved air filtration to dynamic schedule monitoring, digitalized HVAC systems are proving to be an important tool in a food retailer’s arsenal as they navigate the new normal.

Ventilation And Transmission: HVAC And Adapting To COVID-19
Ventilation And Transmission: HVAC And Adapting To COVID-19

Effective heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems have always been part of maintaining a healthy building environment, and with the impact of COVID-19 and the unique way the virus is spread, it has never been more imperative that HVAC plays a vital role in keeping occupants of buildings safe, especially as people begin to return to the office and other commercial environments. COVID-19 has three known contamination routes. First of all, there is person-to-person transmission, which could be indirect too, if the virus travels from someone to a surface they have touched, which is then touched by another person. Then there is airborne transmission. The British Council for Offices (BCO)’s Thoughts on Office Design and Operation After COVID 19 document talks of large droplets, greater than 10 micrometres, “expelled by sneezing and coughing and in still air, typically within about 2 metres of the infected person.” But Dr Linsey Marr, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, speaking to the New Scientist says that people emit thousands of times more smaller droplets than larger ones. She thinks that it is these ones that infect people with COVID-19. Then there’s the third contamination route: faecal to oral whereby particles from the toilet can enter people’s respiritory systems when using WCs. Counteracting COVID-19 transmission There are several methods to counteract these routes of transmission. The risk of the virus spreading from person-to-person can be lessened where there is a focus on smart technology. This begins upon arrival at a building, with the use of touchless entry systems, for instance harnessing facial recognition technology. Once inside, staff could then be directed to an area of the office that isn’t already occupied via digital signage or an app. And instead of manually pressing a button, information from the employee’s ID pass about which floor they work on can be read by a card reader, activating the elevator. As for transmissions via surfaces, scientists have emphasized copper’s antibacterial properties, with COVID-19 surviving just a few hours on copper, compared with a number of days for steel or plastic. William Keevil, a senior microbiologist at the University of Southampton, has recently suggested that the UK is behind other countries in using this material on communal areas like handrails and doorknobs. Copper-based nickel would perform better than chrome in certain parts of the office too. The risk of the virus spreading from person-to-person can be lessened where there is a focus on smart technology To dilute airborne contamination, the Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers (CIBSE) recommends running ventilation systems at a higher flow rate. “This may require changes to C02 set points for both mechanical ventilation and automated windows,” it states in its COVID-19 Ventilation Guidance. Airborne Particles and the need for ventilation Chinese and American academics looking at outbreaks in the Chinese province of Zhejiang found that airborne transmission of the virus may have taken place in 48.3% of people in a badly ventilated office. Essentially to stop the spread of COVID-19, ventilation needs to be increased and more fresh air needs to be brought in. The risk of contamination via recirculated air can be mitigated with a higher level of filtration such as F9. This is a very fine system that will catch nanoparticles of 70nm but does involve greater energy use to overcome the resistance.  The alternative is to keep these systems on for much longer – typically two hours before people arrive and then two hours after they leave. CIBSE’s COVID-19 report also states that, “Recirculation of air within a single room, where this is complemented by an outdoor air supply, is acceptable.” Getting abundant fresh air in the system is key. This could be as simple as just opening the windows. The BCO’s report goes so far as to say, “Actively use operable windows and openings to boost ventilation to occupied spaces as much as possible, even if this is at the expense of thermal comfort.” Fan coils and Chilled beams Getting abundant fresh air in the system is key The BCO also recommends that fan coils, which recirculate air locally in the occupied space, “should be frequently and thoroughly cleaned and where condensation occurs, drain pans and traps should be maintained frequently to prevent growth of bacteria and mold.” It is also a recommendation that HepVo traps are installed on condensate systems that drain into waste pipework. As far as chilled beams are concerned, CIBSE says that active chilled beams can be operated as normal, while with passive chilled beams there should be a good supply of air. I would be interested to see some further research on the performance of underfloor and low level air distribution. The lower velocities and laminar air flow associated with these systems causes less air turbulence, particularly in the zone where air is breathed. This would seem to have an obvious advantage in reducing the risk of virus spread in an office environment. Mixed Mode Ventilation The ‘mixed mode’ of ventilation will become more commonplace. When it is not high summer, the cooling can be turned off so windows can be opened. This could even eventually replace the familiar sealed building model. This system can happen automatically with sensors, after all, fresh air is good for people: There are several recent examples of this being done successfully, other building such as London Wall Place, have been designed future proofed for ‘mixed mode’ use to be adopted if this is preferred by a tenant. Meanwhile, to combat faecal-oral transmission, bathroom extraction fans need to be kept on high and again perhaps running the systems for 24 hours a day. Toilets that automatically shut and touchless flushes can also help to stop the spread of the virus. The same goes for anti-bacterial coatings on bathroom doors. Some of clients are considering motorized doors that are effectively ‘touch free’. Post-COVID Ventilation Strategies Toilets that automatically shut and touchless flushes can also help to stop the spread of the virus There is definitely set to be more access to outside air moving forward and there is a strong sustainability argument to be made for this method. However, some of the changes to ventilation strategies being deployed for a post-COVID world will inevitably have some compromises for carbon emissions. If systems are run at a higher rate and for longer, if not continuously, throughout the day then that has implications for a larger carbon footprint, as the buildings become less energy efficient. However, in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s a price worth paying. As energy saving methods (thermal wheels and plate heat exchangers) also present a risk, CIBSE recommends that these are bypassed and not used in the current environment Of course, some of these solutions are temporary but other, smart office elements like touchless versions of door handles, room/desk booking systems (wayfinding) and reception sign-in procedures look set to be with us for the longer term. These all affect the M&E, as well as the architecture and design of buildings. We will overcome COVID-19 but we need to listen to the lessons that we are learning, and some will most certainly become permanent before the next virus that hits the human race comes along!

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