Data is playing an increasingly important role in smart buildings. Analysis of building system data is guiding an expansion of capabilities in the smart building environment, making building systems - including HVAC - more efficient, effective and smarter. The growth of intelligence in the HVAC market was among the more prominent industry trends in 2020. This article will revisit some of the year’s most popular articles on HVACinformed.com that focused on the trend toward more intelligent systems.

"I don’t think many would disagree that the most talked about trend in the HVAC market is smart technology,” says Chris Windass of Incentiv Tec in an HVACinformed.com Expert Panel Roundtable article. “Smart technology like mobile apps allow building managers to control HVAC technology from one centralized point. With this smart technology, HVAC will be able to identify and alert building managers when maintenance is needed or assets have failed to operate.”

smarter building technology

A Johnson Controls survey found that 77% of organizations planned to make investments in energy efficiency and smarter building technology in 2020.

“A complete overhaul of legacy systems is not necessary as small investments today can help position a facility to more easily adopt technologies at scale in the future,” says Lisa Brown, Senior National Director of Municipal Infrastructure and Smart Cities at Johnson Controls.

More Intelligence in Home Systems

Google’s Nest smart thermostat is offering a new capability that will alert homeowners of problems

“As a first step, it’s important for building owners to conduct an assessment and establish a strategy that defines a comprehensive set of requirements and prioritizes use-cases and implementations. From there, incremental investments and updates can be made over a realistic timeline.”

Smart systems are also a big part of residential HVAC systems. For example, Google’s Nest smart thermostat is offering a new capability that will alert homeowners of problems with the operation of their HVAC systems based on artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that analyze system performance. The technology will empower Nest Learning thermostats to provide “early warning” of HVAC problems and even direct homeowners to a repair company.

Remote Troubleshooting Emerges

Sensors are another element of smart buildings. 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.

In-room sensors, such as temperature, air quality and occupancy, work with the IoT to improve building performance. The benefits of IoT sensors are that they are easy to install, both physically and from a commissioning perspective. Remote troubleshooting is another smart capability that is generating interest. CoolAutomation’s Remote HVAC Service Solution enables HVAC service providers to remotely troubleshoot issues by analyzing real-time and historic data trends and analysis.

Communicating in Smart Buildings

They receive automatic error and anomaly notifications in their office or on their mobile phones

They receive automatic error and anomaly notifications in their office or on their mobile phones. “The remote service solution provides the tools that HVAC service providers need to offer remote services to their existing clients while attracting new customers who understand the value of remote service for their business,” says Roy Muchtar, VP of Products at CoolAutomation.

Communication is a central aspect of smart building systems, and now there’s a better option: a high-speed wireline communication standard called HD-PLC that is developed specifically for today’s industrial IoT and smart building applications. In 2017, after careful evaluation of various technologies, LonMark International adopted HD-PLC as its new channel standard.

smart home standards

And last October, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) approved ANSI/CTA 709.8 LON HD-PLC (High Definition Power Line Communication) as a new standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Also related to communication, the Zigbee Alliance seeks to promote collaboration in the Internet of Things by creating, evolving, and promoting universal open standards that enable all objects to connect and interact.

A quick search also provides a manual, wiring diagram and video training content for that specific unit

Their effort took off when Amazon, Apple, Google and the Zigbee Alliance announced an industry working group in December 2019 to take the “best of market” technologies from leading smart home standards, portfolios and ecosystems and to develop a “super spec” that will be open, inclusive and a significant industry shift in the smart home market. The Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP) is looking to unify the environment, under one technology, one certification program and one logo.

Training Technicians Using Technology

Technology is also helping to fill the skills gap in the HVAC market. The XOi Vision platform helps on-site HVAC technicians in three ways. One is to “capture” images and videos.

A technician can take a picture (with a smart phone or tablet), and the system’s machine learning can extract the text from the nameplate of a unit in the field, interpret the type of name plate, and provide full model number, serial number and other information about the unit, which is relayed automatically to the technician in a text message. A quick search also provides a manual, wiring diagram and video training content for that specific unit.

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In case you missed it

How Will Remote Working Affect HVAC?
How Will Remote Working Affect HVAC?

The practice of working from home soared during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and many observers see a likely continuation of the trend, as infection risks gradually subside. Both environments – home and office – depend on HVAC systems to keep occupants comfortable (and safe!). Therefore, the industry stands to be impacted whichever way the trend plays out. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: How will remote working affect residential and commercial HVAC?

Active Technologies Needed For Indoor Air Quality As Pandemic Plays Out
Active Technologies Needed For Indoor Air Quality As Pandemic Plays Out

The most likely scenario for the next 12 months in the United Kingdom is far lower risk of serious COVID-19 illness due to the vaccine. However, there will be big swings in R rates, and there is uncertainty about how effective vaccines will be against COVID variants. The ‘R’ rate is the number of people one infected person will pass a virus on to, on average. As the scenario plays out, and more companies open for business, issues of indoor air quality will continue to be top of mind. The UK cannot stay in lockdown forever, so the big question becomes: What will happen when R rates rise again? Significant illness transmission “People have become far more concerned about building safety issues because we are dealing with a deadly virus that transmits when people don’t realize they have it,” says Andrew Hobbs, CEO and founder of Surrey-based air quality and HVAC specialists Better Indoors. HAIs, including COVID, are still a major issue in National Health Service hospitals The guidance of increasing ventilation air changes and using passive systems like filters and UV has been the only mitigation for dealing with indoor air quality (IAQ) issues for many years, yet homes and offices still allow significant illness transmission, says Hobbs. Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), including COVID, are still a major issue in National Health Service hospitals in the UK, and R rates generally rise when physical distancing measures are relaxed. Air purification solutions “It is because ventilation and passive processes do not destroy viruses at the point of transmission and until we introduce technologies that do, we will always be stuck in this loop,” says Hobbs. Better Indoors works to create the safest possible indoor environments for homes, offices, factories and on transport. Their active air purification solutions destroy viral emissions at the point of transmission – an essential feature for controlling indoor R rates, according to the company. “We are the UK’s exclusive distributor of unique technology that has been around for over 20 years and is used in millions of applications around the world,” said Hobbs. “This attribute is proving to be a key differentiator as firms race to futureproof their buildings and make their indoor spaces as safe as possible for staff and customers.” Master exclusive distributor Better Indoors is a master exclusive distributor to RGF Environmental Inc. Better Indoors is a master exclusive distributor to RGF Environmental Inc. of the United States, with a territory in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Better Indoors supports agents and wholesalers, providing training and education on how to specify, install and provide aftersales services. They also have a strong relationship with various operating businesses of Volution plc for their ventilation products. Passive technologies have been strongly promoted, as have ionization-only technologies. Less well promoted have been RGF Environmental’s photohydroionisation (PHI) and Reflective Electro Magnetic Energy (REME) technologies, which have had major impact where they have been installed. Photohydroionisation mimics nature’s air cleaning process indoors by creating an equilibrium concentration of ionized hydrogen peroxide molecules throughout the indoor space. More effective process These molecules react with viruses on contact, revert to water vapor and oxygen afterwards, and are replaced with new ones from the units. The process is continuous, safe and effective, says Hobbs. REME units contain an additional process of bipolarionization for particulate agglomeration also. Products include in-duct, in-AC units and standalone, plus individual units containing individual technology pieces to complement existing infrastructures. Our technology is the safest for COVID and every single future virus that comes along" Not all potential technologies have been tested in the fight against the novel coronavirus. If they had, the resulting guidance should include technologies that kill the virus at the point of transmission, which are safe and proven with millions of users. “Our technology is the safest for COVID and every single future virus that comes along,” says Hobbs. “You cannot get a safer more effective process than one that kills a virus at the point of transmission that is not dependent on the actions of behaviors of anyone or anything.” Offering maximum protection “We have learned the main route for viral illness transmission is in the air,” says Hobbs. “It is therefore essential that we future-proof our buildings and indoor spaces to the best extent possible so they offer maximum protection for when the next deadly pathogen comes along but also to minimize common illnesses going forward. The best possible protections come from IAQ processes that physically destroy viral emissions at the point of transmission rather than relying on moving it somewhere first like all filter and UV processes.” There are very few testing techniques that properly test certain technologies" One of the biggest misconceptions in IAQ is the difference between whether a particular passive IAQ process actually works and the limitations of how it works, Hobbs notes. “This is constantly misrepresented, misunderstood, and there are very few testing techniques that properly test certain technologies.” Technologies under consideration For example, the effect and performance of UV technologies are significantly limited by line of sight, inverse square law and dwell time, but this is rarely if ever mentioned, he adds. “Yes, it works but only if certain severely limiting conditions are met,” says Hobbs. “Furthermore, the industry-accepted testing metrics are designed for passives and not active systems, and this needs to be addressed also.” None of the other new technologies under consideration, such as Far UV, will be able to destroy the virus at the point of transmission because of their already known physical limitations. “We have been arguing for months that our active technology must be made mandatory for indoor spaces because it is the only method that can stop R rate rises regardless of which variant we have,” says Hobbs.

Innovative Technologies Will Drive The Future Of HVAC
Innovative Technologies Will Drive The Future Of HVAC

Innovation is a driving force behind most industries, including HVAC. Keeping up with industry research, and looking toward the future, helps HVAC professionals to anticipate upcoming changes to the industry, and to be prepared when they happen. There is no shortage of innovation in the sphere of HVAC. I recently came across some interesting designs (and one product already on the market!) that provide a useful glimpse into the types of projects that may shape the HVAC industry of tomorrow. Large-Scale Air Purification System A new purification system on the horizon provides higher levels of purification and sanitation for large-scale applications such as hotels and other big businesses. It also seeks to protect HVAC service employees from exposure to viruses when they service a system. Rather than filter out viruses, the system destroys them with photocatalysis, which uses a semi-conductor to create radicals to zap the viruses. Photocatalysis has been around for decades but is only now becoming refined enough to provide a marketable solution. Promethium, the company seeking to bring the filtration to market, evolved from the work of two the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) students, and a University of California (UC) Berkeley graduate. The technology can be used in several ways – from water purification to energy generation – but purifying air is the first priority. Each unit is customized for a specific application, but a “basic” standard unit starts at around $10,000 and can clean 40,000 square feet of space, enough for a casino gaming floor, for example. The project won $250,000 in a contest sponsored by UNLV’s Lee Business School and has also signed a research agreement with Purdue University. It should be ready to go to market this year. Dual-Mode Heating and Cooling Device Duke University is demonstrating the heating and cooling capabilities of nanomaterials, including a dual-mode heating and cooling device that could lower HVAC energy costs by nearly 20% in the United States if widely deployed. The invention combines mechanics and materials science to either harness or expels certain wavelengths of light. Depending on conditions, rollers move a nanomaterial sheet back and forth to expose either heat-trapping materials on one half or cooling materials on the other. Designed at the nanoscale, one material absorbs the sun’s energy and traps existing heat, while the other reflects light and allows heat to escape. Flair’s Smart Vents are DIY devices that fit into existing floor and wall register slots in standard sizes The cooling portion of the sheet has ultra-thin silver film covered by an even thinner layer of clear silicon. Together, they reflect the sun’s rays like a mirror. The unique properties of the materials also convert energy into mid-range infrared light, which does not interact with the gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere and easily passes into space after it is emitted. For heating, an ultra-thin layer of copper is topped by a layer of zinc-copper nanoparticles, which interact with the copper beneath them to trap light onto the surface, thus absorbing more than 93% of the sunlight’s heat. The “reversible thermal contact” allows users to switch between two modes of heating or cooling. The device would be especially useful in the world’s temperate climate zones that require both heating and cooling during the year – and sometimes requires both within a single 24-hour period. Do-It-Yourself Smart Vents Flair’s Smart Vents are do-it-yourself (DIY) devices that fit into existing floor and wall register slots in standard sizes. The vents control airflow across individual rooms to boost efficiency. Electronics for the low-profile devices are contained in a casing that rests under the floor level. They can be hard-wired for power or can use two C batteries. The Smart Vents work with smart thermostats and/or with Flair’s Puck cylindrical devices that include temperature control and monitoring. The Smart Vents coordinate their open/shut status depending on temperature needs. For example, the vents can be used to equalize the temperature and route heating and cooling intelligently. It can provide a solution if one room is too cold when cooling or too hot when heating. The approach is aimed at approximating the results of zoned HVAC systems at much lower costs and to replace existing wall ducts.

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