Skip to content

Wireless IoT Retrofits Answer the Call for Building Sustainability

The Internet of Things (IoT) is delivering a new value proposition. Interest in its potential has accelerated as companies increasingly recognize the ROI produced through smart building implementations. Let’s take a look at a prime example where IoT retrofits deliver the keys to energy efficiency and building sustainability.

Buildings account for 40% of total U.S. energy consumption. Heating, cooling, lighting, appliance operation, etc. in buildings collectively represent a primary target for any sustainability initiative.

Commercial buildings represent a unique market segment because of the long-anticipated lifespan. With the lower life expectancy of a commercial building, however, technology now represents both the driver of lower life expectancy and the weapon to fight off building obsolescence.

The pool of in-service commercial buildings will continue to grow as long as the rate of newly constructed buildings outpaces the rate of decommissioned buildings. For this growing pool of in-service buildings, technology retrofits will need to be evaluated by any stakeholder promoting building sustainability.

The Limits of Current Technology Retrofits

Building management systems (BMS) or building automation systems (BAS) represent the traditional solution to address the demand for energy efficiency. A BMS/BAS typically executes control loops that govern heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting and other critical building systems.

Unfortunately, a BMS/BAS is traditionally expensive and complex and is typically suited for large commercial buildings. It has been estimated that the average cost of a BMS/BAS is $2-$3 per sq. ft. of a building. Thus, to install a BMS/BAS in a 100,000 sq. ft. building would cost $200,000-$300,000. As this range of estimates demonstrate, the ROI of installing a BMS/BAS in a small or medium-sized building likely doesn’t justify its implementation.

Again, the retrofit option of a traditional BMS/BAS doesn’t apply to most buildings. Only the largest commercial buildings can benefit.

IoT Retrofits Provide BMS/BAS Functionality at a Fraction of the Cost

The prohibitive cost of deploying a basic BMS/BAS, has left a large technology gap in small and medium-sized buildings. Those buildings are largely underserved by technology and use basic unconnected HVAC controls. Energy inefficiency and waste largely represent the expected outcomes.

Whereas a traditional BMS/BAS primarily relied on wired communication networks for monitoring and control points, IoT retrofits commonly leverage wireless communication protocols. By obviating the need to install new wiring in an in-service building, the wireless communication feature of IoT provides substantial cost savings from the beginning. The following represent examples of how wireless retrofits can deliver BMS/BAS functionality in small and medium-sized buildings at a fraction of the cost.

Utility Metering/Sub-Metering

Building owners and operators need more than monthly utility bills. Common asset-management initiatives recognize the need for real-time data, because you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Real-time metering data is valuable, and real-time sub-metering data even more so.

If every building could be re-designed from the ground up, then building owners and building operators would want real-time sub-metering data to track utility costs by floor, by tenant, by individual facility equipment (e.g., HVAC, lighting), etc. Granular utility sub-metering data provides the essential tools to monitor energy costs/performance, to identify consumption anomalies, to perform cost allocations between tenants, and to enable data-driven portfolio analysis. The value of real-time utility sub-metering data is unquestioned.

Wireless metering/sub-metering solutions via IoT capture energy consumption data from remote parts of a building and deliver them wirelessly, in real-time, to a cloud-based platform. No building engineer should have to walk through a building to manually record a sub-meter reading. All of that data plus analytics should be accessible via any Internet-connected device to evaluate building or portfolio performance.

HVAC Asset Monitoring and Controls

HVAC represents the next, great frontier for achieving energy savings in buildings. HVAC systems can consume an estimated 39% of the total energy budget in a building. Most small and medium-sized buildings have little to no visibility to the operation of critical HVAC assets.

HVAC energy-efficiency analysis requires granular operational data from critical HVAC assets such as chillers, cooling towers and RTUs. How would you know whether the HVAC assets were operating efficiently or inefficiently? Wireless IoT retrofits can capture granular operational data from HVAC assets directly and provide the real-time data needed to extract those efficiency insights. Imagine gaining access to real-time operational data such as supply/return temperatures, fan speeds, vibration, flow rates, compressor run times, total energy consumption, etc. from your critical HVAC assets.

Moreover, wireless IoT retrofits can provide cloud-based controls to implement schedules and implement analytics-driven control routines. Far beyond manual operation, wireless IoT retrofits enable a virtual BMS/BAS that can deliver energy efficiencies from day one.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Assurance

IAQ continues to grow in importance. Too many studies have demonstrated the clear correlation of high concentrations of CO2 to diminished cognitive performance. Every organization that cares about worker health and productivity cares about IAQ. IAQ levels represent far more than a theoretical exercise that governs commissioned air flow rates.

If a building was commissioned prior to certifications such as WELL, then the new IAQ standards have made the originally commissioned BMS/BAS obsolete. Wireless IoT retrofits provides the fastest, most economical method of augmenting your building’s infrastructure to enable real-time IAQ monitoring. Even the most advanced BMS/BAS will barely support modern IAQ measures such as Particulate Matter (PM) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

Conclusion

More and more facility managers are looking at wireless IoT retrofits to provide new functionality at a fraction of the cost. For small and medium-sized buildings, IoT may well represent the only practical way to implement modern BMS/BAS features with reasonable ROI.