Energy Manager

Features Residential
Level Up With HVAC Optimization

Finding efficiencies in multi-unit residential buildings.

June 25, 2020  By Brad Pilgrim

We all have a morning routine. For some of us, morning might mean getting kids up and out the door (or, in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, ready for online classes); for others, it’s a late start and a cup or three of joe, reading the news and checking your inboxes.

Regardless of how different our individual routines might be, we are all creatures of habit. Our days don’t vary significantly: we get up, turn on the lights, take showers, prepare meals and get to our task lists. When looking at energy use data in multi-unit residential buildings, there are distinct patterns that can be discovered allowing us to learn how we live and operate within our homes.

For example, spikes in hot water pumping activity suggests that 7 a.m. is a popular time for showers. Similarly, residential water usage spikes between 6 and 7 p.m. indicate that residents are preparing dinner. Sensor data, like measuring CO2 levels, can help to measure occupancy rates throughout a building.

Having this kind of data is valuable when it comes to energy management. This information can be used to anticipate and control how and when people use energy in the form of heating, cooling, gas and water. This is important for property managers to help them improve building-wide energy efficiency and increase cost savings.

Traditionally energy has been managed from the source (like hydro companies), but in recent years there has been a growing interest in further exploring the demand-side management (DSM) of the energy equation. DSM looks to the energy users in homes and multi-unit residential buildings and tries to modify their behaviour and awareness of their personal energy use.

The best example of DSM is time of use (TOU). TOU pricing reflects the cost of producing electricity at different times of day based on peaks in demand. TOU pricing has three periods: on-peak, when energy demand and cost is high; mid-peak, when energy demand and cost is moderate; and off-peak, when energy demand and cost is low.

Energy consumption can make up 30 to 40% of a building’s operating budget, and HVAC equipment is the primary energy consumer.

TOU uses cost to encourage homeowners to adjust usage habits in order to save money during hours when electricity is more expensive. DSM in multi-unit buildings is a significant area to consider when it comes to improving overall property efficiency. Multi-family dwellings specifically consume a tremendous amount of energy. In fact, all of Canada’s buildings account for approximately 33% of the country’s total energy use. We also know that the cost of energy consumption can make up 30 to 40% of a building’s operating budget, and that the energy is primarily consumed by the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment.

When we turn our attention to demand-side management and the power of optimizing internal HVAC systems, we start to see significant opportunities for property managers and building owners to reduce energy waste and costs, foster tenant engagement and improve in faster response times to potential system failures along the way.


Capturing more data from the mechanical room can lead to greater operating efficiencies. (photo: Smole/Adobe Stock)

While making the leap to invest in energy management might feel intimidating, as a property manager under pressure from residents to control escalating fees, increase property value and finds cost savings, energy management is one of the best and most cost-effective solutions that can help further secure the financial viability of a property and better secure the investment of all unit owners.

With the right investment into smart technology to promote HVAC optimization, buildings can realize 20 to 30% savings on utilities, and with little to no upfront capital.

The best way to know if the investment is worth it, is to start with a building assessment. Building intelligence engineers will take inventory of a building’s current HVAC systems and other equipment in the mechanical room.

Engineers collect as much data as they can about the current HVAC equipment in the building, usually within one hour of being on site. This might entail looking at motor fans, boilers, pumps, sensors, existing automation controls, etc.

The collected data, combined with historical building data supplied by the building and utilities, can help assess the opportunity for savings.

This data is all plugged into a consumption model leading to a set of recommended operating procedures which on average, based on the type of systems in use, can range anywhere between the equivalent of 30-50% in reduced cost of operation.

But let’s say the building already has a building automation system (BAS) in place and the building owners or operators are wary of investing further into costly retrofits or additions. This is actually a best-case scenario. It’s common to find many people haven’t had a reliable service partner to demonstrate what can be utilized on their existing equipment to focus on efficiency, comfort and remote connection.

Smart technology attachments are easy to install into current HVAC systems. Sensors, control mechanisms and additional schematics for data collection can either be installed into the central nervous system of a building, where operations are still conducted manually, or layered on top of existing cutting-edge technology. In either case, the installation of HVAC optimizing technology is relatively easy and can access rich feedback data which any building needs to start using.

Once the right solution for a building’s HVAC system is identified, an algorithm is programmed to take the place of an actual human tweaking controls 24/7, resulting in constant optimization of a system and oversight and control at the owner/manager’s fingertips.

Sensors can be set up to optimize, control, speed up and automate diagnostics for failing equipment and ultimately bring harmony to how a building’s current HVAC system runs.


Optimizing HVAC is key to managing energy costs in a multi-unit residential building. (photo: DDurrich/iStock/Getty Images)

The difference between HVAC optimization and plug load controls is making sure that tenant satisfaction is met first and foremost. With a system that anticipates resident needs (based on prior data collection), property managers can stay on top of tenants’ most comfortable living settings like cooling and heating spaces according to life patterns, weather forecasts and predictions, or balance CO2 levels in hallways and common areas according to varying building occupancy throughout the day based on established patterns.

Keeping tabs on building operations manually is both inefficient and impractical. Ensuring management has a pulse on a building’s internal nervous system is key to smoothly operating a contemporary property and ensuring focus can be redirected to more immediate resident needs.

Improved operational efficiency can also mean an overall better value rating for a property. Assessing the value of a building and measuring it against a current operational budget might reveal how much value can be gained by making smart business investments into technological modifications.

One of the best parts about making technological changes to your building is that improvements can typically be undertaken in less than a month with virtually no disruption in building operation or tenant comfort. And let us not forget about the most important outcome of all: environmental impact.

According to a UN report, buildings and construction account for 39% of global CO2 emissions. As energy consumers, from a demand-side management perspective, the responsibility lies in our hands to use the resources available to us in order to help preserve our urban and residential environments.

Exploring property technology that can help improve building operations can seem daunting. What’s out there? Why does it matter? What’s best for my building?

By taking the initial steps to better understand how your HVAC system works, you are taking proactive steps for your company’s finances, your residents and for the environment. For all of these reasons, investing the time to research what HVAC optimization technology best suits your property is worth it.

Brad Pilgrim is the co-founder and CEO of Parity, a Toronto-based company founded in 2016 that uses data and AI to eliminate energy waste and reduce the carbon emissions in multi-family buildings.

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