Check out some of these articles on HVAC trends and how they affect service providers and managers.

The HVAC industry has changed drastically with the evolution of technology. Read through some of these articles to stay on the cutting edge and benefit from new technologies.

Why Meeting ASHRAE’s Fresh Airflow Regulations isn’t as Easy as You Think

Both ASHRAE and the CDC have stated that one of the most important elements to ensuring a safe return to working in commercial office buildings after the COVID-19 shelter in place mandates have lifted is meeting their standards of fresh airflow. Unfortunately, there is no easy button in BMS systems to increase fresh airflow in commercial buildings, and simply increasing airflow can have negative effects throughout your buildings.

Here are three major categories where changes to airflow can create issues:

1. Tenant comfort

Too much airflow makes tenants feel like they’re in a wind tunnel – Too little and it gets stuffy – Where’s the middle ground? Airflow is supposed to be maintained ‘automatically’ by building automation systems (EMS, BMS, DDC, etc.) although they typically error towards sauna or hurricane due to improper tuning.

Under correct operation, building automation systems should maintain proper airflow to keep comfort <1-degrees from active space setpoint while ensuring proper air exchanges, preventing tenants from being stuck in an ‘airplane’ environment of recirculated air.

2. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Does your office feel stuffy when it’s hot out? Or muggy when it’s cold? These obvious clues point to lack of proper air circulation or air exchanges in a building (ACH). Improper ACH typically occurs within 24-months post-installation resulting from:

  • Changes to minimum airflow settings to zones or individual offices.
  • Improper lockout sequencing to fresh air or economizer dampers
  • Improper control of airflow to zones

Most buildings suffer from a combination of the above three issues leading to 30-40% fresh air losses versus the ASHRAE minimum standard.

3. Energy Consumption

HVAC systems consume less than 50% of energy in most commercial buildings. Most of the energy loss is dictated by how much airflow is delivered throughout the building. Excessive airflow means running your fans too hard and tempering the air too much, leading to massive losses.

Most HVAC systems post-installation error heavily for comfort conditions often inadvertently sacrificing IAQ and energy savings. These setting adjustments typically include:

  • Economizer minimum damper position
  • Zone minimum airflow settings
  • Building pressurization setpoint

Merely adjusting these set points is extremely challenging and must be done on a seasonal basis, often eliminating any payback.

The proper balance between tenant comfort, indoor air quality, and energy savings is immensely challenging – often requiring constant tuning from onsite engineering staff. Additionally, The vast majority of buildings that suffer from one or two of the three listed symptoms are incapable of supporting an onsite, physical onsite engineer.

To combat these issues, Hank provides a true virtual engineer that is comparable to having a real engineer in every space constantly tuning for comfort, IAQ, and energy efficiency.  On average, Hank has been able to keep buildings at 1.5 times that of ASHRAE’s fresh air standard while lowering energy costs.  Click here to schedule a demo of our real-time IAQ dashboard and see for yourself how building owners are using advanced technologies to create healthy buildings.

5-Reasons why your building management system will always let you down

After 10-years in the building management system space I’ve found one common trend – Building management systems are horribly overvalued. The problem’s not your building, not the HVAC equipment, and not you as an operator– It’s just your horrible, antiquated, building management system!

I’ve integrated over 100-different control systems from various building management system manufacturers that all tout the same story: Amazing graphics, remote access, massive energy savings, and best of all ‘ease of use’ – Just to find technology developed in the early 90’s hemorrhaging energy and thrashing high-value HVAC systems.

Here are the five major stumbling blocks of every building management system –

1. The average space comfort control is 3-4x worse than your home

That’s right, the average state-of-the-art,2018 building management system can only control your office within 4-degrees of setpoint. Scratch what the installer told you, we’ve surveyed over 30-different buildings and found fluctuations as high as 6-degrees from setpoint. That means when you think it’s 72-degrees in your office it could be 66 – Better break out the space heaters!

2. Energy savings evaporate within 3-4 months

We’ve heard countless times how much energy owners have saved when installing new building management systems –Utilities even have special rebate programs to support new installs. After studying 5-different new installations we found savings had fully eroded within 3-4 months post-install. Customers attributed losses to the lack of serviceability due to increased complexity of Title: 24 – Most had even reverted to time-clock-esque control – If it works it works, right?

3. Current hardware is horribly outdated

After researching 7-different brands of leading-edge supervisory controllers (The brain of your building management system)the average processing speed was less than the 1st -generation iPhone– The one released in 2007. The lack of power may seem trivial, but the average 100k sq. ft. installation requires up to 3-separate supervisory devices to run the HVAC – That’s $25k of hardware that would struggle to run Angry Birds! The ‘three heads are better than one’ mentality certainly doesn’t apply to building management systems.

4. Wireless communications are still a ‘futuristic’concept

Less than 5% of all new building management systems installed in the last 24-months have included wireless communications with most contractors citing it as ‘futuristic’ technology. The current standard for communications utilizes phone wire and RS-485 serial connections –Technology pioneered in the 80’s and phased out in the late 90’s by every major technology platform – With the exception of building management systems. What’s worse, current communications are utterly insecure (Creatively explored in the series Mr. Robot) and cost building owners an 18-20% premium on new installations versus wireless.

5. Maintenance, support, and upgrades are a nightmare

We inspected software loaded into over 800-previously installed building management controllers all designed to do one task – Control a single damper. In our observations we noted over 17-different software algorithm variations all designed to control one simple piece of HVAC equipment containing one lone motor actuator. With this unnecessary complexity it was no wonder that 90% of the observed buildings were consuming 30-40% in excess energy and averaging 15-20 hot/cold complaints per month. Even worse, upgrades to the system came at a premium as contractors had to constantly re-integrate themselves into the maze of coding left in the wake of previous installations.

Despite unparalleled marketing efforts, current building management systems are waning in the face of current Internet-of-Things breakthroughs. Be thankful Artificially Intelligent systems are paving the way to a new generation of building technologies – Making current systems nothing but a painful memory!

Your commercial office is the next Target for hackers – Part: 2

What happens when hackers springboard from your building automation system to your tenants’ networks

By: Zach Denning

 

I’d like to preface this article by stating that during our research we reached out to every building owner that had vulnerabilities with details of information we discovered – All without cost to them and without the expectation of future work.

At no time did we attempt to login or ‘hack’ a building automation system – We simply tested these networks for vulnerabilities easily exploited by hackers.

It’s our initiative to secure sites where our HVAC Partners implement our software platform while educating owners of vulnerabilities relating to building automation.

 

In the last article  ‘Your building is the next Target for hackers’ we discussed how easy it is to penetrate building automation systems and even new ways to drop a virus payload to the network through open protocols like Bacnet IP.

We even found over +300 different buildings with the Bacnet IP port open to the Internet, screaming to get hacked.

Didn’t read it? No worries, this article is the one for you, as we explore what happens when your building becomes the target of a hacker!

Here are a few fun facts to peruse through if your building happens to become a hacker’s playground:

    • All of your files are now garbage: $80,000.00 in lost time/revenue per tenant

      A virus spreads throughout a network like cancer through a body, injecting its code into every file. If somebody attempts to wipe the virus they would have to clean every file.

      Virus removal is extremely time consuming and challenging as providers have to ensure complete removal or there’s a chance it will re-emerge at a later time.

    • You hire an IT security contractor to retrieve lost files: $30,000.00/month/tenant

      Unfortunately, cleaning files typically on retrieves 30% of files on average – Meaning the remaining files must be recreated from old archives – Because you’ve been backing up files for years…

    • You get sued: +$2M

      Every lease is different, but in some leases it’s the owner’s responsibility to maintain the building automation. When it becomes the spring-board for a major hack chances are you’re going to get sued.

      To make matters worse, your Internet Security Insurance Policy won’t cover anything because your existing security didn’t meet minimum requirements – Sorry!

    • You lose tenants: $90,000/lost tenant

      Unlike common HVAC issues and comfort calls, network breaches carry much more backlash that stretch the limits of your tenant relationships – Which makes sense figuring you may have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Half of those reading write off articles like this as a “doomsday” scare tactic – The remainder think it will never happen to them.

Our advice? Have someone on your staff or a provider search for your building automation system on the Internet and see what you find. If you happen to come across your IP-address you need to hire an IT provider to put your building automation system behind a secure firewall.

  • Total costs to secure your system: $4,000.00 – 5,000.00
  • Total costs if you get hacked: $500,000 – $3,000,000.00
May the odds ever be in your favor!

My name is Zach Denning and I’m the CEO and owner of EnerDapt, Inc. We’ve developed an HVAC AI software platform that strengthens relationships between service providers and property management, while reducing operating costs 18-22%.  You can reach me at [email protected] or visit our website at www.enerdapt.com

Your commercial office is the next Target for hackers – Part: I

We researched how hackable building automation systems are in Sacramento and the results are surprising!

By: Zach Denning

 

I’d like to preface this article by stating that during our research we reached out to every building owner that had vulnerabilities with details of information we discovered – All without cost to them and without the expectation of future work.

At no time did we attempt to login or ‘hack’ a building automation system – We simply tested these networks for vulnerabilities easily exploited by hackers.

It’s our initiative to secure sites where our HVAC Partners implement our software platform while educating owners of vulnerabilities relating to building automation.

 

“My HVAC contractor told me that if he has remote access to our building service calls are half-priced. All we have to do is connect our building automation system to the Internet and we can save hundreds every month!”

And just like that your office building is now part of the ‘low-hanging fruit’ every hacker dreams of getting access to. But it’s just your HVAC system. All they can do is turn the temperature up and down, right? Wrong.

At least 65% of all building automation systems are connected into existing building infrastructures via hardwired, Ethernet connection. Unfortunately, most offices don’t properly segregate the building automation from the same network as their tenants (Typically done through a VLAN or virtual separation of physically connected networks) as it’s costly to setup and maintain.

Meaning a virus enters your network via the building automation and can jump or ‘springboard’ from tenant-to-tenant at will – Return vital information back to its host (Account numbers, logins, credit card numbers, etc.) like the Target hack. But you’ve been told your building automation is secure – You’re behind a firewall – It’s only Bacnet – This will never happen to you – Wrong!

We researched how secure building automation systems were in Sacramento and found –

 

  • There are +300-different building automation systems openly exposed to the Internet without a firewall.

    Of the 82 systems tested, we found 18 had default admin user credentials where there was an ability to login to the automation system and get full access to override the system, change setpoints, schedules, etc. More importantly, admin permissions included unrestricted access to the file transfer protocol features which is pivotal for – You guessed it – Uploading a virus!

  • 114-different building automation systems behind a secure firewall with the Bacnet IP port (UDP:47808) exposed.

    Despite being open to the Internet, the building automation systems at these sites were nested behind extremely capable firewalls. Unbeknownst to the building owner though, the HVAC contractor had accidently enabled the Bacnet IP traffic on their front-end hardware – Enabling full access to all control setpoints and the ability to springboard viruses onto their network.

Wait, I thought Bacnet IP could only be used for HVAC-related data? Wrong again.

Bacnet IP is a communication protocol built on the foundation of HVAC communications with one slight caveat – It allows for open file transfer! In developing our Bacnet driver, we discovered that most Bacnet IP-enabled devices will accept a file transferred from our IP-device if it matches a certain criterion of name, type, size, etc.

All a hacker has to do to upload a virus to your building is –

 

  • Scan the building automation system for file types
  • Create a new file with one of the discovered types and infect it with a virus payload
  • Send the file to the building automation device

 

Even when the device rejects the new file, the originator can keep changing file types until one is accepted (i.e. – configuration files, history files, etc.). From there the virus springboards to every connected device on its network – Infecting as many files as possible, collecting information and reporting everything back to the host.

So how do you prevent hackers from getting into your network?

Check out Part: II of this post next week to learn more and see how much it costs to not secure yourself!

 

 

My name is Zach Denning and I’m the CEO and owner of EnerDapt, Inc. We’ve developed an HVAC AI software platform that strengthens relationships between service providers and property management, while reducing operating costs 18-22%.  You can reach me at [email protected] or visit our website at www.enerdapt.com

Your building is smart – And so are squirrels!

3-reasons why your building is dumber than you think and what you can do to fix it

 

By: Zach Denning

The biggest technological fallacy for the last 3-years in commercial buildings is how HVAC systems fit into the “Smart Buildings” bubble. HVAC and building automation manufacturers have plagued the market with overhyped marketing and underdelivered results on the foundation of buzzwords like “analytics,” “machine-learning” and “smart.”

So what is actually installed in your building and is it really “smart?”

Smart HVAC controllers/sensors: IQ Score – 5

The latest addition to the Smart Buildings market has been the insurgence of smart sensors and HVAC controllers – “IP-enabled” being the core-feature at the forefront of the movement. Because which IP-based devices aren’t smart, right?

Here’s a list of IP-enabled devices that are smarter “out-of-the-box” than their HVAC counterparts –

  • Smart diapers
  • Smart couch
  • Smart fridge

… I think you get the picture, but how is a smart diaper more intelligent than your IP-sensors?

Although IP-enabled devices aren’t exactly cutting-edge, the commercial HVAC market typically lags 8-10 years behind most technology-based industries. There are numerous documented issues surrounding IP in HVAC including security, installation, maintenance, etc. – All leading to it’s snail-paced entrance into the built environment.

Not to mention, there’s typically little monetary gain by adding IP-based technology in HVAC as any added value is underutilized by the corresponding software – Which is heavily customized by the installing contractor and relatively unusable/unserviceable post-install without serious re-development.

Equipment manufacturers have also leveraged into Smart Buildings by pre-packaging equipment with new onboard sensors and controllers – Each offering new insight into equipment operation and servicing. Unfortunately, analyzing one element in a complex, multi-tiered system lacks the value generation necessary to overcome the added investment.

Imagine paying an extra for $500.00 for a smart steering wheel versus a fully autonomous car – I’d rather have one comprehensive solution than an alarm when I’m not at ‘ten-and-two.’

Building automation systems: IQ Score – 25

In recent years, many articles have cited onsite engineers noting the only difference between pneumatic, air-controlled HVAC systems and electronic systems is, well, air – Despite the fact that pneumatic technology is +50 years old.

Even worse, the same staff didn’t see a difference between building automation and a time clock – So where’s the intelligence?

Digging deeper, engineers have exposed the ability to remotely access their HVAC as justification to upgrade from older pneumatic systems. Not a bad start, although it’s the equivalent of using IBM’s new Q quantum computers to surf the web – I don’t see anyone paying $1,000/sec to stream NetFlix anytime soon!

Most building automation installations utilize less than 8% of the total system capacity necessary to maximize operational efficiency. Even worse, capacity is often eroded by nearly 40% annually through third-party interaction and modification.

Ultimately, your brand new $5.00/sq. ft. “smart” building automation system has less intelligence than the RainBird irrigation system you installed in your backyard – Three years from now it’ll be comparable to a simple light-switch!

Analytic software platforms: IQ Score – 35

“Analytics” and “machine-learning” have gained the most notoriety as buzzwords in the HVAC Smart Building space. New platforms emerge monthly that promise to solve all your HVAC problems and alleviate tenant complaints – Of course they’re smart, right?

We’ve collectively seen five-different analytics platforms installed in three-different market verticals with zero end user engagement or measurable outcomes – Equating to an extra 25-30% in upfront building automation capital requirements and no monetary gains – How could this happen?

Analytics platform developers constantly market the ability to implement cutting-edge, machine-learning algorithms capable of driving massive savings. I have the ability to become an astronaut. It may require 10-years of strenuous physical and mental development, coupled with a 1% chance of success – But who’s to say I don’t have the ability!

Furthermore, most platform developers rely on partner channels to develop and implement algorithms designed to drive actionable intelligence to end users. Unfortunately, 75% of all partners don’t employ software developers and rarely have the knowledge to implement anything beyond real-time alarms – Equivalent to the tire pressure alarms in your car.

Even in the most advanced implementations, HVAC analytics software deliver little actionable intelligence designed for financial decision-makers. It’s one thing to find a broken part- It’s quite another to validate that incident to a non-technical decision maker.

When’s the last time you rushed to a mechanic when your check engine light went off? Now imagine your check engine light –

  • Told you the problem was your air filter
  • Was costing you $25.00/month in gas
  • Was only $50.00 to replace

Oh, and here’s a local certified mechanic that specializes in Hondas less than 2-miles away – That’s true actionable, financial intelligence your system lacks!

Maybe you choose to ignore the check engine light, but not without significant guilt. Moral of the story, all intelligence isn’t created equal and your platform probably lacks any.

How to avoid the pitfalls of “smart” building technology!

If you consider your building “smart” and it falls under any of these categories, there’s still hope to increase its IQ. Next time you invest in building technology answer these simple questions –

  • How does this technology drive my bottom line and does the installer have proven results in a similar application?
  • How do you plan on maintaining the technology post-installation? In house? Outsourced?
  • Can the technology communicate actionable intelligence across my entire corporate hierarchy? Can the CFO glean valuable HVAC investment insights? Will your engineers know when and where components are failing?

The high-tech landscape of the HVAC market is evolving – Unfortunately marketing has a big head-start on actual technology!

 

My name is Zach Denning and I’m the CEO and owner of EnerDapt, Inc. We’ve developed an HVAC AI software platform that strengthens relationships between service providers and property management, while reducing operating costs 18-22%.  You can reach me at [email protected] or visit our website at www.enerdapt.com

Three key trends we’ve learned about the HVAC industry

The HVAC service industry hasn't evolved in the last 25-years although equipment has seen massive changes.

The HVAC service industry hasn’t evolved in the last 25-years although equipment has seen massive changes.

HVAC service is trending towards disruptive changes and here’s why!

By: Zach Denning

HVAC equipment has changed drastically in the last 25-years. Technicians are being stretched outside their comfort zones with job requirements similar to that of IT professionals. Owners and managers are finding it harder and harder to differentiate between providers leaving the bottom line as a primary motivator for selection criteria.

Even the way equipment is being installed and services has altered with the advent of technology as a driver of efficiency. Building automation (BMS) and “smart units” are enabling service providers to try new approaches to resolving typical temperature issues.

Here are some of the major trends in the industry and what to expect:

The HVAC industry has become a commoditized market

Despite HVAC becoming more complex and increasingly efficient, owners and managers are having a harder time differentiating providers. Terms like “value engineering” are now represented by the lowest bidder dropping key design elements to win projects – Irregardless of how those changes impact Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

The influx of new HVAC design and installation firms has also been a key driver. Every year over 11,000 new HVAC contractors enter the market with an average closing rate of 15% – Further adding to market confusion for end users and diluting value.

HVAC Preventative Maintenance (PM) contracts haven’t evolved in 30-years

Building automation has undergone massive overhauls in the last 25-years with the adoption of processors equivalent to mobile technology. Almost every piece of equipment in commercial buildings has some form of monitoring or control essential to discovering and ratifying issues.

The standard PM contracts doesn’t address technology as a value driver. In fact, it hasn’t changed since equipment ran on air-driven controllers – Controllers that aren’t electronic!

  • 75% of all tenant complaints are HVAC related
  • 60% of those issues are software or building automation related

This means that 45-50% of all issues reported by your tenants can be identified and repaired remotely without ever seeing a technician. “Virtual service” or monitoring-based contracts are beneficial for both parties as they lower customer costs, contractor overhead, and repair times.

Skilled technicians have become a scarcity

The Millenials and generational technology gaps haven’t been kind to the HVAC industry. Established technicians are finding it hard to transition into psuedo-programmer roles necessary to properly maintain equipment and supporting technology. Building owners and tenants are suffering the cost-impact of repeat HVAC issues from inaccurately conceived solutions as technicians fail to find the root of software-related problems.

Even worse, Millenials are choosing white-collar technology jobs over blue-collar labor like HVAC and construction. The labor pool of HVAC technicians is not only worsening, it’s also shrinking!

What changes can we expect to see?

Technology has been the primary driver in the evolution of HVAC standards. Yet, most service providers are choosing to combat labor shortages and skill deficiencies with price wars instead of innovation.

Adopting new technologies to supplant physical presence for service opens up new opportunities for maintenance contracts and new hire criteria. Maintenance contracts based around remote monitoring and repair not only reduce overhead, they allow providers to choose from a new labor pool – One predisposed to technology that can be taught HVAC fundamentals!

Be forewarned, the HVAC installation and service landscape is headed for major disruptive changes beneficial to both building owners and contractors!

 

 

My name is Zach Denning and I’m the CEO and owner of EnerDapt, Inc. We’re an HVAC engineering firm that utilizes cloud-based technology to bridge the technical and financial gaps commonly found in HVAC management. Our OCMS EnerVise platform keeps customers knowledgeable about their building including HVAC life-cycle costs, forecasted maintenance & upgrades, and equipment replacements.   You can reach me at [email protected] or visit our website at www.enerdapt.com

OCMS; Building Operating Cost Management