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 or visit our website at

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