At the start of the shutdown, building managers were uncertain just how long their campuses would remain quiet. But as it became clear this wouldn’t be a short lived event, changes to operations started: adjustments and overrides in HVAC systems and more to curb energy usage in unoccupied buildings.
Now as many are heading back, a lot of people don’t realize that turning everything back on cannot be done with the simple flip of a switch. Building operating parameters and procedures still need to transition to new pandemic-driven demands while also preparing for another potential shutdown in the future.
Resetting Manual Operations
Changes to better accommodate airflow, ventilation and dilution are among the key concerns for HVAC systems as safety precautions for minimized transmission risks are presented by associations such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
This then means that each component of the system, each with their own multitude of setpoints, will need to be adjusted to ensure efficient air optimization.
For example, at air dampers, which limit the amount of outside air being pulled into the building were opened to 100% at the start of the pandemic—far outside the norm. With people returning, that percentage can be lowered to conserve energy. From there, however, building owners will need to recalibrate systems for conditioning of incoming air, make adjustments for temperature, and so on.
This may even require a reset on the setpoints of each piece of equipment, and the building managers may need to set parameters zone by zone to create the best experience for returning staff and students. But beyond comfort and safety, adjustments made to HVAC systems have an associated energy cost as well.
As many campuses strive to be environmentally conscious and energy efficient as a means of reducing costs and achieving more sustainable practices, reopening will see this focus on energy efficiency and cost savings once again fall in line directly behind safety,
Maintaining Safety Through Monitoring
While the manual resets are integral to enhancing the comfort and safety of building occupants considerations like air system equipment failures need to be able to be addressed in these recently reopened buildings.
For example, keeping a building’s humidity in check and temperature low avoids creating an environment that would breed legionella—a bacteria that causes pneumonia-like symptoms and is a major concern for campuses everywhere. But as campuses reopen, there are concerns that the shutdowns from the pandemic and areas with limited airflow have created breeding grounds for this disease.
Already, many buildings have been actively monitoring and managing the humidity, even while empty, though on larger campuses, it can be difficult to get the full picture without the use of technology.
Technology and the New Normal
This feeds into the role technologies will play in creating a new normal for reopening buildings. Reliable, remote visibility is important so building managers can get the full picture of how systems are operating either across campus or in a single building.
Here, monitoring-based commissioning (MBCx) comes into play. Advanced analytics and intelligent alerts within MBCx platforms help building operators gain visibility in a way that is more efficient and productive – precisely identifying where potential issues such as airflow, humidity and temperature exist before they create safety issues.
For example, sensors may find that humidity in one of the central air vents is far higher than usual and can address the issue before there is significant moisture and bacteria build-up. By setting the data parameters for the new normal, managers can see what setpoints have been adjusted and have certain operations flagged if they fall outside of those parameters.
While this addresses health and safety, these monitoring systems also tackle the issue of energy efficiency by showing building and energy managers just how much the inefficiencies are costing them and prioritize which ones should be addressed to significantly cut costs. Furthermore, it can reveal inefficiencies that disappear during normal operations but reappear as campuses shut down.
The return to normal will have a massive impact on operations, creating new burdens on campuses across the nation, but monitoring-based commissioning technologies can help them better ensure health, safety and sustainability across their campuses as they return.
Another version of this article previously appeared on Commercial Integrator.