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Posts Tagged ‘Energy Usage’

‘Tis the season to winterize your facility

The Ohio Valley skipped right over fall and went straight to winter, it would seem. Aside from being unpleasant to go from 80-degree afternoons one week to 30-degree highs the next, such rapid shifts posed a threat to business continuity.

The ice storm that rolled through the region recently might not have wreaked the havoc it did if it had showed up in, say, January rather than mid-November. Why? Many trees were still holding on to most of their leaves. Ice clung to the leaves, weighing down the limbs and causing them to break off. The crashing limbs and trees took out power lines across the region, and left tens of thousands without power. It took as much as four days for power to be restored to some.

The early ice storm was a wake up call. Is your facility ready for unexpected weather events? Here’s how you can prepare:

Stock up now on surface treatment supplies. Make sure you have the proper equipment and chemicals available for treating parking lots and walkways. And don’t forget the inside of your facility, too – melting snow and ice tracked in through door ways can create a slip and fall hazard. Be ready with the necessary tools to keep those areas clean and dry, too.

Inspect shrubs, trees and roofs. Keep foliage trimmed back so it doesn’t hang over power lines or roofs. Check roofs for potential trouble spots, and make sure gutters and drainage systems are clear and functioning properly.

Take care of routine HVAC system maintenance. Evaluate performance and replace any filters or worn parts as needed to maintain efficient performance.

Review business continuity plans. If your business loses power, do you have a back up plan? If key personnel lose power at home are unable to get to work, do you have a back up plan? Now is the time to document and cross train to ensure smooth functioning.

Need help reviewing the safety and security of your facility? We can help. Call (800) 567-1180 for a consultation.

VR Tenant solves energy usage monitoring problem for variable refrigerant systems

Innovation brings new challenges, and it takes experienced, creative minds to come up with new solutions.

Experience and creativity are exactly what ECT Services Account Manager Mike Fisher brought to the table when Hitachi needed a solution to monitor energy for tenants in a building complex. Mike put his engineering background to work and within two weeks created VR Tenant, a solution for monitoring energy usage on a unit by unit basis.

Hitachi’s problem was this: older air conditioning systems move chilled air through a building via a series of large ducts. Newer, more space efficient systems move refrigerant through a building through a series of smaller pipes. While the newer systems are more efficient, it didn’t offer a way to monitor energy use and bill back tenants for their usage. It’s also difficult to track possible refrigerant leakage, which could pose a hazard to tenants.

Mike’s solution includes both hardware and software that ties into the variable refrigerant system to gather data and calculate data. A “head end” gathers all data and performs the detailed calculations, and energy measurement devices in each unit of the building measures and monitors usage. Units are determined by the building owner/manager, and the configuration is flexible.

Installation is flexible and fairly simple. Mechanical engineers can install the hardware, and ECT services handles set up and configuration of the software.

The VR Tenant system can be installed as new variable refrigerant systems are installed, or retrofitted into existing installations. VR Tenant is compatible with a wide range of variable refrigerant systems, too.

The development and deployment of the VR Tenant system demonstrates our deep understanding of building systems and integration, our excellence as a collaborative partner, and our ability to innovate.

Do you have a building system integration challenge to solve? We can help. Call (800) 567-1180 today for a consultation.

It’s time for seasonal maintenance

Weren’t we shivering under a blanket of snow just a couple of weeks ago? Then temps became warmer, with sunshine abundant, and spring fever started setting in. Of course, then it snowed last night.

Spring will officially start on March 20. Between now and then we could see several inches of snow, afternoon highs in the 80s, tornadoes, floods and just about anything in between. If you have any doubts, just check your Facebook memories and you’ll probably see evidence of all of these weather conditions on this day over the last several years.

With spring on the way, now is the time to tackle some routine maintenance and seasonal tasks. Put these on your to-do list now:

Check outside lighting. Walk your parking areas and around the outside of your facility. Look for outside lighting that may have been damaged during snowy, icy weather. Look for light bulbs that have burned out and replace them.

Check landscaping. Flower beds, parking lot islands, sidewalks and lawn areas might have taken a beating when being plowed, scraped and salted this winter. Look for signs of damage and note needed repairs. Look for potholes in parking lots that need repair, and significant gaps or cracks in sidewalks that can cause slips and falls.

Check security cameras and alarms. Review the placement and condition of all inside and outside cameras. Inspect wiring, and check placement to be sure views haven’t shifted or otherwise been compromised.

Clean or change HVAC filters and schedule routine maintenance. Pollen is already flying, and more will be in the air soon. Cleaning or changing out filters is a must to keep allergen levels down inside your facility. Plus, the system is likely to have trapped a lot of debris over the winter months; cleaning or changing the filter is a must for keeping the system running at peak efficiency.

Review severe weather policies and procedures. Tornado season is already underway. Schedule a drill with your team and make sure they all know what to do in the case of severe weather. Update checklists and rosters, especially is you’ve welcomed new team members or made other personnel changes since your last drill.

If you’d like to know more about how you can optimize and integrate your building systems, call us at (800) 567-1180 for a consultation.

Are you ready to move from energy conservation to energy production?

Companies have long been sold on the idea of conserving energy as a means to be better stewards of both natural resources and their own financial resources.

Energy managers have sought ways to reduce their organization’s carbon footprint, reduce emissions, reduce waste, reduce power use and more. When it comes to power use in particular, most of the effort and emphasis has been on conservation: how can we use less power?

Answers have included everything from switching to LED lighting to investing in sophisticated building control systems that monitor usage and identify opportunities to maximize efficiency.
What’s next for organizations that have maximized their conservation options? The next step might be actually producing and/or storing their own energy.

Some technologies to watch:

Microgrids. Communities and even single facilities are increasingly turning to microgrids to deliver power needs. Microgrids typically connect to local resources – often renewable energy options like solar or wind power – for operation. Microgrids are connected to the main power grid, but can operate independently. Microgrids allow communities or facilities to become energy independent, and in some cases even sell energy back to the main grid. The effect reduces overall energy costs and may even become a revenue source.

MicroCHP. Combined heat and power systems combines the production of heat and electricity and converts waste heat to electricity. The systems are more efficient to operate, and may be powered by a variety of fuels including natural gas, biomass, solar and more. MicroCHPs make it possible to keep power generation extremely local (a home or office building), thus reducing the loss incurred in transmission of energy over distances. MicroCHPs can produce surplus energy, making more available to sell back to traditional energy suppliers.

Energy storage. Utility companies are now starting to experiment with using batteries for energy storage, but smaller scale solutions for homes and smaller facilities are on the horizon, too. The development of battery storage will allow producers to capture power generated by renewable energy sources like solar and wind and store for use when production is not at peak. For homes and businesses, this could open up the possibility of generating and storing their own power, and possibly even selling it back to the grid.

10 energy-saving tips for dark, cold months

The recent arrival of cooler temps dovetailed with the end of Daylight Savings Time, making it feel like the world suddenly went dark and cold and the same time. Is your business or organization still making the adjustment?

These tips will help you maximize energy efficiency during the winter months:

Contact your energy provider and ask if they will help you conduct an energy audit. Many providers provide free audits to customers.

Review your energy usage from last winter season and set targets. How much energy did you use? What was the average daily temp and other conditions? Setting a goal for reducing use might help you keep costs in check.

Check insulation. Make sure it is adequate to meet your needs. Check seals on all duct work to make sure it is sound and air isn’t leaking.

Schedule regular maintenance for your HVAC system to keep it running at peak efficiency. Be sure to change or clean filters, too. Dirty filters make systems worker harder and less efficiently.

Check all vents and returns to make sure they are clear of obstructions. Arrange furniture so air flow is maximized, and keep paper and other debris clear.
Look for leaky doors and windows and seal them. Use caulk and/or weather stripping to seal up energy-sucking gaps throughout your facility. Gaps around plumbing access, electrical outlets and lighting fixtures are often leaky, too. Seal them up and you’ll better maintain temps in your facility.

Use programmable thermostats to maintain temps. Set temps no higher than 67 degrees when your facility is occupied, and drop temps several degrees overnight or when facilities are not in use. You’ll realize substantial savings by dropping your thermostat just two degrees.

Limit the use of space heaters. Not only do they present a fire hazard, they use significant energy and make it difficult to regulate temperatures. Encourage layering clothes or wearing sweaters for personal comfort.

Maximize use of natural light. Open blinds and curtains to allow sunshine in during the day, and close them at night to retain heat.

Monitor lighting use. Use sensors or timers to turn lights on and off automatically. Switch to LED lighting wherever possible. Use smart power strips and sleep settings to operate office equipment efficiently.

Need help monitoring and integrating your HVAC and other key building systems? We can help. Call (800) 567-1180 to learn more.

Companies move ahead with ‘green’ policies, with or without government support

President Trump has proposed steep cuts to the budgets of agencies charged with protecting the environment, and has pledged to roll back regulations that he sees as barriers to business growth.

Proposals include  cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by one third, and significantly reducing staff. The cuts would deeply impact enforcement at both the state and federal level, and would end the Energy Star rating program.

President Trump also withdrew the United States from the Paris Accord, an agreement between dozens of countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to slow or reverse climate change.

How have businesses responded to the proposals and changes? Rather than cheering loudly, many have pledged to continue their environmentally-friendly efforts, according to a recent post by Energy Manager Today.

According to the post, “REI, Kohls and Netflix currently source 100% of their electricity usage through renewable energy, while Google recently announced it will meet its 100% renewable energy goal this year.”

Goldman Sachs, which is anticipating a surge in renewable energy growth in Europe, recently signed an agreement to purchase power from a wind farm in Pennsylvania.

Apple also plans to build a data center in Denmark run completely on renewable energy, according to the post.

Why do businesses remain committed to renewable energy and other environmentally conscious practices, even if government regulations relax and incentives evaporate? Here are two reasons:

Consumers are watching. Consumers are typically favorable towards environmentally-friendly practices, and many actively seek out companies which share their commitment. Companies benefit when their brand is seen as “green,” both in terms of brand perception and competitive advantage.

Long-term cost efficiencies. Over the long-term, energy saving and renewable energy options actually turn out to be less expensive to operate and maintain than less green, traditional options. Business save money by optimizing lighting systems, adding smart sensors and more.

Integrated systems play a significant role in energy efficiency. Interested in learning more about integrated systems? We can help. Call (800) 567-1180 to talk to us about your needs.

13 summer energy saving tips

The dog days of summer have arrived, and with them peak energy use. Air conditioners are pumping at full blast, and energy managers are dreading next month’s power bill.

What can businesses do to conserve power and control costs? Here are a few simple tips:

 

  • Set the thermostat to 78 degrees while facilities are in use, and 80 or above when not in use.
  • Check all air filters and change as necessary. Service units regularly to make sure they are running at peak efficiency.
  • Install programmable thermostats to automatically adjust according to your desired settings.
  • Replace older equipment with newer, more energy-efficient models.
  • Check in with LG & E about possible rebates for new energy-efficient equipment. LG & E also offers a demand conservation program which may provide your business with modest monthly savings.
  • If you use an outside vendor to providing vending machines in your facility’s break room, check with them to see if the machines are Energy Star machines. If they are not, negotiate for an upgrade.
  • Replace all incandescent light bulbs with more energy efficient CFL or LED bulbs.
  • Don’t forget outside lights. Put outside lights on timers or sensors, or make sure they are shut off during daylight hours.
  • Install motion sensors that automatically turn off lights when rooms are unoccupied.
  • Keep window shades/blinds drawn to block heat, or install screens or film to reflect bright sunlight.
  • Turn off and/or unplug equipment when not in use.
  • Consider flexible work arrangements where appropriate. If employees duties don’t require them to physically be in your office, why not have them work from home? Fewer workers in the office means less demand for lighting, cooling and power.
  • Maximize your landscaping to shade and shelter your building. An ocean of asphalt is not the most energy-efficient setting. A few well-placed trees can block the sun’s rays from heating up your facility.

Could facility improvements help improve student performance?

Maintaining school facilities is a challenge in nearly every school district. Most districts don’t have the funds to adequately resource regular capital improvements, and maintenance is sometimes deferred and systems and equipment are repaired long after they should have been replaced.


It’s no different for Jefferson County Public Schools, which has 155 school buildings, shifting population and a $1.3 billion list of maintenance and new construction projects.
Addressing the maintenance and construction issues is a complex challenge, but the payoffs are considerable, including improved energy efficiency and better utilization of resources, among other things.
But the most important payback of all might be improved student performance. How?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, schools without a major maintenance backlog have a higher average daily attendance of 4 to 5 students per 1,000 and a lower annual dropout rate by 10 to 13 students per 1,000 compared to schools with backlogs.
Check out these other benefits and impacts the EPA cites:

  • Studies that measure school conditions consistently show improved scores on standardized tests as school conditions improve.
  • Controlled studies show that children perform school work with greater speed as air ventilation rates increase, and performance of teachers and staff also improves.
  • Higher ventilation rates have been shown to reduce the transmission of infectious agents in the building, which leads to a drop in sickness and absenteeism.
  • Moderate changes in room temperature affect children’s abilities to perform mental tasks requiring concentration, such as addition, multiplication and sentence comprehension. Poor temperature and humidity regulation can lead to problems with focus.

Well-maintained systems are key to building maintenance, and important for the development, health and safety of students and staff.
We’re always happy to discuss how our solutions can help. Connect with us at the Kentucky School Plant Management Association conference and workshops Oct. 18-19 at the Embassy Suites Hotel at 1801 Newtown Pike in Lexington or call us at (800) 567-1180 to discuss your needs.

5 tips to get your facility ready for fall

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Even with record-setting high temps dogging us well into November, fall and winter weather are bound to arrive in the Ohio Valley sometime soon. Is your facility ready?

Here’s how you can prepare:

 

Check your lighting. Even if it never cools off, the sun is setting earlier each day, and the time will change on Nov. 6. That “fall back” will cost us an hour of daylight in the evening. Be sure to adjust timers which automatically turn lights on and off.
Reassess security systems. Changes in daylight may also mean changes to safety and security threats. Will customers or staff members be entering or exiting your building when it is dark? Now is the time to walk through and around facilities and note any new or shifting risks.
Service your HVAC system. Clean and/or replace filters, and clean out duct work to reduce allergens and ensure peak efficiency. Have your entire heating system inspected by a qualified professional.
Check windows and doors. Inspect all windows and doors to make sure they are operating properly and the seals are tight.
Start coordinating holiday travel schedules. With the holidays approaching, key staff members may plan to take time off or travel. Don’t wait until the last minute to hand off duties, login information, vendor contacts and other key details. For more, check out our earlier post outlining key steps for planning around vacations.

Drones, wearable tech bring fresh focus to building maintenance

By taking human eyes where it’s difficult for human bodies to go, tech gadgets are taking building maintenance to the next level.

Image: Lino Schmid & Moira Prati

Image: Lino Schmid & Moira Prati

Drones and smart glasses are two of the latest tech gadgets being deployed in new ways to help experts gather information and solve problems.

A story posted by Energy Manager Today highlights several cases where drones are being used to quickly and safely inspect facilities, something that’s often difficult or even impossible.

“A drone can inspect assets that are dangerous and/or difficult to reach — or completely inaccessible to humans. The fact that they are airborne avoids time-consuming preparations, such as building scaffolding to inspect walls. For energy managers, these devices can be used to conduct higher perspective inspections of rooftop assets or even the inside of equipment that have large cavities,” according to the author of the post.

Duke Energy and ConEnergy are both using drones to inspect boilers. Duke has also used drones to check solar panels and assess storm damage. Tremco Roofing and Building Maintenance uses drones to scan building roofs for leaks.

While drones are the eyes in the sky for some facility managers, others are turning to smart glasses to focus on solving problems.

An HVAC contractor in Tennessee is using smart glasses to connect technicians, expert support and customers. Lee Company technicians use smart glasses to transmit video feeds to customers and in-office support, improving communication and reducing the need to send additional personnel out to solve problems. The company credits the smart glasses with improving efficiency and customer satisfaction, as well as helping them overcome a labor shortage and attracting new talent.