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In increasing numbers companies are looking to transform their office space spaces into smart buildings, and for good reason. The most significant benefit is cost reduction, in terms of energy consumption, operating expenses, and even the space itself.  But there are also other benefits from minimizing their carbon footprint, to creating more comfortable work conditions for employees.

However, for most companies the cost of the initial outlay is a major challenge to overcome. The transformation to “smart” is expensive, it often comes with replacing legacy equipment, the process inevitably includes some down-time to productivity, and an investment in an intelligent building management system that is able to integrate all the component parts. 

Heavy competition and the race to offer more bang for the buck, HVAC providers are racing to add new features. The goal is both to provide more cost efficient heating and cooling, including ways to reduce the building’s energy consumption, as well as adding robust cybersecurity protection on the devices, which both detects and protects from attempted hacks or breaches.  New developments in sensors and technology systems that can be built into HVAC systems are driving competition. Let’s dive in.

Occupancy Sensors

In the current hybrid work model where employees work both in the office and at home, there is little consistency when it comes to occupancy. Desks and conference rooms are vacant as much as 50 – 60 percent of the time. Occupancy sensors, like those provided by Serraview can be attached to HVAC systems to detect the presence of people in the office at any given time, typically by detecting their movement. This data can be used to turn systems on or off based on real-time utilization.

The benefit of this data goes beyond an HVAC system to also positively impact other connected systems, like lighting. While HVAC consumes 40 – 70 percent of energy usage, lighting consumption is also high, generally sitting at anywhere above 25 percent. 

Fan motors can also be run according to occupancy measures. In newer HVAC systems that have variable speed motors, fan speeds can be adjusted to appropriate levels based on occupancy conditions. If the company doesn’t want to rip and replace their existing HVAC system variable frequency drive kits can be retrofitted to older single speed fans.

CO2 Sensors

In a study released by the Harvard School of Public Health high CO2 levels can contribute to impaired cognitive performance, causing those affected to work slower and make poorer decisions. CO2 sensors detect the levels of CO2 gas in an enclosed space, when a preset threshold is reached, a smart HVAC system can increase the amount of fresh air supplied to the space. The benefit of this technology can have a direct impact on the wellbeing of the workforce and productivity levels.

For example, Cubic connects CO2 and occupancy sensors with Demand Control Ventilation technology that makes it possible to decrease energy usage.  When occupancy is low and CO2 levels are within a healthy range the integrated ventilation equipment reduces your outdoor air intake and at the same time lowers or turns off heating or cooling. 

Thermal sensors

The temperature of each zone in an office work space can be controlled with the use of strategically placed thermal sensors. By compartmentalizing a given work space, cooling can be increased for example in a crowded conference room, it can be turned off in vacant office cubicles, while heating can be turned on in office areas that tend to be drafty and cold. Hereus integrated their smart HVAC with thermal sensors that can use the data provided to adjust conditions throughout the work day.

Space Optimization

The days of assigning a person to a desk have reached their end. Instead, employees are more often assigned to a hub within which people choose a spot to work each day. Within that hub they move around throughout the office to task oriented spaces like meeting rooms or collaboration spaces. With different hubs being in the office on different days, companies can reduce the size of their office space with fewer individual desk spaces, and better optimize the space available.

However, optimizing space and productivity in the hybrid work environment can be a challenge with the difficulty of allocating the right number of work points based on actual utilization. The sensor technology cited above has been used by Serraview to provide valuable insight towards designing and managing cost effective office spaces. By tracking utilization companies can understand how any given space is being used at any given time. 

This data makes it possible to accurately pin-point which areas are being maximized and which areas are underutilized. For example, a large financial firm found that with the data collected from sensor technology, meeting rooms were only booked for 42 percent of the time. With this knowledge they were able to consolidate footprint and maximize more of the space available.

While the potential for this technology is significant, it’s important to keep in mind that this data is also sensitive and represents a severe risk if found in the wrong hands. The data generated from this technology could range from floor plans, occupancy patterns, to CO2 emissions. It also provides a multitude of access points into the corporate network.  

Proactive IoT Cybersecurity (on Device)

Companies are likely to require that any HVAC vendor that they contract has a high standard of cyber protection on their devices to ensure that the entire system is safeguarded from potential hackers. Dedicated IoT security solutions, like that provided by Firedome, enable HVAC providers to meet even the most rigorous security requirements. With technology that works in real time to detect and eliminate all types of cyber threats, your HVAC offering will not only make office life smarter, but safer.  

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