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Green Building Blog

How BEMIS Can Help Optimize HVAC Efficiency and Save Money

Thu, Mar 03, 2016 @ 03:26 / by Jim Newman

In a recent study, The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (www.aceee.org) found that “Commercial buildings could save up to $60 billion if investments in energy efficiency were ramped up by just 1-4%.”

When I was interviewed a year and a half ago and posted this blog in advance of my talk at NFMT Vegas 2014, there weren’t many companies promoting, or providing, building energy management information systems. Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) and Building Automation systems (BAS) were definitely part of the conversation, but there wasn’t much out there at that time about Building Energy Management Information Systems (BEMIS). Today they are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s easy to see why.

NREL_slide_75_crop.jpgA quality BEMIS will have a software-based front end that can run reports as well as conduct diagnostic testing and provide a clear picture of the building’s performance – through easy-to-understand visuals.  And today’s BEMIS does more than simply offer reports. It provides feedback, incorporating the tools and reporting capabilities from the BAS as well as fault detection, diagnostic tools and automated system optimization technologies.

When researching a BEMIS, you need to have a thorough understanding of the following:

  • What you want it to do
  • What you want to measure
  • What are the most important attributes of your environment that you wish to manage
  • Who will be responsible for operating it

Why is this so critical? In this interview from Sept 2014 I explain the importance of optimizing  HVAC efficiency.

NFMT Vegas: What are some of the largest areas of energy inefficiency in an average building?

James Newman: Interestingly enough, many are relatively simple ones, but ones that are often overlooked because facilities people have to spend so much time in reactive mode, responding to the “I’m too hot” and “I’m too cold” complaints. (For more on the cost of being reactive vs proactive, read this.) Here are some examples: 

  • Thermostats. When a thermostat is not properly calibrated, it’s reading the wrong temperature and therefore adjusting to the wrong temperature. When it reads 72 degrees, it might actually be 69 or 75 degrees.
  • Economizers. Too often economizers on air handling equipment are not working correctly, either because the control isn’t working right or the linkage has slipped. When this happens, the dampers get stuck in one position. Then someone makes a temporary fix by putting a 2 x 4 into the outside air damper to keep it open until a fix can be made, but then they forget about it, so it stays open when they think it’s closed. This is not a good thing when during the night, outside air will continually end up being heated or cooled rather than all return air.
  • Variable Frequency Drives. Sometimes these are left in the bypass condition, i.e. running at full 60 Hz, while waiting for a fix – and then the fix never happens, so they keep running at high rpm, thus not making use of the variable frequency capabilities. 
  • Equipment. Often equipment that is supposed to be turned off at night instead runs 24/7. This is actually one of the most common ones that we find when we perform energy audits on buildings. It can be lighting, air handling systems, pumps, computers, heaters (or fans) under desks, chargers, etc.
  • Building Automation Systems (BAS). BAS that are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, either because they’re overly complex or there are other problems that are not readily visible. 

Many of these have been written about in our article in Building Operating Management Magazine.

NFMT Vegas: Can you discuss some of the driving forces behind the increase of interest in HVAC efficiency recently?

Newman: The number one reason is usually cost savings and the desire to save money without reducing services. We’re starting to see this issue get a lot more publicity in and outside of the industry, especially in general interest newspapers, magazines and online. The Empire State Building retrofit was covered by The News York Times, USA Today, Crain’s New York Business, CNN Money and many industry publications.

New building codes are forcing owners to build or retrofit to higher energy standards. States and municipalities want to drive energy efficiency not only through legislation, but peer pressure. Energy Use Index (EUI) disclosure allows potential buyers or tenants to compare buildings on energy efficiency.

NFMT Vegas: Will energy audits help to identify areas that can be modified to reduce energy use?

Newman: Absolutely! This is one of the best ways to find the low- and no-cost ways to reduce energy use, as well as opportunities for higher payback fixes. They can be done either in-house if you have qualified people – who know the building better than the personnel who operate it – or by a qualified professional audit team. We have a lot of information on our website about this topic, including a white paper on how to select an energy auditor here.

NFMT Vegas: What first step would you recommend to facilities managers who want to increase the efficiency of their HVAC system?

Newman: I suggest looking at the systems in your facility like you are a potential buyer. Bring in some trusted sales people for the various equipment and systems in the building to find out if there are better ways of doing things than the way you’re doing them now. There have been many advances made in equipment and systems within the last 10 years. Make sure you schedule an energy audit and definitely get educated.

To hear more from Jim Newman and other presenters, register today for NFMT High Performance Buildings & Workplaces Conference May 3-4, 2016 in Austin,TX. 

Topics: HVAC, Retrofit, Energy Codes, energy efficiency, Energy Audit, Energy Use Index, building automation, BEMIS

Jim Newman

Written by Jim Newman

Jim Newman's passion is helping us move toward a healthier and more secure future – for people and the planet.

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