Addressing Indoor Air Quality Begins With Your HVAC System
Facilities teams are rooting out hidden operations and mechanical IAQ issues with fault detection and diagnostics.
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Since the beginning of the pandemic, building owners and managers have searched for easy ways to improve indoor air quality performance. This has led to an overwhelming amount of industry noise around IAQ. There are indoor air quality guidelines and certifications from organizations like RESET, ASHRAE, WELL, AirRated, and UL Healthy Buildings. There is a proliferation of sensors and new products on the market. And there is a huge education gap around all of it.
With many new technologies carrying large price tags and promising to be the silver-bullet solution, it can be hard to know where to begin.
A Practical Approach To IAQ
For us, “practical” means working with what you already have in your building to identify and address the hidden issues in your HVAC system that can lead to poor IAQ performance.
We often ask facility teams: “You have 500 Air Handlers. Do you know where your stuck dampers are?” Stuck dampers, loose set screws, and supply flow issues are daily occurrences in buildings and can be the root-cause of an entire floor not receiving proper ventilation.
Building analytics software with fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) can analyze all this data in a scalable way that allows you to understand how your HVAC systems are performing related to IAQ. By plugging into your existing building automation systems, FDD software analyzes thousands of HVAC data points across your facilities and produces a prioritized list of issues—with root-cause diagnostics.
This is not to be confused with BAS (Building Automation System) alarms, which are primarily a reactive measure. Making the jump to a healthy building and proactive staff requires getting ahead of critical problems and moving beyond them. A recent whitepaper from Nexus labs and Clockworks Analytics, the Building Analytics Comparison Guide, highlights the differences between BAS alarms, fault detection, and fault detection and diagnostics. Only FDD provides a portfolio view of IAQ performance with root-cause diagnostics, eliminating tedious investigation time and allowing your team to take corrective action quicker. Only FDD allows you to say with confidence, “I know where all my current IAQ issues are right now and we are taking care of the biggest offenders.”
There are so many small mechanical problems that can completely throw off any IAQ strategy. Often, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. When we looked across our entire Clockworks Analytics client base over a seven-day period—which includes over 180,000 zones—we identified that 20% of AHU’s and 10% of zones had at least one mechanical or controls issue affecting indoor air quality.
How do you identify that 10% without a system that can continuously monitor your equipment? The nature of complex mechanical systems is that they degrade. One-time IAQ audits will become outdated within weeks.
FDD helps to pinpoint, filter, and address IAQ issues within buildings in a proactive and scalable way.
Benefits Beyond Indoor Air Quality
A Force-Multiplier For Your Team
FDD takes care of the investigation and root-cause determination for the already over-extended operations & maintenance team. Over the last year, we’ve seen O&M teams leverage FDD capabilities to fix thousands of IAQ issues—including stuck fire dampers, programming overrides, CO2 sensor errors, out-of-tune damper control loops, and air flow sensor calibration errors.
One notable example is a large, public university client. Using a centralized FDD system, they are able to look across all 400+ AHUs and ~10,000 HVAC zones to pick out and prioritize diagnostics to go out and fix.
The University O&M team is spread across many different units—it’s hard to imagine them having time to investigate and diagnose each of these issues one by one. They depend on building analytics to pinpoint, diagnose, and show them the highest priority issues that need attention.
Energy And Cost Savings
There is a misconception that there is a tradeoff between improving IAQ and ventilation and energy consumption. But—across the more than 400M sq. ft. that we monitor—we’ve found the opposite to be true. Looking at a one-year period, Clockworks customers competed 1,783 tasks improving IAQ, which resulted in $1,173,159 in annual energy savings!
In addition to the benefits listed above, FDD does something even more important. It allows your team to log-in every day and easily locate the Top 5 IAQ issues in your building(s). It provides a way to find and act on hidden mechanical and control issues—because there is no new technology in the world that can overcome the stuck dampers and control overrides preventing fresh air from getting into a space. Best of all, it allows your team to finally make the shift from reactive to proactive maintenance.