Intelligent Buildings

Research supports what educators have known intuitively for years — an indoor environment that is safer, healthier and more comfortable creates a better place for students to learn and faculty to teach. The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), for example, cites numerous national and state studies that establish a positive correlation between a quality learning environment and higher test scores, increased average daily attendance and better levels of teacher and staff satisfaction.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) report “Greening America’s Schools” says that, on average, high-performance schools offer 33-percent direct energy savings, 50-percent indirect energy savings and 32-percent water savings, compared to conventional school buildings.

Operating and service, maintenance strategies are essential

An effective operating, service and maintenance strategy ensures that a high-performance school building will live up to its full potential throughout its long occupied life. After all, operating and maintenance expenditures account for 65 to 80 percent of a typical building’s total lifecycle costs, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS). This figure validates the concept of taking a total lifecycle approach to school building operations.

Making the right service strategy choices often means the difference between having a high-performing school that is an asset to the district and having a building with performance that degrades over time, creating a less-than-ideal learning environment and impacting budgets that are often already stretched to their limits.

Fortunately, high-performance building technologies and practices have enabled new service approaches that complement today’s most advanced intelligent buildings. With these new service capabilities, school district facilities teams can use real-time building performance information to make data-based decisions. The end result is a better-
performing school building.

Intelligent services combine technology, proprietary analytics and expertise in heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to continuously collect, interpret and act upon data from building systems and controls to optimize operational performance. This gives school district facilities directors the tools they need to manage energy consumption, reduce operating costs, minimize their environmental impact, improve building system reliability and uptime, and resolve more problems earlier, quicker and more efficiently.

Smart service options can be customized to district needs

Intelligent service offerings are available at a variety of levels to meet school districts’ unique requirements. These include: alarm notification, active monitoring and building performance.

An alarm notification offering includes around-the-clock routing and reporting of critical building systems and the capability for users to interface with a remote service facility. School district facilities teams are notified immediately if a critical event occurs and critical event histories are archived for later review and record keeping purposes.

Users of an active monitoring option also receive 24/7/365 system monitoring and immediate notification when a critical event occurs. In addition, technical specialists analyze critical alarms generated at the site remotely. They often are able to fix problems immediately and remotely, without dispatching a service truck. For example, about 40 percent of problems experienced by Trane national account customers have been resolved in 30 minutes or less. If necessary, the technical specialist can dispatch a service technician, who is provided with specific details and recommendations before arriving on site.

“Building performance” is the term used to describe the current state of the art in intelligent services. This level of service uses a combination of the best available analytics, diagnostics and human expertise to enable facilities teams to optimize building performance. Intelligent service providers usually begin by conducting a thorough building audit to assess the performance of critical systems, identify potential problems, assess how and where energy is being used and establish operating standards aligned with the building’s mission and purpose.

Intelligent services deliver optimum performance

Standards are typically set in such categories as energy and water use, environmental performance, occupant health and comfort and system reliability. With a building performance approach, facilities professionals can set air quality, temperature, humidity, lighting, ventilation and other standards for individual physical areas. For example, they can set different ventilation standards for chemistry labs and cafeteria kitchens than for regular classrooms. They also can plan for the variations in occupancy levels that can change hour-to-hour, day-to-day and season-to-season.

Once operating standards are set, intelligent services use monitoring, diagnostics and analytics to keep each area of the building operating within acceptable tolerances of those standards. To accomplish this, the system continuously collects and analyzes data from various building systems and either automatically responds or provides specific recommendations to keep the building operating at performance levels chosen by the facilities team.

Schools also can designate a key piece of heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, such as a chilled water system, as mission essential because its failure would disrupt normal operations. Smart services offerings can use analytical fault detection and diagnostic software to continuously monitor the system’s operation and alert technicians if an anomaly is detected so they can take action before a failure can occur.

Intelligent buildings require smart service offerings

As more school districts embrace high-performance building technologies and practices, it is impossible to overstate the importance of having a sound operating, maintenance and service strategy. In fact, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has concluded that a poorly designed building operated and maintained effectively will consistently outperform a well-designed building with poor operating and maintenance practices.

The availability of actionable information — in the right place, at the right time and in the right hands — can mean the difference between an efficient, reliable school building and one that uses too much energy, costs too much to operate and prevents the district from creating the positive learning environment that students, teachers and staff want and deserve. 

Paul McMurphy is Remote Services Development leader for Trane, a global provider of indoor comfort systems and services and a brand of Ingersoll Rand. He currently leads the Trane Intelligent Services team.

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