What’s holding you back from implementing smart building technology? Afraid it will be too complex? Too expensive? Too disruptive to install? We talk a lot about how CANDI makes smart buildings easy and affordable, but a recent installation at a California non-profit takes that concept a big step further. It’s enough to get you thinking: If even a non-profit can do this and see an immediate impact, what’s really holding you back?

Optimizing a non-profit facilities budget in extreme weather conditions

At a recent conference, we met Oscar Matos, a facilities manager for the non-profit Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee (MAAC). Since 1965, MAAC has provided a range of high-quality programs to help maximize self-sufficiency for families and individuals in Southern California’s San Diego County. MAAC’s core focus areas are Economic Development, Education, Health & Well-being, Housing, and Advocacy. As a large non-profit organization with sites across the county and program offerings such as child development, education, weatherization, and energy assistance, MAAC was an ideal candidate to adopt smart building technologies. However, with time and resources stretched thin, the reality of implementing smart technology in MAAC buildings seemed to be just out of reach.

Oscar, along with a small, dedicated facilities staff, manages seventeen MAAC sites operating Head Start and state preschool programs for disadvantaged children and their families throughout northern San Diego County, as well as three administration buildings—all on a non-profit budget. With the average building size of 20,000 square feet, Oscar and his staff manage a total of about 400,000 square feet of building space. Because Southern California temperatures can exceed 100 degrees in the summer months, air conditioning runs in every building for most of the year, and some facilities are open 12 hours a day. With that kind of energy profile across a distributed footprint, MAAC is always looking for ways to reduce energy costs and improve operating efficiency so that budgets can be optimized for programs that benefit children and families.

Fast, affordable retrofit supports pilot program

When we heard about MAAC’s situation, we knew this was an organization that was completely in line with our own values. CANDI arranged with our partners to donate some devices and implementation support for a smart building pilot at the MAAC San Marcos Head Start Center. While the costs of today’s smart building devices and installation are minimal for most commercial buildings, every dollar counts in a non-profit. CANDI donated the Intel BMP gateway and two powerful eGauge meters, and RCS donated three ZigBee-connected thermostats. Those donations saved the non-profit about $1,450. MAAC agreed to fund project management, the remaining parts, installation labor and fees, for a total budget of about $4,500.

The goal was to retrofit an affordable smart building that would quickly, easily and cost-effectively give Oscar the information he needed to optimize energy performance, remotely diagnose and control the building’s HVAC systems and reduce the frequency of maintenance visits.

Simple, one-day installation

Oscar oversaw the project, CANDI field application engineer Bobby Coucoules provided technical guidance for the MAAC implementation, and local integrator Velociti executed the installation. Even though neither the engineer nor the installer had been onsite prior to the installation, the implementation couldn’t have gone more smoothly.

To minimize disruption, the installation was planned for a staff in-service day, with no families on site. Power was dropped in half of the building at a time to install the energy meters and replace existing thermostats. The meters monitored the building’s main electrical circuits, HVAC and refrigeration equipment. The thermostats controlled split-unit heat pumps. MAAC’s IT department was consulted but needed minimal involvement, as the Intel BMP gateway is network-ready out of the box. While the electrician worked, Bobby configured the smart thermostats and energy meters through the CANDI PowerTools application. Before the day ended, data was already flowing to provide new insights into the building’s energy use.

Training for Oscar on how to monitor his new smart building took place in about an hour. Now the MAAC facilities team can easily access energy and HVAC data and settings at any time from a computer or smartphone.

First-month analytics show clear opportunities for savings

Within a month after installation, several important data points had already surfaced. In one instance, the team noticed higher-than-expected energy use over a weekend and during evening hours when the building was thought to be unoccupied.

Mains energy data chart

Fig. 1: MAAC mains energy data revealed weekend and evening overuse.

Because multi-channel energy monitors had been installed, drilling down into the data to diagnose the cause was straightforward. It was immediately clear that a specific heat pump accounted for the off-hours energy consumption.

Fig 2: Split heat pump energy usage details, revealing which zones caused the anomalies and when.

A quick analysis of the data gave Oscar enough information to spark a dialog with the facility’s staff, who had manually overridden a thermostat. Having detailed information on the impact of that decision helped educate the staff so that Oscar can reduce ongoing costs with a more efficient thermostat setting. Going forward, Oscar’s team can remotely monitor for anomalies and energy waste caused by manual overrides, doors and windows left open, equipment problems and the like.

As a non-profit with multiple facilities and limited resources to manage them, Oscar is looking mostly for long-term trends that he can present to MAAC’s leadership to justify additional smart building investments. But with his background in managing larger facilities, he can already see how effective this approach would be in allowing him to dig into details of energy usage. Even a much larger facility (up to about 100,000 sf) would not require many more sensors or thermostats, so the parts and installation costs would be roughly comparable to that of the San Marcos facility. Altogether, the benefits of reduced energy costs, fewer site visits, remote equipment monitoring and control and a more consistently comfortable environment for the on-site staff and clients combine to make a strong case for affordable, easy-to-implement smart buildings.

What’s holding you back?

Energy use, HVAC monitoring and control are a huge part of any commercial building budget, and smart building technologies promise to help lower those costs. The data generated by smart sensors and meters offer even more benefits, such as advance indicators on maintenance issues that can reduce the number of emergency calls, and the ability to analyze data for both immediate control and comfort as well as long-term changes in usage.

The fact that a non-profit center can afford and gain immediate benefits from a CANDI-powered solution is proof that we’re disrupting the market. If they can do it this quickly and easily, what’s holding you back?