Today’s commercial and industrial buildings often rely on multiple packaged rooftop units (RTUs) to keep spaces at consistent and optimal temperatures throughout the year in various external temperatures and fluctuating internal conditions. No matter how new, rugged, or energy-efficient these units may be, they still require regular preventive maintenance to function effectively, extend equipment lifespan, maintain energy efficiency, and ensure healthy indoor air quality. The benefits of commercial HVAC maintenance have been well established, but the costs can be significant, even with a yearly service contract. Unexpected equipment failure can lead to expensive emergency service calls and parts replacement, not to mention system downtime and comfort disruptions.
Automated HVAC fault detection tools materially reduce these problems and improve operational efficiency while ending the break/fix cycle that plagues many facility managers.
The expanding role of automated HVAC fault detection
In the context of HVAC operations, routine maintenance was previously restricted to scheduled time intervals and seasonal checklists. Maintenance activities were (and still are) performed based on a system’s age, condition, type, size, and usage. And while these are commendable practices to implement, service technicians cannot detect every impending failure or sub-optimal performance issue.
That’s where emerging technologies like HVAC fault detection tools have become invaluable, providing maintenance teams and technicians with insights into the health and operation of HVAC assets. Maintenance activities once reactive and based on static or assumed factors can now be approached proactively with dynamic and specific analytical data.
By combining the power of the cloud, advanced sensors, and real-time data acquisition to monitor HVAC equipment, automated fault detection transforms how companies perform HVAC maintenance. These analytical software tools cut down diagnostic times and improve HVAC equipment reliability.
Automated fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) implemented for rooftop units can significantly reduce energy consumption and maintenance costs, allowing building operators to take early action and correct problems before they become costlier ones.
Optimizing the HVAC repair and replacement process
Think about the cost from the last time you called an HVAC service contractor to come and check on a reported problem. It likely put a hefty dent in your maintenance spending budget since commercial HVAC truck rolls are estimated to cost between $200 and $800 – before the cost of replacement parts. Reducing unnecessary truck rolls should be a high priority, especially with rising energy, material, and transportation costs.
Now try to recall who notified you about that HVAC issue. Did your occupants give you the heads-up that something was wrong? Whenever this is the case, a heating or cooling problem may already be affecting people’s comfort. Wouldn’t it be nice to get ahead of such support calls?
Consider these benefits of HVAC fault detection:
- Reduces truck rolls, allowing for bundled service calls – By learning about equipment issues early on, facility managers can bundle low-priority service calls and reduce expensive truck rolls.
- Prevents damage to RTU components and reduces associated replacement costs – Automated fault detection predicts component failure and helps companies increase proactive and preventive maintenance activities that ultimately reduce bottom-line expenses. Unlike service checkups typically scheduled annually or semi-annually, automated fault detection technologies monitor equipment continuously, sensing problems such as condenser coil fouling, compressor valve leaks, and damper failure. The sooner issues like these are resolved, the less chance they have of escalating into costlier repairs.
- Contributes to occupant well-being, satisfaction, and performance – Indoor environments have been studied and shown to affect the well-being, productivity, and health of workers. According to an article published in the Journal of Health Science and Engineering, indoor room temperature has nearly a 39% of contribution on employee performance.1 Automated fault detection leads to proactive work order issuance, helping you get ahead of occupant complaints and comfort changes.
- Reduces diagnostic time – Rather than paying an HVAC technician to determine which RTU is failing or where on the unit the issue is arising, automated fault detection provides rich detailed data, cutting down troubleshooting time and costs.
- Detects inefficient operating conditions – Manual setpoint overrides, slow to reach setpoint temperatures, and unoccupied periods become clearer to recognize, reducing associated energy waste implications.
Automated HVAC fault detection and energy efficiency
Reducing energy consumption is the key to energy efficiency and decarbonization. In addition to mandatory building energy codes, most states have performance-based targets aimed at establishing carbon emission reductions. In their quest to meet the latest requirements, building owners are turning to automated fault detection as another tool in their sustainability playbooks.
Addressing key faults in HVAC systems provides significant opportunities for energy savings. A report by the International Energy Agency revealed that energy savings of 20%-30% can typically be achieved by correcting faulty operation in an HVAC system.2 Consider an RTUs condenser coils as an example. Once these coils become clogged with debris, they can lead to an overworked HVAC system and wasted energy. Automated HVAC fault detection technology can identify a unit that is underperforming due to coil fouling, triggering a work order that results in a simple coil cleaning that can ultimately save thousands of dollars in energy waste.
In short, automated HVAC fault detection is one of the easiest ways to meet your sustainability goals.
What to expect from your HVAC fault detection data
Alerts and notifications
HVAC fault detection software provides fault notifications when certain thresholds are met. These alerts will likely include the location of the RTU and the type of issue being reported. Enterprise-level facility teams that manage hundreds of sites don’t have the time to review granular data and often prefer aggregate and trend-based reporting. Determining how your data will be presented is an important factor when deciding which automated fault detection solution is right for you.
HVAC fault detection software typically allows users to generate reports that include any fault detection, diagnostic issue, corrective actions, and costs. Having reports with proven results and outcomes can assist you with budget maintenance planning and spending requests.
Improve efficiency with straight-through work order processing
One of the greatest efficiencies gained from adopting automated fault detection technology hinges on its compatibility with other software platforms. When evaluating solutions on the marketplace, check to ensure they offer straight-through processing notification tools that send fault analysis results directly to your work order solutions software of choice. Having this capability will help streamline the work order process, saving valuable time and providing the accurate details building managers need to investigate, schedule, and resolve an identified equipment performance problem.
Encycle takes a holistic approach to energy management, embedding fault detection in its Swarm Logic® energy-saving technology.
Encycle has become well known for its unique Swarm Logic technology that leverages the power of artificial intelligence to lower customers’ energy costs, maximize efficiency, and reduce environmental impact by optimizing the management of HVAC systems through coordinated operations of RTUs. The proven software, deployed at thousands of locations, typically results in 10%-20% reductions in energy cost, consumption, and related emissions with little to no capital expense required.
Swarm Logic features an optional embedded Swarm IQ™ RTU fault detection tool that automates the detection of HVAC issues across entire buildings and enterprise-wide portfolios with high accuracy. Swarm IQ delivers all the benefits you would want from an HVAC fault detection tool, adding a crucial layer of actionable intelligence, and empowering facility staff to reduce their energy consumption and related emissions autonomously.
Swarm Logic’s newest optional feature, Swarm Sentinel™, is a work order notification tool that sends Swarm IQ-sourced analysis data directly to a customer’s work order software. The combined offering helps Encycle customers get ahead of HVAC fault issues, positively impact their bottom line, and make progress on their decarbonization targets.
For more information on how Encycle can help you become more proactive with your HVAC maintenance activities or reduce your energy consumption, contact us at +1 855-875-4031.
1Vimalanathan, Komalanathan, and Thangavelu Ramesh Babu. “The Effect of Indoor Office Environment on the Work Performance, Health and Well-Being of Office Workers.” Journal of Environmental Health Science and Engineering, vol. 12, no. 1, 2014, https://doi.org/10.1186/s40201-014-0113-7.
2Lin, Harvey Sachs Wilson. “Emerging Technology: Automated Fault Detection and Diagnostics for Rooftop Units.” ACHR News RSS, ACHR News, 10 Aug. 2011, https://www.achrnews.com/articles/114851-emerging-technology-automated-fault-detection-and-diagnostics-for-rooftop-units.
Contributing author: Steve Alexander, President and CEO, Encycle Corporation