The HVAC controls market is growing, with predictions showing that it will be worth USD 27 billion by 2023, an increase of USD 13 billion since 2018. The ability to be able to automatically control the heating, ventilation and air conditioning functions within a building is clearly a rising demand. Why this is, how HVAC controls work and the benefits of smart HVAC systems all form the basis of this article.
What are HVAC controls?
HVAC controls consist of devices that control the operations of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment within a building.
HVAC can be described as ‘climate control’ for a building. Whilst it covers the heating and cooling of air, it is also concerned with indoor air quality (IAQ).
The main purpose of HVAC is to maintain good indoor air quality through adequate ventilation, and to provide thermal comfort, either by cooling or heating a space.
Buildings will typically be fitted with a thermostat, which is connected to an air conditioning and heating system. By adjusting the temperature of the thermostat, in turn you are controlling the functions of the air conditioning and heating.
For example, when you set your thermostat to 24 degrees in the summer, you are telling your air conditioning unit to run until the indoor temperature reaches 24 degrees, at which point it will automatically switch off. Should the temperature rise above 24 degrees, the unit should switch back on.
In this example, the thermostat is considered the HVAC controller. It is also acting as a sensor, however, because it is effectively ‘sensing’ the indoor temperature. Sensors are an important element in smart HVAC systems, something we’ll explore in more detail later on in this article.
In larger facilities, HVAC controls will often form part of a larger system, known as the building management system.
What is a building management system?
A building management system (BMS) controls various elements of a facility. It will, for example, monitor and control core electrical and mechanical equipment; manage access control, surveillance and intrusion and fire detection; schedule the heating and air conditioning system on and off and maintain a set temperature point, and adjust ventilation based on occupancy and climate.
Having all of these functions consolidated under one central platform can be beneficial in many ways. It’s what turns a building into a smart building.
A smart HVAC system, a core element of a smart building, has the ability to cut energy consumption, and boost workplace comfort by monitoring and improving indoor air quality.
How does a smart HVAC system work?
Smart HVAC systems are powered by Internet of Things technology. They incorporate a network of interconnected motion and noise detectors, humidity sensors, thermometers, geo-fencing and location indicators, together with real time weather data from the internet.
The data produced from all of these sources is fed into a central platform. Here, artificial intelligence and machine learning create a series of automations, adjusting HVAC systems without the need for manual intervention, so that they align with changing environmental conditions, and react to indoor air quality fluctuations.
These smart HVAC controls also relay highly valuable information to facilities managers, allowing them to make informed decisions in relation to investing in the long term improvement of the indoor environment. This could be, perhaps, through the purchase of the likes of humidifiers or dehumidifiers; the repair or replacement of appliances that may be responsible for unhealthy levels of emissions, and the maintenance of ventilation systems.
How do smart HVAC controls work?
A building management system consists of four main elements:
1. Front end software and user interface
2. Network infrastructure
4. End devices
These four components make up an HVAC controls system which has the goal of achieving occupant comfort and safety, whilst operating as efficiently as possible in terms of energy consumption.
A sequence of operations, sometimes referred to as a ‘logic statement’, automates the functions of HVAC systems based on input data from sensors, and user actions.
Take our previous example. You set the thermostat to 24 degrees. This input is passed from the thermostat through the network infrastructure and back to a controller. This then picks up the feedback, and runs the following sequence:
Indoor air temperature is more than 24 degrees -> Start air conditioning
Indoor air temperature is equal to or less than 24 degrees -> Stop air conditioning
This is a very simplified example. Larger HVAC systems with more complex equipment will involve longer sequences of operations.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence, two features of smart HVAC systems, will also pick up on user input. So for example, if occupants are manually switching off the air conditioning at 25 degrees, it will be assumed that this is the optimum temperature for that particular area of the building, and those particular occupants within it. Smart HVAC systems will learn this, and use it to create automations more suited to the occupants.
Are there different types of HVAC controls?
Newer buildings tend to be equipped with digital controls which communicate via electronic systems. Older buildings, however, may be fitted with pneumatic HVAC controls. These operate on air pressure, using mechanical processes to control HVAC equipment.
Digital HVAC controls, as you might imagine, contribute to a more automated and efficient building.
What are the benefits of smart HVAC systems?
The main objective of HVAC controls is to provide building occupants with maximum comfort, in other words, to create a healthy building through improved indoor air quality. But with smart HVAC systems, there are added benefits.
HVAC operation accounts for almost half of a building’s energy consumption. With buildings responsible for 39 per cent of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions, the importance of creating an energy efficient building cannot be over-emphasised.
With a smart HVAC system, it is possible to monitor individual spaces via Internet of Things connected sensors, setting automations to switch off heating and air conditioning where it is detected that rooms are not occupied; turning down heating where the ambient temperature has risen, or switching off air conditioning where it has dropped. All of this significantly reduces waste.
What’s more, smart HVAC enables building occupants to tailor their own individual climatic conditions to suit their personal preferences, as well as current weather conditions and the task they are currently undertaking. Even better, the system learns from user input, so individuals can enjoy their own personal HVAC automation.
How can Smart Spaces make HVAC controls smarter?
Smart Spaces is an Internet of things powered, app-based platform that makes it possible to automatically control HVAC systems. It allows facilities managers to monitor, regulate and maintain healthy indoor air quality, and closely monitor and reduce energy consumption.
Using a’digital twin’ visualisation platform, a 3D replica of the building can be used to ascertain what needs to be actioned to achieve optimal working conditions.
Occupants also get to control their own individual workplace conditions via a smartphone app. Machine learning stores personal preferences and creates pre-sets for particular tasks, times of day and environmental conditions.
Interested to learn more about how Smart Spaces could transform your workspace?
Request a free demo or get in touch to discover how Smart Spaces could help you make your HVAC controls work smarter.