The Coronavirus impacted the world with a force and suddenness that touched almost everything we know. No one really knows how deep or long the impact will be, but there is a consensus that many of the ways we have operated and acted in the past will have to change moving forward. This will of course include the world of Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC). Given our many years of experience in this space – we tried to offer preliminary thoughts on what and how things may change for those of us who work in HVAC.
Social distancing and indoor climate awareness
Since most of the world’s population is under a “social distancing” regime, and likely will remain like that for quite some time, people are spending more time at home and will likely invest in optimizing their home comfort. This will include assuring that HVAC systems provide the expected comfort level, i.e. temperature, humidity, and growing demand for fresh air circulation. This will likely be achieved by taking basic actions like opening a window (where possible) but also a higher awareness and demand for systems and technologies that will automate it and assure that air quality standards are kept. Once “social distancing” regimes will be relaxed, people will carry this awareness and demand to their office environment as well.
The impact of Dynamic Occupancy levels on facility operations
This in turn, will fuel adjustments in HVAC operations in commercial facilities. The coming months, and possibly years, may likely include cycles of regular business operations and periods of partial-work-from-home or shutdowns triggered by governments to try and control the rates of infections.
This means office buildings will cycle through quick periods of near 100% occupancy to almost 0% occupancy and will have to do so effectively. Maintaining building systems and office spaces ready for all occupancy rates, optimized to allow comfort for each level, all while keeping energy consumption efficient, is a challenge for any facility manager at normal times. Doing so in a dynamically changing occupancy environment, will make it much more complex. Building systems are designed to work at high occupancy rates. Operating it at low occupancy rates for long periods, with ability to ramp up very quickly, requires good planning, as well as the tools to easily move between operating regimes. Remote control, monitoring and management tools will become mandatory for HVAC facility management.
HVAC service and monitoring during times of travel restrictions
HVAC technical service organizations and HVAC contractors also will have to make some transition in the way technical service is being provided. The model of sending a technician on site to address every service call, from small to big, will be challenging in an environment of ever-changing travel restrictions.
First, this mode of service requires granting access to a technician into a serviced building/residence. With “social distancing”, this is no longer a given that this access will be granted.
Second, and of more significance, servicing a vacant building (unfortunately HVAC problems can occur even if nobody is at the office...) requires special coordination from facility managers – someone has to specially be on-site to grant building access to the technician, wait for them to complete the work, and maybe come back to see everything works properly and test the system at different loads.
Third, a vacant building’s system may still be working at times and will require ongoing monitoring to detect the system’s health. At regular times, tenants will probably alert if temperature is too high/low or comfort has deteriorated, indicating something is problematic with the system. But if the building is empty, these issues may only be noticed when occupants come in and may render the environment potentially unhabitable (consider a glass office building in August in New York without AC for a week….).
Remote access for HVAC service teams
These considerations emphasize the importance of tools that will allow service teams remote and automatic diagnostics and control. Such tools allow them to offer preventive maintenance best practices and notifications and also allow them to plan much better how to address service calls. For Example, when a service call is opened, they can easily connect to the alerted system, view all relevant parameters and perform an initial HVAC diagnostic of the situation with an app. Some cases may even be resolved remotely by proper configuration changes, some may allow the service technician to guide a local team to perform some mechanical work to fix the issues and some will still require a technician to travel to the site. But even if on-site visit is required, the technician will have some more info prior to going on-site so he can take with him the right tools/parts and expertise (the right person for the job...) so he doesn’t have to travel again.
HVAC meets the Internet of Things
The Corona crisis is one of the defining challenges of our times. For the HVAC world as for every other aspect of our lives, this will mean making critical adjustments in how we live, work and travel. The good news in the HVAC world is that innovations in technology during the last decade, especially around big-data, cloud and IOT, allows making these necessary adjustments quickly and efficiently.