Winter Energy Efficiency for Small Business by Utilizing IoT

Appropriate temperature control is frequently a challenge for businesses. While there exists a defined “comfort zone” of temperature and humidity levels, the preferences of individuals, environmental, and circumstantial factors also have an impact on the actual set points chosen. As a result of these external factors, businesses frequently spend more money than necessary for heating and cooling.

Heating and cooling systems are frequently running at a greater capacity than required when the building is not occupied. During these unoccupied periods, heating is used to prevent water pipes from freezing; cooling is used to prevent the growth of mildew and mold. Some measures can be taken to reduce excessive heating and cooling each with their own advantages and disadvantages, including the following:

Signs and Notices

Churches, gathering halls, and schools often have minimal budgets, and do whatever they can to minimize unnecessary spending. Energy-saving updates to climate control systems are often a lower priority than other capital expenditures, so managers of these properties have to rely on more rudimentary means of temperature control. The property manager will frequently post notices such as: “Close this door before you leave” or “Turn the heat down to 55 before leaving”. The effectiveness of these memos is limited by the awareness of the people using the space, and the property manager may not be aware of the failure to adhere to these notices until it comes time to pay the energy bill.

Programmable Thermostats

In contrast to temporary signs and notices, programmable thermostats allow the property manager to dictate a set schedule for a prescribed amount of heating and cooling. Programmable thermostats can cost more than traditional manual thermostats. Programmable thermostats require additional time to configure the necessary settings in order to save energy. Often, in pursuit of comfort, occupants adjust the scheduled configuration and override the energy-saving modes. With the energy-saving modes overridden, the programmable thermostat is just as expensive to operate like a traditional thermostat.

IoT Thermostats

IoT (the Internet of Things) is a network of connected systems, devices, and algorithms that allow for the processing and distribution of sensor data in the cloud. Ever since connected technology costs have dropped, IoT has increased the ease of automation, data collection, and other products that improve people’s lives such as GPS navigation, home weather stations, leak sensors, and wearables.

The widely available IoT thermostat is one of the lynchpins of the smart home, but small businesses can often take advantage of the connected thermostat as well. The upfront cost is approximately a few hundred dollars per IoT thermostat. On top of the capital cost, configuration typically requires access to a smartphone and Wi-Fi. Each climate control zone should have its own thermostat to achieve the greatest benefit, which can make adoption of this solution expensive and time-consuming. An additional cost for business owners, IoT thermostats can require reconfiguration if key personnel is replaced to ensure that the controls are in the hands (and smartphones) of current employees.

Once IoT thermostats are installed, the upfront cost can frequently be paid off in as little as a single heating season. IoT thermostats take advantage of mobile apps, and through various UI (user interface) elements allow the property manager to configure weekly schedules, and to check the temperature setpoint in any zone, anywhere, at any time. Most IoT thermostats send their users a report each month, regarding the number of hours of heating and cooling used relative to their neighbors. These reports call attention to unusual usage of climate control systems and encourage the adoption of energy-efficient practices by the user.

HSB’s Energy Opportunity Report

HSB’s sensor solution is designed to generate alerts to reduce the risk of property damage caused by events such as pipe freeze. The IoT team at HSB works with a variety of businesses to find new ways to put the data collected by these sensors to use. For example, during one of HSB’s sensor pilots, a church was able to reduce their annual energy costs by thousands of dollars just by examining temperature data and acting when they saw high heating use overnight.

In order to scale these savings to the average consumer, HSB created a product that allows small business owners to keep heating costs under control. The report aggregates temperature data from when the building is unoccupied and informs the property manager whether they have opportunities to save energy by turning their heat down on certain days of the week. This report gives the property manager information that would not normally be available otherwise. Whether the youth group neglects to turn the heat down when they leave, or the support group always makes sure they adjust the thermostat appropriately, the property manager will be armed with information to make the appropriate intervention.

The options span a range of cost and effectiveness, there are several options for property managers to monitor heating and cooling usage. While signs and notices, and programmable thermostats are the cheaper options in the short term, HSB’s sensor program can easily eclipse those cheaper solutions in just a few years. A primary advantage of IoT solutions is that they give key insight into behaviors on-site at any time.

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© 2019 The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice. HSB makes no warranties or representations as to the accuracy or completeness of the content herein. Under no circumstances shall HSB or any party involved in creating or delivering this article be liable to you for any loss or damage that results from the use of the information contained herein. Except as otherwise expressly permitted by HSB in writing, no portion of this article may be reproduced, copied, or distributed in any way. This article does not modify or invalidate any of the provisions, exclusions, terms or conditions of the applicable policy and endorsements. For specific terms and conditions, please refer to the applicable endorsement form.

Hunter D’Addeo

Hunter D'Addeo is a Senior IoT Engineer in HSB's IoT Analytical Applications division.

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