Comfort in the cold

BCIA President Graeme Rees discusses some useful steps to ensure your BEMS is ready for the winter.

With winter now very much upon us many people’s attention will turn to keeping their buildings warm while simultaneously dealing with rising energy bills.

A summer/winter changeover state may be configured within a system to govern the economic use of the heating, cooling and ventilation systems to suit the prevailing seasons. This is intended to reduce unnecessary simultaneous operation of the heating and cooling systems when the outside air temperature is above a predetermined value.

In the spring months, as outdoor temperatures rise, and the evenings become lighter, it can be a good time of year to give your BEMS a spring clean. For example, summer is a good time to consider zoning your control system if it hasn’t been done already. If one side of the building is prone to overheating in the warm months, your BEMS should be set up in zones to ensure that the cooling system works in those areas where it is required and separately set back where it is not.

Keeping everybody happy

It is also worth engaging with the occupants of the building regarding their personal comfort levels. Everybody is different and we will all have our own levels of what is too hot and what is too cold. This can create internal problems for workplace bosses who have an almost impossible task of keeping all of their staff happy, comfortable, as this has a direct knock-on effect on their levels of motivation and productivity. In some circumstances individuals might make small alterations to their own personal workspace to improve their comfort. This might be as simple as having their own plug-in heater under their desk to keep warm if the building’s heating system is not providing enough warmth, or taping over air vents if the air conditioning is too cold. These will of course create control havoc and energy waste, not to mention potential safety concerns. Details like these should be checked regularly – for example as soon as the weather turns cooler the vents that are now producing warm air will not be as effective if they are partially covered.

There are further steps to ensure your building’s services are prepared for colder weather. Particular attention should be paid to the HVAC system, as its state of preparedness will affect the energy efficiency of the building and the level of comfort for its occupants. A full inspection and service is therefore recommended. Air filters should be checked and changed if necessary and any damaged parts should be repaired or replaced. Vent work must be closely examined for leaks or holes as this will affect efficiency and the ventilation system should be checked to make sure exhaust gases are being ventilated from the building.

Diligent care

Frozen pipework is a common problem in the winter but this can be prevented with diligent care by checking that all freeze-protection devices and alarms are in good working order. Freeze stats and valves should be tested early before it gets cold. Pipes in unheated or minimally heated parts of the building should be wrapped and any cracks or openings sealed.

The BCIA has often emphasised that installing a BEMS is not the magic wand that will simply lead to cheaper energy costs. It is a common misconception that choosing a BEMS, installing it and sitting back to let it do its work will improve a building’s energy efficiency. It’s not as simple as that. A well designed and maintained BEMS will pay for itself over time in energy savings, however, ongoing control is important if you are going to get the best out of your BEMS, and a well managed BEMS can result in heating bills up to 35% lower than in a poorly controlled building.  With the UK facing a worrying hike in energy prices then it is now more important than ever that you enable your BEMS to perform to its maximum potential.