An effective building management system (BMS) requires vigilance, since the BMS is only as healthy as the equipment and sensors that compose them. If these devices fail, so does your BMS. After 38 years of working in the building controls industry, I would like to highlight one particular weak point that hides in plain sight: your HVAC system’s control valves and actuators.
It’s true these humble heroes aren’t all that exciting or complicated, and maybe that’s why they’re often overlooked. Most service contracts focus more on electrical components such as pumps and fans, where it’s easier to see power usage and cost. But their simplicity is deceiving: When you have potentially thousands of individual valves and actuators spread throughout your building, the sheer number make proper maintenance a challenge.
Valves and actuators do an incredible amount of work in your building. Your HVAC system, which on average eats 35 per cent of your energy use, thermal energy runs through these devices. Energy use isn’t the only performance indicator tied to valves and actuators.
Valves and actuators also form the foundation of an effective BMS; they’re the first line of defense when something goes wrong. In fact, these simple devices are often the root cause of serious problems such as poor equipment performance, unproductive maintenance calls, and unexplained rising energy use.
The bottom line: If your HVAC control valves are not operating correctly, your building could be using much more energy than it should.
If that statement concerns you, you’re not alone: 55 per cent of US building owners and operators rely on reactive maintenance, otherwise known as the ‘run around and put out fires’ approach. This approach all but guarantees downtime and maximum repair costs. Many facility managers figure that since their valves aren’t the big expensive chillers and pumps, they can rely solely on the naked-eye maintenance method.
Naked eyes and X-ray goggles
There’s a better way to keep your valves and actuators happy. It’s called predictive maintenance, and it’s an up-and-coming trend fuelled by energy-efficient building certification requirements and more stringent energy savings mandates. Predictive maintenance, sometimes referred to as continuous or monitoring-based commissioning (MBCx), is a strategy that leverages cloud-based data collection and analytics to enhance performance around the clock.
Using building analytic, facility managers are now able to see in granular detail the health of their systems… it’s kind of like looking at your system with X-ray goggles. This visibility allows us to see what’s been hidden to us for so long: over-worked fans, worn-down bearings, and all sorts of other threats you’d miss with the naked eye. Learn more about optimizing buildings using analytics and engineering expertise in our white paper.
One misconception about predictive maintenance is that it eliminates the need for staff. It’s true that software and devices replace the naked eye, but software can’t replace a light bulb (yet). Once you and your team can see how many valves, actuators, and other devices need servicing, your core focus will shift from putting out fires to creating energy savings.