Smartphones and Apps Will Rule the HVAC World

At this point in the technology wave, most of us have spent at least a few minutes playing “Angry Birds.” We may even know somebody at the top of the solitaire leaderboard. And although humans may have become experts at using their smartphones to idle away a few minutes of the day, have you thought about using that same phone to improve what you do during work? Soon, the world will be at your fingertips and everything you need to survey, run, and operate a building will be within those little devices.

Today’s phones function like a multi-purpose Swiss Army knife. Most people realize the phone can function as a camera, a calculator, and a voice recorder and note taker. However, some may be surprised to learn their phone can work like a flashlight, be used as a level, function as a GPS for orientation (north-south), and read temperature and humidity.

Some new application (app) tools allow your phone to perform the following tasks:

• obtain foot candle measurements by using it as a light meter

• weigh small objects by using it as a scale (don’t get carried away or you may need to buy a new phone)

• measure the distance between two points as a tape measure

• determine the gravitational force for your location

• measure the magnetic field at that location.

Some specific HVAC tool apps you may use include:

• psychometric tables and calculations

• refrigeration temperature–pressure tables

• duct and pipe sizing tools

• English-to-metric conversion tools.

So phone tools and apps can be applied to HVAC, but what about actual HVAC systems and equipment? I’m glad you asked.

I volunteered at the Solar Decathlon in Washington D.C. this year. The event ran from September 23 through October 2, and I participated as a “solar expert” (well, that’s what they called me.)

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon ( challenges twenty or so pre-awarded collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

These houses are true houses with all of the conveniences of a custom home. Most of the homes this year and some of the homes from two years ago had their building control systems interfaced through a graphical user interface which they accessed through their iphones, ipads or droids. Keep in mind, this was two years ago!

The Solar Decathalon showcased students using technology in this way, and it will not be long before your house or office will be offering access to your building system control through your laptop, phone or ipad. The technology is here. The biggest hurdle is getting people to understand and accept what the capabilities are and how to use them. Because most people do not know how these systems (HVAC, lighting, and security) work, giving them this much access and information could be problematic without education. Currently, most people turn their lights on and off with a switch and adjust temperatures at the thermostat. What happens when these interfaces are taken away and people are expected to access these functions through their phone? Would you be able to make that leap?

Here is an example of a thermostat-control app.

The next time someone talks to you about apps, or begins to discuss building-control systems with you, ask them when you can get an app for that on your phone. This will help push us all out of the box and extend our building intelligence and control interaction capabilities.

J. Christopher Larry P.E., C.E.M., C.E.P., C.I.P.E, LEED AP, is director of energy engineering for Teng Solutions, Richmond, VA. He has spent more than 20 years working to minimize the building industry’s energy and environmental footprint through refining building design, building modeling, performance optimization, and intelligent controls. He has held numerous positions within the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), including chairman of the Chapter Technology Transfer Committee and chairman for Technical, Energy and Governmental Activities. He is past president of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) and instructs the certified energy manager training course for AEE. He is the current chairman for the Building Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) within the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) and also is a member of the Zero Energy Consortium.

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