A to Z of Smart Buildings

XYZ: eXamine Your Zones

Posted by The Comfy Team on Nov. 8, 2016

How often has this happened to you? You leave your desk to say hi to a colleague in another department and you feel like you've gone from a tropical jungle to an arctic tundra. The temperature, air circulation, level of sunlight, and humidity seem dramatically different...even though you just walked from one end of the office to the other.

Because different parts of a building have different heating and cooling needs, workplaces are usually divided into individually controlled areas called zones. Building engineers, architects, workplace designers, and facility managers are constantly working to create the ideal environment in each of these zones. This localized control is a fundamental tenet of Comfy, so we know a thing or three about zoning.

For the final installment of the A to Z of Smart Buildings, we take up how to eXamine Your Zones. Here are some groovy facts.

First, what is a zone? And second, why do we need zones?

A zone is a distinct space that is conditioned by an HVAC system and functions under the control of a separate thermostat.

Every space in a building—conference room, small meeting room, private office, open office, lounge, kitchen—serves a purpose and the architectural character of each is critical to the functionality of the space. For office buildings, it's good practice for conference rooms to each have their own zone, private offices can be on their own zone, and 4 - 8 desks in open office areas (with or without cubicles) share one zone. Since each of these zones are defined by their own thermostats, building engineers are able to modify temperatures according to space usage.

In addition, since all spaces have different solar exposures, it’s important to take into consideration where the zone is and how outdoor conditions influence the indoor environment. A south-facing space generally receives more sunlight and solar radiation, therefore requires more cooling. Meanwhile, a north-facing space may benefit from more heat. Solar radiation throughout the day also means that a west­-facing room might require heating in the morning and cooling in the afternoon, while an east-­facing room would experience the reverse situation.

Additionally, while perimeter spaces are more likely to experience heat loss from windows, interior spaces are more likely to be better insulated and require extra attention to remove heat and maintain healthy air circulation.

How can smart building technology use existing mechanical zones to improve the occupant experience?

Picture a conference room, open space, and phone room all sandwiched next to each other; each of these spaces as individual zones. If the conference room was jam-packed with people and the open space and phone room were at normal capacity, you would want to allocate more AC to the conference room. Because each location is a different zone, different amounts of heating and cooling can be delivered to the right place at the right time.

Smart building tech takes this ability to the next level. Connected mechanical equipment is taking into account how each zone is impacted by a variety of factors, like location (perimeter or interior) and heat-transfer (the number of humans and computers emitting heat).  Individual zones across the building, paired with smart building technologies like Comfy, offer localized control like never before.

How does zoning help generate data insights?

You can gather and analyze tons of data points on a zone-by-zone basis, but we find heat maps especially insightful. Since each zone has its own separate thermostat, it’s easy to take a quick peek at the temperatures across an entire building or floor. With heat maps, building engineers are better able to recognize anomalies and see where changes need to be made.

But the data doesn’t stop at temperature. Let’s say you want to see airflow across a building, because each floor is divided into zones, building engineers are able to view airflow demand versus capacity and understand where it can be increased and where it has reached maximum capacity.

By carving out these individual zones, buildings become optimized to deliver the best experience, while using existing mechanical equipment. This methodology is absolutely tied to the growing trend of adaptive spaces and smart buildings.

In years past, buildings were static—limited by their original plans, and dependent on narrow insights from previous construction projects. Today, however, buildings are flexible and constantly evolving— always integrating new utilization strategies and continuously being reinvented. Software solutions like Comfy emphasize this new freedom, by allowing buildings to react to what people actually want. Most folks who work in office buildings end up sharing temperature settings with others. By providing more control to employees, Comfy allows them to customize their individual temperature preferences, zone-by-zone.


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