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Cut Energy Bills by Turning Apartment Buildings into a Computer

Written by Peter L. Mosca on Wednesday, 13 August 2008 7:00 pm
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[Note: To follow is an excerpt of an interview with Mike Klein from TheBuildingMonitor.com. To listen to, or download the show archive MP3, go to www.IncomePropertyInvestmentTalk.com/TheBuildingMonitor.]

Mosca: Please tell us how thebuildingmonitor.com allows investors and property owners to save significant dollars on their energy bills?

Klein: The Building Monitor is a custom electronics system installed in a building with a central boiler where all of the units are fed from that single source. The problem for owners is that they have to pay a gas bill via a single meter and they have no idea who used the heat. Our system is very intelligent.

It monitors and controls the heat for all the units in the building and it is connected to the Internet. As an owner, you can log into your account at thebuildingmonitor.com and you can get a snapshot of the overall performance of all the units in your building. It spots an individual user that is out of bounds and you can investigate that. The billing module generates bills that charge the tenants for what they have actually used.

Mosca: How are you able to monitor each unit individually?

Klein: I developed a device that goes inside an ordinary looking thermostat and it samples the temperature of each apartment unit. In addition to the request for heat, it sends that information down the existing thermostat wires where it arrives at a control board in the boiler room. At that point, the board perceives the command to make heat and actuates an electric valve. It also passes the temperature information along to the controller cabinet where that information is processed and stored.

Mosca: Has is an owner able to stay on top of this data?

Klein: Periodically, the system calls the operator if it has any new instructions and data reports for up to 95 apartments. The data consists of an hourly audit trail. The audit trail consists of the temperature in the apartment, the number of seconds during an hour they requested heat, and the temperature of the pipe in the boiler room. Basically, you have a triangular shaped audit trail or what we call the “fault logic triangle.”

Mosca: If a unit has a leaking shower, by using your product, will an owner know this in advance because of that fault logic triangle?

Klein: Yes, we have actually experienced that in our test building. We had a tenant who decided to trick the system into giving him 80° even though the limit was set to 72° by putting a wet washcloth over the thermostat. It appeared in the system as an open window alarm but a little investigation showed that it was indeed tampering. In fact, when we added the temperature limit feature, that was very powerful. Gas bills dropped by 50 percent two months in a row over the same period a year ago despite more degree-days that year.

Mosca: How can a property owner individualize the temperature for each unit?

Klein: The user would log into his account and scroll down through the list of all the apartment units and enter a temperature. For maximum heat temperature, a valid number ranges from say 65° to 80°. There is also a special number that you could put in, 55°, for a vacant apartment. The owner can now turn down a vacant apartment from anywhere in the world.

Mosca: Any last golden nugget?

Klein: The system can control heating and cooling. If you have a building with a chiller system and a boiler where there is a hard change over at the seasons, simply go to your personalized Web site, tell the system you’re in heating mode right now and to move to cooling mode, and it sends the commands to the controller in the field and switches automatically. Lastly, go to www.incomepropertyinvestmenttalk.com/thebuildingmonitor, and sign up and we will give you 10 percent off.

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