Remote Monitoring Learning Center logo
Phone headset
Expert Helpline

HVAC Control: Remote Monitor It and Don't Wait Until the Second Incident

Andrew Erickson
Andrew Erickson
Applications Engineer

If you have remote telecom sites, HVAC control will always be necessary for you.

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems are responsible for keeping your sites at an appropriate temperature so your vital gear doesn't overheat - or get too cold. Systems can vary in size and quantity depending on the size of the site and the amount of equipment being affected.

With such an important task, it's critical to monitor your HVAC units. This can be challenging at remote sites, which is why finding the right monitoring equipment for your network is a must.

When Should You Start Monitoring Your HVAC System?

I see a lot of people who hesitate starting a remote-monitoring project because they don't know everything about it yet. If that's you, I assure you: the perfect day will never come.

You'll never learn every detail about effective remote monitoring until you start your journey. Gather good advice, take the first step, and learn as you go. In a reasonably short period, you'll probably be surprised just how close to "perfect" you can get.

You'll learn a lot from your first attempt, and your improvements will come gradually. You'll eventually gain a solid understanding about what things you can monitor and how to do it effectively.

How Is the Lack of Remote Monitoring a Profit-Eating Problem?

As you read this article, preventable waste in your remote sites is silently eating your profits and increasing your budget consumption.

Even if you have the smartest, most well trained team on the planet, how can they successfully manage your large network if you don't give them the right tools?

Poor situational awareness happens when your remote monitoring system isn't correctly designed, installed, and provisioned. Your staff won't get understandable, current information about every remote site, so they're stuck trying their best to do a good job.

Your techs drive out to sites for routine maintenance on a fixed schedule, not knowing if it's too soon or too late. They might even be woken up in the middle of the night by sudden network emergencies and even service-affecting outages - incidents that could have been anticipated and prevented as part of routine operations.

Think of all that wasted money.

You pay people overtime for work that could have been done during normal hours. You put unnecessary wear and tear on your fleet of trucks, burning money on fuel the whole way.

Not to mention the damage on your equipment due to overheating, under-voltage conditions, over-voltage conditions, and other detectable problems.

In competitive industries, your customers can leave you for a competitor. If you're a natural monopoly like a power utility, poor service can mean big fines from regulators.

When you don't have an effective remote monitoring and control system for your HVAC, and ultimately to your network - no matter your industry - you have a profit-eating problem.

What Eventually Happens to Your Vital Equipment If You Don't Monitor Your HVAC System?

When you overlook the importance of monitoring your HVAC system, it's only a matter of time until a problem occurs.

Let's take a look at two different situations that can happen when you don't monitor your HVAC at your remote sites:

  1. You don't notice that a site is overheating
    Everything from a simple HVAC failure to an actual fire can cause destruction at your site. Every piece of equipment has to run within a specified temperature range. When your cooling system - or heating system in cold climates - isn't working properly, site temperatures can quickly spiral out of control.

    It's pretty easy to respond to something like an HVAC breakdown. I have many clients who keep box fans in their truck to vent hot air from a building.

    You can't roll a truck, however, if you don't know that something is wrong.

  2. You short-cycle HVAC or generators until they die
    This second situation is a bit more advanced. It's not something that hits you all at once. Without knowing, you're wasting a little bit of your equipment's useful life each day - until it finally fails.

    When you don't track your HVAC and generator run times with basic sensors and analysis, you can't assess whether you're short-cycling them. As you might know, each on/off cycle causes wear and tear. That's why it's so important to optimize your cycling.

    Maybe you should expand your HVAC cooling window so cycles are longer but fewer. Maybe you should adjust your generator's stop-start conditions to rely more on your battery plant.

    If you aren't remotely monitoring equipment that cycles on and off, you won't know if you're doing it incorrectly until your gear eventually breaks down.

What Can You Do to Prevent Equipment Damage?

If you're effectively monitoring the HVAC system at your sites, you'll most likely see a threat before it causes actual damage.

Monitoring your HVAC system is not rocket science. You can do it with an RTU and simple sensors, such as:

When you connect these simple sensors with history logging in a RTU, you can count HVAC cycles and look for opportunities to reduce them. Some remotes, like the DPS TempDefender, can even count HVAC on/off cycles and alert when you're having too many cycles too quickly.

The temp sensors monitor the temperature of the air going in and out, while the air flow sensor monitors the rate at which the air is coming out.

An Issue to Keep in Mind: HVAC Power Waste

Something to keep in mind when setting up your HVAC system is power waste. This can come in a few different forms, so let's walk through each one.

Observe that I described cooling here because it's the most common use of HVAC at remote sites. If you work in a very cold climate, keep in mind that all of this information also applies in terms of heating efficiency. The logic remains the same, you're simply reversing all of the thermodynamic math.

How Can You Solve Your Profit-Eating Problems?

Now that we've reviewed the most common causes of lost profits caused by a lack of monitoring, it's time to learn how you can deal with them. Let's break down some of the solutions:

  1. Collect data from all reasonable sources
    You need a good scope of alarm and sensor data to have a clear image of your remote sites. There is a logical limit to the detail that is "reasonable," but you should always try to capture more information rather than being satisfied with less.

  2. Distribute alarm detail promptly
    After getting the data, you need to deliver useful information quickly to the people who can use it. Your system must alert the right person that has the skills and experience to get the job done on the first visit.

  3. Program automatic responses
    As you get more and more knowledge about remote monitoring, you can go further to shorten response times. You could program automatic responses to some common conditions, instead of alerting your techs. This means that your monitoring system will actually be smart enough to do some things instantly. You'll deal with the threat within seconds, because it won't wait for a person to interpret the data and do something about it.

  4. Log and analyze useful data
    Once you're doing the first three steps, you'll be ready for fine tuning. This is when you'll review your alarm logs to look for recurring issues and consider long-term fixes. You'll also review routine HVAC cycling to find opportunities to drive down costs.

Why Is Logging and Analyzing Data so Important?

With the right data coming into your monitoring system, useful information going out to your team, and some automation built in, you're in a great position. But, why isn't this enough?

The reason is simple: keeping good logs and analyzing them correctly will help you spot inefficiencies to tighten up.

You'll sit down with a detailed report at the end of a month or a year and say to yourself: "How have I been doing and what are my opportunities for improvement?"

Explore Your HVAC Cycles in Order to Find Big Savings

We've talked about how HVAC systems can consume relatively large amounts of power on an ongoing basis, and how they frequently have sub-optimal start/stop settings. This is why analyzing your HVAC data is a common source of profit improvement.

It's important to know if you're starting and stopping cooling (or heating) cycles at the right temperatures. You need to have good information to be able to adjust your power consumption to the amount of cycle wear that is being reflected on your HVAC unit's lifespan.

There's a lot of potential value here because the effect of hot outdoor air temperature on your site is exponential.

Each additional degree of cooling you demand vs. the outdoor air increases the amount of electricity you consume. Each degree you give up offers a significant reduction in power consumption.

This curve, built from real-world test data, shows the exponential advantage you can gain from dialing up your thermostat just a few degrees.

Keep a Chart of Alarm Frequencies and Analog Values to Find Long-Term Patterns Hiding in Plain Sight

In addition to looking at your HVAC cycling, you can also chart analog values and discrete counts to see long-term progressive tendencies.

For instance, you can place temperature and airflow sensors on your vents. They'll inform you about your cooling/heating effectiveness. If you notice a change in airflow, you might have a blower problem or a clogged air filter. If you observe a reduction in the input-output temperature change, then you'll know that your HVAC isn't conditioning the air as well as it should be.

By seeing this data spread out across time, you'll have a better overall perception of your network. It's hard to notice these patterns during your daily work.

A Smart Controller Will Help You Minimize Wasted HVAC Expenses

Now you know that it's key to run your HVACs only when it's necessary - to be efficient as possible. However, efficiency can be hard to determine. After all, how do you actually spot opportunities to save money?

You have to do a long-term analysis on your gear, of course, but that requires comparing temperature trends, HVAC run times, and energy bills. This is a hard process if you don't have a system that automatically logs temperature and HVAC run times.

You could skip the complicated logging and analysis altogether and a get a smart controller. This device will remotely control your HVAC systems to run at an optimal level - the best ones even do it automatically, making adjustments as necessary.

The HVAC Controller G3 monitors and controls your HVAC units. When combined with environmental sensors, it improves your environmental visibility of your remote sites.

What Should I Consider When Purchasing My Smart Controller?

When buying remote monitoring gear for your HVAC units, be sure to pick a device that's specifically designed for HVAC systems.

Keep these five things in mind when purchasing your HVAC monitoring equipment:

  1. Lead/ Lag function
    A typical site has not one, but at least two HVAC units. The purpose of having multiple units is to have a back up when your lead unit is not adequate.

    It's important to find a monitoring device that can accommodate multiple units and remotely control them. However, it's not enough to just turn them on or off. You need a monitoring device that can also control your lead/lag functionality.

    Your smart controller should be able to remotely assess when it's necessary to use the lead, simultaneously use the lag, and switch lead/lag roles.

    This diagram illustrates how smart controllers facilitate lead/lag cooling. If the lead HVAC unit cannot sufficiently cool the space in 5 minutes, the lag HVAC is activated to help until the target temperature is achieved.
  2. Data trending and analysis
    Having a device that can log events for later trending and analysis may sound a bit extra at first, but you now know how crucial this functionality is when you're trying to diagnose a problem. Data trending can save you money by bringing your attention to issues before they get serious, while potentially extending your equipment's lifespan.

  3. Easy to install
    This is a very often ignored point. When you have numerous devices to install at many different sites, the installation process should be easy. Especially if you have multiple install teams, or even third-party ones.

  4. Easy to configure
    Installation is about the physical mounting and connecting of the unit. Configuration is setting thresholds, alarms, and other settings. The device that you buy should be just as easy to configure as it is to install.

    Your smart controller should allow you to easily configure your settings at the site. It should have an interface that allows you to - at the very least - make configuration changes to the device remotely from your office or workstation, especially when having a PC at the site is not an option.

  5. The manufacturer should offer you tech support and training
    Even when following all of this advice, it's natural to still have some questions. Your vendor should be able to support you on that. Look for devices that come with lifetime support.

    Imagine that you're in the middle of configuring your device and no matter what you try or what the user manual says, you can't get it to work. This can get really frustrating really quickly. You should be able to call your vendor for support - for free!

    Even if your vendor offers you acceptable support, the best practice is to have them teach you how to use your equipment. Since you're already spending money to buy a controller, ensure that you and your team can use it to its fullest potential.

It's important to consider all these topics when selecting a device to purchase. You don't want your inexpensive controller to become expensive at the bottom-line.

Be Proactive and Take Charge of Your Network

At DPS, we get a lot of inbound calls after the caller has already had a major failure. That's natural, but you don't have to fall into this same trap.

Dealing with HVAC power waste is a fairly new development at DPS for our clients. We have new lead-lag controllers collecting 7x24 data. We're performing "big data" analysis in new ways. What's really exciting for you is seeing all the money this will save.

The HVAC Controller G3 is a good example. This device is designed specifically to control and monitor HVAC systems. It provides you with all the benefits that you should look for in these kinds of devices, while also having a testing feature that allows you to test the efficiency and health of each of your HVAC units. It's simple to install, configure, use, while also being capable of supporting D-Wire sensors.

Do you have any questions or want to understand further how you can remote control your HVAC system? I'm just a call away!

Get a Custom Application Diagram of Your Perfect-Fit Monitoring System

There is no other network on the planet that is exactly like yours. For that reason, you need to build a monitoring system that's the right fit for you.

"Buying more than you need" and "buying less than you need" are real risks. You also have to think about training, tech support, and upgrade availability.

Send me a quick online message about what you're trying to accomplish. I'll work with you to build custom PDF application diagram that a perfect fit for your network.

Don't make a bad decision

Your network isn't off-the-shelf.

Your monitoring system shouldn't be, either.

Customized monitoring application drawing

We'll walk you through this with a customized monitoring diagram.

Just tell us what you're trying to accomplish with remote monitoring.

Get Your Custom Diagram Now
Return to DPS Telecom

DPS logo