How property managers can optimize building efficiency with big data

Megan Wild
Megan Wild | 5 min. read

Published on April 26, 2018

Property managers know that when you save energy, you save money and improve your profit margins. Many do their best to track energy usage and employ energy-saving measures. However, tracking and reducing energy consumption is no simple task.

Big data has been a frequent buzzword in recent years, and it just might be able to help property managers to tackle these challenges. But what is big data, exactly, and how can it be leveraged to make your buildings more efficient? Let’s find out.

Adding Context to Big Data

‘Big data’ refers to the multitude of information we generate every day. Data is nothing new; but because we now generate it on such a grand scale, we can glean useful insights by tracking and analyzing it.

For example: Your energy bill gives you a rough idea of your energy usage each month. However, because of the number of unknown variables, that’s hardly enough information to inform large-scale changes. By comparing that information with historical data and other information, however, you can uncover trends.

Many property managers use energy-efficient equipment to reduce their energy bills. For example, Michelle Cooper, senior property manager at Property Management, Inc. says, “To manage energy costs, we make sure our heating and central air systems are as efficient as possible, we install energy efficient appliances into our properties, and perform routine preventative maintenance.”

But how do you know that any energy savings were the result of a more efficient HVAC system and not another factor, such as an unusually mild summer? By comparing your energy usage data to weather data, you can verify the cause.

Collecting Detailed, Immediate Data

If you want data that’s more detailed than your utility bills can provide, you can use big data technologies to get it. Advanced data collection methods can give you highly detailed and near-real-time information.

For example, you could install a building energy management system (BEMS) to automatically track your electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems’ energy usage. You could also use sub-meters and sensors to track the energy usage of particular systems or appliances. Many utilities are now introducing smart meters that connect to the internet and enable immediate access to energy usage data. Connected appliances like smart thermostats can provide you with precise, localized data as well.

These technologies could help you to identify systems that are using comparatively high amounts of energy, or to quickly notice defects that are causing usage spikes and repair them. Some utilities companies also have programs to help you to manage and reduce your buildings’ energy consumption.

If you want more detailed energy usage information, you may be able to work with your utility company to obtain it. Some of them have programs to help you manage and reduce your buildings’ energy consumption.

Setting Actionable Goals & Verifying Value

Having access to big data enables you to set well-defined, actionable goals. Rather than a vague, hard-to-quantify objective like reducing your energy usage across the board, you can determine exactly how much energy you want to save, in what time frame, and in which areas.

Big data also helps you track your progress, which you can share with employees or residents to encourage them to continue to save in order to reach the desired target.

 Even when you do achieve your goals, however, if you don’t have access to detailed data, it’s sometimes hard to know whether your energy-saving initiatives were worthwhile. A lack of reliable data and the potential presence of mitigating factors can cause you to doubt the impact you’ve had.

However, when you track financial data in addition to data related to your goals, you can identify exactly how much your usage and costs changed, then determine which changes led to any savings you’ve achieved. This enables you to confirm the value of your energy-savings initiatives, which will help you to plan and justify future projects.

In addition to setting goals for your future energy usage, big data can help you to make energy usage a part of your business strategy by anticipating your future needs. Through data analysis, you can model possible future scenarios that include variables like increased occupancy, building expansions, the use of new technologies, and changing weather patterns. Then, you can plan financially and logistically to meet those needs.

Big Data for Big Savings

When it comes to managing data, the right technology for you depends on the amount and complexity of the data that you’re collecting.

If you’re gathering simpler data, such as monthly energy usage information, you can use a simple spreadsheet for tracking and analysis. For more detailed information, you may want to invest in software designed for data management or even, specifically, building or energy data management.

How can big data help you to optimize your buildings' energy efficiency? Find out on the #BuildiumBlog! Click To Tweet

Whichever technologies and energy-saving initiatives you choose to implement, using big data to manage building efficiency can lead to big savings. Let us know how data has helped you to manage energy usage at your properties in the comments section below!

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Megan Wild

Megan is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate, home improvement, and coffee consumption. Follow her on Twitter @Megan_Wild, or subscribe to Your Wild Home's weekly newsletter.

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