Why You Can't Use a Nest in a Commercial Building

Why You Can't Use a Nest in a Commercial Building

It’s getting easier to make homes smarter and more energy-efficient using smart thermostats. Solutions like Nest and Ecobee allow homeowners to schedule their temperature setpoints while the AI system starts to program itself to optimize temperature settings. As a result, these smart thermostats can reduce energy bills by more than 10%.

If these systems are so effective for your home, why can’t they be used for your commercial building?

While smart thermostats do exist for commercial buildings, they are very different from their residential counterparts. We’ve compiled just a few reasons why a smart thermostat from your nearest home hardware store isn’t fit for your commercial building.

Increased data security risk

Network security, particularly thermostats that use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology, is a top concern for businesses. And Wi-Fi or Bluetooth thermostats are an IT security risk. If a thermostat system is connected to other building systems via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, those systems are connected to the rest of the building’s IT infrastructure. So the risk isn’t just if a hacker can gain access to your thermostat; they can mess around with your control systems and hold your HVAC system hostage. Instead, if they can access just one point of entry, like your thermostat, they can access the rest of your building’s network.

Think it can’t happen to your building? Think again. This is precisely what happened to Target in 2014: its Wi-Fi-enabled HVAC system was compromised, which gave the hackers access to their entire customer network. As a result, 40 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen.

Commercial smart thermostats use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to communicate with the rest of a building’s systems. The main difference is that many (but not all) of these systems are designed with better IT security protocols. Even so, you should talk with your IT team to ensure any hardware you want to install doesn’t put your business at risk.

Mechanical systems are more complex.

Having a smart thermostat in your home allows you to have better control over your furnace –  where substantial energy savings can be found. In addition, direct communication between the thermostat and the furnace is straightforward, making optimizing it easier.

The mechanical systems of commercial buildings aren’t nearly as simple. While a furnace will send temperature-controlled air throughout your home, a commercial system has a series of dampers that will control air levels at different rates. It may also have downstream fan-powered units, supplementary cooling, and electric/water reheat. That hardware relies on input from multiple thermostats to get an accurate reading of the entire building (referred to as ‘zoned systems’).

Setting up multiple smart thermostats in a single building is possible to get a more accurate reading of that space. However, residential smart thermostats aren’t set up to operate in multiple zones simultaneously. As a result, they will learn separate (and possibly conflicting) schedules.

Human limitations

Another problem with installing multiple smart thermostats in a commercial space is that each device must be operated independently. This could get frustrating for building managers. Imagine having different web tabs open for each thermostat in your building, managing each device one by one without the ability to group them to a standard system. That is a recipe for a time-consuming headache.

In addition, there may be limitations to the number of thermostats that can be operated on a single-user account. So, even if you were super super (see what we did there?), you may not even be able to tie in an adequate number of devices to one system.

Moving forward

While smart thermostats aren’t a very good option for your commercial buildings, thanks to technological advancements, more options are available to help you manage your building’s energy efficiency and occupancy comfort.

Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats by companies like Honeywell and Johnson Controls are a starting point for commercial building owners or operators who want more control over their building temperatures. But, they aren’t considered “smart” in that they aren’t going to learn and automatically modify temperatures in response to occupancy behaviours.

Building Automation Systems

Intelligent building solutions like Building Automation Systems (BAS) are becoming significantly more advanced. BAS are automatic centralized control systems for your building’s HVAC, electrical, lighting, shading, access control, and security systems. If you have the capital budget, these are great options for new builds or buildings undergoing deep retrofits.

Wireless data solutions

This is a relatively new market. These solutions use state-of-the-art wireless sensors and smart building platforms to collect, analyze and share building data quickly. They combine the intelligent data collection methods of building automation systems with a more practical and affordable solution for commercial buildings that have the cash flow or infrastructure restrictions.