As part of the new IoT podcast series of interviews with members of the CleanAlert team and experts in Facilities Management and Smart Buildings tech, Luis Fernandez gave his thoughts on why adopting air filter monitoring technology is a must.
This transcription is from part of a recent interview. Listen to the fiull interview now:
Q: What is FILTERSCAN, and what exactly does it do?
A: FILTERSCAN is an air filter monitor. When a filter gets clogged, there is a pressure drop across the filter, and that pressure drop increases as the filter gets more and more clogged. The FILTERSCAN is monitoring pressure inside the duct and using that to tell when the filter is clogged. It has a WiFi transmitter inside of it, and when it makes this determination, it's able to use the customer's WiFi network to contact our server and report this and have either a text and/or and email sent to the customer to the phone or the email address that the customer has provided when they first install the unit. That's how the thing works.
Q: What are the usual objections you get from potential customers when you first tell them about FILTERSCAN?
A: It depends on the type of customer. Homeowners, when we talk with them about the product, regular people wanting to use it in their homes, the general feeling is, "Why do I need this? Why can't I just go to my calendar and circle a date? The box comes with a recommended filter life, 3 months, 6 months, whatever it is. I just go into the calendar and put that in, say, 'Replace the filter.'" That's usually the objective from them. Of course the problem is is that although it's true, this sounds easy to do, in fact a lot of people don't do it or they don't follow up on it. They may have a date circled in there, but they either miss it or something else intervenes and they don't get it done. Then there's nobody to remind them. One of these out of sight out of mind problems. They're not thinking about it, and so it's easy to let it go. You know, a car's got a filter in it too. It's got an oil filter, and if there weren't sensors that told you when the oil filter needed to be replaced, people would probably never change their oil filters until basically the car has ground to a halt. That's what sometimes happens there.
Facility managers, generally they know that they've got a problem. They have to be very careful about making sure to change their filters, and they are very good. They have systems in place in fact to ensure that they don't forget these things. They have software that sometimes does this, management software. When they're scheduling things this will be built in. Their problem is not that they are forgetting about doing this, but it's that they are doing this too frequently. They err on the side of doing it frequently to ensure that the bad things that happen from running a system with a clogged air filter doesn't happen to them. The result is doing too many filter changes a year, and they have no way of being able to optimize it because up until now, until we came on the scene, they had no way of telling objectively when the air filter was clogged without going through a lot of effort. I mean, you can use measurement devices, usually a Magnehelic is what are used to go in and take readings, to take differential pressure readings inside the system. But besides the fact that this equipment is a little finicky and needs a lot of calibration to keep it working correctly, it's very time consuming to do, so it's just much easier to follow a rule and say, "Every three months we just change all the filters."
What we're trying to get across to them is that they're doing it too frequently. They could cut down on the number of filter changes, and not only would it be saving them filters, but more importantly, what it's going to be saving them is labor time. It's the time it takes to do all of this. Sometimes the filters are easy to change, but very often big systems, banks of filters, it's not one filter that's being changed but a whole bank of them, they're very often in inconvenient to reach places. They're on roofs or they're in basements, they're underneath ceilings, places where it's inconvenient or difficult and time consuming to get to to make the change. Going from four times a year to two times a year when your filter changes could involve a really big labor savings.
We don't just issue an alert. There are some other our devices out there that report to to alert people to when they need to change their filters based on some kind of reading. An awful lot of things that are on the market that call themselves filter change reminders are just timers. A lot of fancy thermostats for example that have air filter reminder messages built into them are just ticking off time. They're just using a calendar, so they're just telling you 90 days go by, they tell you to change the filter whether it needs it or not.
We're providing this, and we're also providing real-time data on the status on the filter, all the filters that are being monitored. For facility managers this is a big deal because they may have 50 air handlers in a building, or they could be 100 spread across five or six buildings, and they can use our software, the hardware of the monitor plus our website, to be able to look in at any time and see exactly where all these filters are in terms of getting close to clogging. They're 50% there, 70% there, 20% there, so that when they get an alarm they can quickly tell whether or not there are nearby filters, on the same floor, the same building, that haven't reached clogging yet but they're close and therefore it would make sense while you have somebody changing out this one filter that you maybe change filters on that floor. Maybe all of them are very close to being clogged.
We provide people the ability to be able to actually be forward looking and be able to tell even before they get an alert when this is going to happen and to be able to build it in already to their work schedules. They can make sure ahead of that that they have the filters in stock to be able to make the changes. They don't have to maintain a big inventory of filters because they can replenish them just in time since they will have advance warning when the filter clogging is probably going to take place.
Q: Tell us about your case study program
A: No we don't. The reason we don't is that we don't have much of an installed base at this point. We're a new company with a new product. It's always going to be the problem with new companies with new products. We have started a program, it's called the Case Study Program, which we will do an analysis for a potential customer before they ever commit to using our product, installing a number of our monitors on the air handlers in their system and running them for a few months in order to learn what the true filter life is and the correct time between changes given their system in their environment. We use that then to be able to give them an idea about what the savings would be. It's going to differ from organization to organization. It has to do with the cost of your labor. It has to do with the nature of your air handlers, how geographically dispersed they are.
For example, there's a school system in Maryland that we are currently trying to get to do on one of these case studies. It's a huge district. It's spread over many square miles. It's like over 200 schools, and some of them are in the country, some of them are in the city, and they've just been following a blanket rule that they just change all the air filters in a building every three months. They do it four times a year. Being able to do this more intelligently, to be able to tailor to not only the different environmental conditions that they have, which change over the year. The right time between air filters in the summer may be different from what it is during the winter. At the moment they can't take any of that into account. That's exactly what our devices will enable them to do.
So it's fair to say that FILTERSCAN is the only thing out there on the market right now which really does have the science. It allows you to save on those man hours through big data.
Q: Let's consider the energy savings.Have you ever heard of situations where every three months actually is not enough and the air filters get clogged? If so, what kind of problems does that create?
A: Once the filter is clogged, the Department of Energy has done studies on what happens to energy costs. Immediately your energy expenditure goes up about 15%. Clogging makes it sound like it's a clear event, you're either clogged or not clogged. It's really a spectrum, and you're starting with pristine clean all the way through to 100% clogged in that no air can pass through the filter. That's the other extreme. Of course what you want to do is change the filter well before you get to that point, but you get to the point where you should change it, it just keeps getting worse, and as it gets further and further clogged, there's less and less space for air to get through and the system has to run longer and harder in order to push air through, the energy costs go up. It's a curve that can get eventually quite steep.
Unfortunately there haven't been any studies about how steep that curve gets, so when you've gone well past clogging but you're not 100% clogged yet, how bad is the energy usage? There's going to be a limit to it because there's some point at which the system is running almost all the time. That's maximum energy use. Your system is using energy when it's running, so if it's running all the time, that's the maximum. Of course what that's going to do is that's going to break the system eventually. The motors, the belts, everything that's in the system is not designed in most cases to be running 24/7. It isn't just the energy costs. You're also damaging your system and you'll eventually pay for it in broken compressors, you'll get icing over. Talking about air conditioning, you can get ice forming on the parts of the system that are cooling the air so that in fact the thing freezes up. It's not able to function correctly. You have fan belts that break. That kind of thing is what will happen inside the unit eventually if it's bad enough.
We know now that the number one reason, at least for households, I don't think it's known what it is for large facilities, but there have been studies done household HVAC systems, and the number one reason for system breakdown is clogged air filter. This is anecdotal, it's not you know honored with data, but we have had discussions both people that we've met at trade shows as well as people that we know in the industry personally that we've talked to about this, HVAC contractors and servicemen, and to a man they said yes, that it invariably happens that when they go to a home because the system has suddenly stopped working that they think, "Well, how did this happen?" and they go and they check the air filter and it's completely, completely clogged. Sometimes they'll ask the homeowner, "When was the last time you did this?" and they'll say, "Oh, there's an air filter in there? I didn't know that."
This transcription is from part of a recent interview. Listen to the fiull interview now.
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