Upgrading to Self-Operating Systems Now's the Time

Smart home concept.Hand of man using smart home control app on mobile phone.Remote home control.Smart home technology.

Many co-ops have yet to upgrade to modern self-operating building controls, and as a result those buildings are struggling with increasing energy prices, are at risk for Local Law 97 fines, and most importantly, are putting their shareholders - and the board - at risk for preventable tenant injuries and costly building mechanical failures. 

Since the 1970s, most building controls - the equipment that runs the heating, cooling, water, and electric systems - have relied on humans to manually watch and adjust them, often in person. 

Contrast this with the automotive industry. Everything from passenger safety to drivetrain performance, fuel efficiency, and how the vehicle handles in response to a driver is completely run by software. Compared to even five years ago, cars are safer, more fuel efficient, easier to drive well, and pollute less than at any time in the history of the internal combustion engine. And this doesn’t even consider the advancements that electric and self-driving cars will soon be bringing us.

To make even reasonable progress on improving efficiency with current building systems, managers and supers need to manually keep track of temperature changes throughout the inside and outside of their buildings in real time, and physically run down to the boiler room to adjust the heating systems in response. They need to check every system and every apartment for critical and dangerous issues and update their boiler settings every 15 minutes. And they have to do all of this 24/7, 365 days a year. If that sounds impossible to you, it is.

Smart operators and co-op boards have already figured out that the only way to survive and thrive for the next decade is to have their buildings manage the day-to-day operations of the systems on their own. It’s the only way to achieve the level of efficiency our budgets, regulators, tenants and the climate requires. The good news is that as self-operating building controls have matured and become the gold standard, they have also gotten more affordable. In fact, Con Edison and National Grid will now even pay for a large part of the installation cost, because these systems are so effective at reducing energy usage while improving tenant safety and comfort. 

The company I started was founded on this idea: If we want buildings everywhere to remain affordable, climate compliant, comfortable, and safe, we have to enable them to upgrade with self-operating controls - and do so affordably. The typical multifamily building can reduce its utility costs by over 21% on average by upgrading to self-operating systems, and the case of our clients, systems paid for themselves in nine months or less directly from the savings delivered.  

iPhones adapt second by second and get smarter every day. Netflix learns subscribers' preferences every minute they watch. Uber finds passengers precisely as they walk down the block. Modern clothes dryers are now even updated in real-time about the load coming from the washing machines so clothes are dried in optimal time using less energy. Given the available, accessible technology, relying on manual, non-self-operating control technology to manage millions of dollars of energy, building equipment, and tenant safety just isn’t a responsible option any more. 

Lee Hoffman is co-founder and president of Runwise, a building control platform based in New York City that helps control heating, water and other key systems in over 4,000 buildings. Runwise’s customers include Blackston/Beam, Lefrak, Related, First Service, Equity Residential, Fairstead, Douglas Elliman, and Lemle & Wolff.

Related Articles

Smart house system programming software. Engineering development of building construction, communication, electricity. Design in CAD programs of Smart building. AI of IOT. Architectural 3d plan.

Futurizing Multifamily Buildings

New Materials, Standards, & Designs

'GAS LEAK' warning sign in yellow block lettering on cracked black background

NYC’s Gas Detector Law - Understanding Local Law 157

What Options Will Boards Have?

Real estate agent looks at the houses through a magnifying glass - Searching new home concept with colorful houses

Building Systems Inspections

What They’re Looking for, and When

Hand holding mobile smart phone with mail app. Mail service concept.

Technology & Real Estate Management

Attitudes Shifting With the Times

Gas Leak warning sign in yellow block letters on cracked black background

Understanding Local Law 157—NYC’s Gas Detector Law

What Options Will Boards Have?

A city-shaped lake in the middle of a lush forest as a metaphor for eco-friendly urbanism and modern green living in general. 3D rendering.

Sustainability in Multifamily Buildings

Balancing Benefits & Budgetary Constraints