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Charter Hall gets Comfy with new HVAC app

Charter Hall has become one of the early adopters of a new app, Comfy, which allows users to personalise workspace heating and cooling.

The result has been not only more productive and content staff, but significant energy savings, according to Charter Hall innovation lead Craig Rodgers.

The company is believed to be the first Australian workplace to use the app, which combines cloud-hosted analytics, an interface with a building’s BMS system, machine learning and AI to deliver a number of outcomes.

In addition to the immediate ability to increase heating or cooling to suit personal preferences, the Comfy dashboard gives building managers details of how space is being used within an office, and where requests are being made for adjustments.

Craig Rodgers, Charter Hall

Over time, it also tracks user preferences and can automatically adjust heating and cooling to their preferences as they move into different spaces.

Mr Rodgers said that when it gets no requests for adjustments and a space appears to be vacant, it may reduce HVAC output and corresponding energy use.

He said he first came across Comfy at an intelligent buildings conference in the US last year, and was attracted to its ability to interact with tenants and to provide feedback on how they are feeling.

A pilot was put in place in Charter Hall’s 1 Martin Place tenancy, with the Comfy team flying to Australia in March to set the trial up.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” Mr Rodger’s said.

To date 155 staff have downloaded and used the app, with around 2000 calls for personal heating or cooling since the trial commenced.

Staff say it’s too cold

About 65 per cent requested for it to be warmer.

“That indicates we are potentially over-cooling the space,” Mr Rodgers said.

There has been more than 10 per cent saved on HVAC energy use since the app was brought into play.

The next step will be offering the app to tenants across the group’s office portfolio.

The app can be used across a number of HVAC systems. Mr Rodgers said in its own tenancy, a zoned variable air volume (VAV) system is installed, and VAV is also fairly standard across its portfolio.

In the US the app has also been successfully installed in properties with chilled beam systems.

Mr Rodgers said a number of the agencies had dropped by 1 Martin Place to look at the technology, and that some owners and tenants had also expressed interest.

“I think it is only a matter of time before it takes off in the market.”

Charter Hall head of office asset management Geoff Sloan said the technology would change the way people interacted with their workplace.

“As an asset manager with a clear focus on delivering great experiences in our spaces, one of the key issues that we have been trying to solve is how we provide a superior occupant experience,” Mr Sloan said.

“Comfy helps us achieve part of this by literally putting the comfort of our people in the palm of their hands.

“This is a game changer to the way we manage one aspect of the occupant experience in our buildings and provide our tenant customers and their people the most comfortable working environment.”

Mobile phone will be key to interacting with smart buildings

Mr Rodgers said that as smart buildings became more standard, the mobile phone was going to become a major tool for interacting with them.

Comfy was developed by Building Robotics Inc, a tech firm founded in 2012 by Berkeley University PhD students Stephen Dawson-Haggerty and Andrew Krioukov.

In 2016 it raised $12 million in Series B funding, attracting investors including Emergence Capital, Microsoft Ventures and CBRE. Other backers include Google Ventures, The Westley Group Navitas Capital and Claremont Creek Ventures.

Clients in the US include WeWork, Intel, Infosys, Beacon Capital Partners, Under Armour, Johnson Controls and CBRE.

The company is positive about opportunities in Australia.

“We’re honoured to work with a team that is globally recognised to be at the forefront of innovation in creating people-centred workplaces,” Comfy president Lindsay Baker said.

“Improving the workplace experience takes many allies and we’re excited to be working with Charter Hall to make the office of the future a reality today.”

Parallel to the app, Charter Hall has also been running an indoor environment quality project across its portfolio.

As part of this, it has been trialling the SAMBA technology developed by Sydney University’s IEQ Lab.

Mr Rodgers said both Comfy and SAMBA had enabled his team to see the performance of 1 Martin Place at a granular level.

SAMBA provided data on air quality, IEQ, acoustics and lighting, he said.

“It has shown the space operates at a consistent temperature. But one temperature is not right for everyone.”

It has also been really interesting seeing data on CO2 levels and air velocity, which factor into how people perceive temperature, he said.

As Charter Hall launches more into the wellness space, he said technology could give it more insights into wellness and how spaces support that.

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