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Green Building News

Building Monitoring Software Offered for Free

The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation has developed a program for tracking real-time energy use, and offers the system to anyone who wants it

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The flexible building monitoring system can be used on a single-family home, a multifamily or even a boat. It can be programmed to display data in a variety of ways, and it works with many types of sensors.
The flexible building monitoring system can be used on a single-family home, a multifamily or even a boat. It can be programmed to display data in a variety of ways, and it works with many types of sensors. This schematic drawing shows how data from building sensors and other sources is collected and routed to an application developed by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

Software developed by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation allows building owners and managers to track everything from real-time energy use to indoor temperatures and water consumption, and the system is being offered to anyone for free.

AHFC Building Monitoring is an application originally developed to find ways to reduce energy use and improve building maintenance, the agency’s website says. And because it was created with public funds, its developers decided to offer it for free to anyone who wants it.

Software is available in two versions, “mini-monitor” for small buildings, such as a small multifamily, and “bmon” for larger facilities, according to Scott Waterman, the AHFC’s energy project manager. The two applications use different hardware, but the display software is the same.

It’s not a plug-and-play system that’s complete when you install it, Waterman explained, but an interface that’s configured to meet the particular needs of a building owner. It would take a person who’s “somewhat geeky” to configure the system by himself, but not necessarily a computer programmer.

It can be used to monitor just about any condition — air or water temperature, soil temperature, water levels, fuel flow, and motion-sensors — and it will accept inputs from online data sources, such as a local weather station.

“If you can put in a sensor, it can be plugged into the system,” Waterman said by telephone.

Although primarily designed for buildings bigger than single-family homes, Building Monitor is completely at home in a small building, providing the homeowner doesn’t mind tinkering with downloading and configuring its inputs. “It’s a little less practical when you get down to single-family homes,” Waterman said.

System runs on a very small computer

Mini-Monitor is designed to run in conjunction with a Raspberry Pi, a processor the size of a credit card, according to its maker, that can be plugged into a TV and standard keyboard. Costing just $35 (not including its power supply and SD card), the Raspberry Pi can handle spread sheets and word processing, and it was well suited for the Building Monitor program.

With some basic sensors, a building owner could install a monitoring system for less than $1,000, Waterman said, far less than what a commercially available system would cost.

Email and text notifications can be added to alert building managers when indoor temperatures fall and threaten to freeze pipes.

The Raspberry Pi uses Python computer language. Detailed information about the software is available at the AHFC website.

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