Protecting neighbors from one another

06Mar09

Generally speaking, high rise buildings are more energy efficient than single family homes, at least on a per-resident basis. One of the innovations that makes this possible is sharing a series of large, efficient air conditioners, water heaters, and plumbing networks across hundreds or even thousands of people. However, these designs also introduce a problem: the actions of one person can have unexpected consequences for others who live nearby.

For example, every few years there is some moron in my building who leaves the windows open on a cold winter day. The water pipes freeze and burst, flooding nearby apartments — even several floors below. Of course, all the apartments that share the same plumbing pipes also end up with problems. Sure, the building holds the offending party responsible, and they post warnings about this all the time, but it seems like that’s a rather inefficient approach to solving the problem.

I would like to see a rudimentary monitoring system to help prevent these issues before they occur. For instance, install a networked thermometer in each apartment that sends an alarm to the building management if temperatures in the apartment drop below say 45 degrees. That would give them enough time to contact the owner or just shut off the water from the nearest junction point, thus limiting the damage to that apartment alone. Sure, networking the actual thermostat itself for remote control would be better, but I’m thinking in terms of stuff that could be retrofitted at a reasonable cost.

When you have hundreds of people living in the same building, the odds are quite high that someone will screw up every once in a while. No amount of warnings or education will eliminate 100% of human error. But by implementing a monitoring system to provide early warning of these events, building managers can prevent or limit the damage before it impacts other residents.



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