Picture of Efficiency

It was a mystery of sorts. According to the new building dashboard at the Franklin Environmental Center, daily water usage was spiking at 3 o’clock in the morning—not when you’d expect a water-hungry crowd in the building. Sustainability Director Jack Byrne was pleased to find a group of students puzzling over this head-scratcher in front of the touch screen monitor in the Franklin Center lobby.

Turns out it’s not a late-night water thief or a large intermittent leak. Rather, the usage spike was happening at a time when custodial staff were cleaning the building, filling and emptying mop buckets. But it’s exactly the kind of provocative question Byrne was hoping for.

“The dashboard is a way for people to visualize something very abstract—building performance—and give it a context that makes sense,” said Byrne. “We’ve already achieved one of the things we hoped would happen, and that is that it engages visitors and students in asking questions about why this building is special.”

The high-tech touch screen has a decidedly low-tech sticky note inviting visitors to “touch me,” at which point the display offers colorful charts and graphics with real-time information about the building’s resource usage—like solar electric production, electricity consumption, water usage, steam usage, and weather conditions. It also interprets some of the building’s advanced green design features that earned it LEED platinum certification—the highest possible rating for building efficiency.

Byrne says that dashboard data will be very helpful in guiding future sustainable renovations of other campus buildings. Because so many of these building systems are new and cutting edge, it’s important to know whether they live up to their hype before investing the same technology in other facilities. Measuring building performance over time gives a good sense of which systems are working as predicted and which are not. The good news is that, so far, the Franklin Center’s building performance far exceeds the ambitious goals planners had hoped for.

The piles of data collected by the dashboard system also present a learning opportunity for students and faculty who want to research aspects of the building. Using a download module, they can export all the data into spreadsheets, making it possible to do their own analyses on the building’s performance. This versatility is one of the dashboard’s great strengths, says Byrne. “It allows us to span a wide range, from nontechnical interests to very technical research interests.”

You don’t have to visit the Franklin Center  to check out the dashboard. You can take it for a spin here.

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