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Flexible Gas Monitoring Design Key to Safe, Profitable Development

Gas Monitoring

Whether new or retrofit construction, parking structures and shipping/loading bays are often crucial to the viability and efficient use of residential, commercial, industrial and multi-use developments. But to comply with building codes for life safety in confined spaces, parking structures require gas monitoring to prevent the dangerous accumulation of gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

However, design changes are almost inevitable because such structures are often built first, particularly if underground, and utilized as development occurs in stages. Specifications written at the start of a project can evolve, and as they do the requirements change. Also, local buyers, jurisdictions, and code officials may have different demands that must be accommodated.

Consequently, for building owners, general contractors, HVAC contractors, and engineers, working with a vendor with expertise in gas monitoring systems, along with utilizing advanced modular systems that offer flexibility, can significantly speed project completion while facilitating design changes later, if required.  So, too, can new and more reliable wireless detection systems that promise to speed installation and reduce wiring costs when retrofitting or expanding detection in existing structures.

For large parking garage projects where interest on multi-million-dollar loans can quickly escalate due to completion delays, not to mention late penalties that can run in the hundreds of thousands, using this approach can simplify the completion of code compliant work without impacting other trade professionals.

“On almost every project, design changes occur so we choose to work with expert vendors that help us quickly adapt,” says Adam Hitchen, President of Atlantis Comfort Systems, a Rhode Island-based HVAC contractor that provides residential and commercial service across the East Coast. The company contracts up to 5,000 apartment units a year and is involved with about 30 major multi-unit housing projects at this time.

In regard to installing parking structure gas monitoring systems on a range of projects when requirements and specifications are prone to change, Atlantis Comfort Systems usually relies on a vendor that can provide engineering expertise.

Richard D’Amico, a project manager for the company says, “When we order a gas monitoring panel at the very beginning of a project, we choose to work with a vendor that gives us the wiring diagram, the schematics, and the sequence of operations. We provide this to the fire department, to electricians, to plumbers, to whichever trade professional needs to see how it works, which helps to speed project completion.”

When designing a gas detection network, after receiving a floor plan the vendor creates performance-based specifications, identifies the optimal sensor locations, elaborates the most energy efficient activation sequence for the ventilation system, and prepares a job specific wiring diagram, usually within a day or two.

According to D’Amico, when design changes occur the gas monitoring company reacts quickly. “They start with the intent of the design engineer and when project requirements change, they rapidly revise it and provide what is needed. This helps with code compliance,” he says.

D’Amico points to an example of a parking garage change on a recent multi-residential project. “When the size of car spaces was changed in the parking garage, that altered the gas monitoring coverage,” he says. “So, their engineering department sent us a revised plan with the radius of their gas sensor coverage overlaying the parking garage, showing what could be done. They also added the additional sensors that were necessary, which made the change very easy.”

Saving Weeks on a Resort Construction Project
For John Rainone, a senior project manager with Automated Logic, a Carrier company, the main benefit of working with a vendor with gas monitoring expertise was expediting a multi-million-dollar project, a 5-star resort & casino on the East Coast. The vendor provided certified engineering drawings up front and as needed.

“No one waited for us on the parking structure job, which was key because the project carried a significant per day late penalty. Altogether, the design expertise probably saved us between two to four weeks,” says Rainone.

The multi-gas monitoring system installed on the project to prevent excess carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide accumulation is a gas detection network capable of communicating in real time with any smart device. The system utilizes industry-standard communication protocols like Ethernet and BACnet that allow remote supervision and reporting to building automation systems.

The four-level underground parking structure is approximately 100,000 sq. ft. Although the original specifications called for 300+ carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide detectors, Rainone says the vendor produced engineered drawings that proved the coverage only required 257 sensors. This turned into a cost savings for the project.

According to Michael Follo, a project manager from Automated Logic involved with the parking structure portion of the resort project, the modular nature of the gas monitoring system provides needed design flexibility.

“You want adaptability to accommodate change. For example, if an office is added in a garage, that changes the requirements for the carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide gas sensors,” says Follo.

In the case of the resort parking garage, an enclosed car wash station was added in the structure, so it was necessary to add an additional sensor.

“As long as you keep good wiring diagrams, you can add a sensor and tie into the system,” says Follo. “That was a key piece of the vendor doing the engineering up front to ensure that we had extra slots available per channel.”

Follo also points out how such a system can typically save energy from the intermittent operation of ventilation equipment.

“If you did not have the detectors to check air quality, the ventilation would need to run continuously to change the air. Instead, the gas detection system checks the air quality and only runs ventilation when it is necessary,” says Follo.

According to the ASHRAE Applications Handbook, this type of advanced, variable, CO-based demand ventilation control strategy can decrease energy costs by over 60% compared to continuously operating ventilation. Additionally, wear and tear and maintenance on the mechanical and electrical equipment is reduced.

Next Generation Wireless
Although wired installations have long been utilized to install gas monitoring networks in parking garages, new advanced wireless systems are ideal solutions, particularly for retrofits or expansions of existing systems.

In the industry, at least one vendor has developed a wireless version of a multi-gas monitoring system that incorporates a unique Wi-Fi capability so it is not necessary to have a control panel as the sole point to receive feedback from the gas detection network.  With the wireless system users can observe current conditions via their computers, tablets, and phones, with real-time alarms in case of emergency.

For large garages that are more than 100,000 square feet, the wireless capability is extremely advantageous from an installation point of view for reducing installation time and costs. Gas detection networks, generally speaking, are installed by licensed electricians and labor costs are fairly high. With wireless gas detection networks, all that is required is mounting the sensors and establishing the connection with the system.

“Wireless gas monitoring is cost effective because a lot of the installation costs on a carbon monoxide system are the running of the wires,” says Rainone.

“Obstructions such as steel beams and concrete walls make it difficult to run wiring, and cause delay,” adds Rainone. “A truly reliable wireless system could make it unnecessary to drill through a wall or penetrate a steel beam to run wire. In some cases, this approach could eliminate some of the electrical costs, while expediting the project.”

Robert Presser is President of Acme Engineering Prod., Inc.