Planning multifamily dwellings: Automation, controls, technology

Multifamily dwellings are fascinating projects with a variety of building automation, controls and technology system specified to keep residents comfortable.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 22, 2019


Kris Cotharn, PE, LEED AP 

Client Executive 

IMEG Corp. 

Madison, Wisconsin 


Wayne Griswold, PE, CFPS 

Principal Fire Protection Engineer 




Randall V. Moss, P.E., LEED AP 


RTM Engineering Consultants 

Irvine, California 


Joseph Russo, PE, LEED AP BD+C 

Senior Engineer 

Kohler Ronan 

Danbury, Connecticut 


Rafi W. Wartan, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CQM-C 

Regional Director/Principal 

TLC Engineering Solutions 

Jacksonville, Florida 

CSE: From your experience, what systems within a multifamily dwelling are benefiting from automation that previously might not have been? 

Russo: Incorporating wireless window sensors tied into the HVAC systems to de-energize the local HVAC unit when a window is opened provides value to the room occupants and to the owner as it ensures that energy is not being wasted throughout the building. This is especially important in facilities such as dormitories where students may open the windows in the winter while the heating system is on or leave the windows open during the summertime when the HVAC system is cooling, potentially leading to condensation issues occurring within the building.  

In addition, buildingwide metering allows the building management system to monitor energy demand production at all feeder and branch circuiting levels. The BMS trends and reports the building loads for all energy demand loads, including heating, cooling, hot water, lighting, ventilation, computer services, pumps, vertical transportation and plug loads. This allows the owner and building management to track the building’s energy usage and perhaps uncover potential opportunities to reduce overall energy usage. For multifamily dwelling units, this also allows the owner or building management to track and provide separate utilities metering for individual resident units, if needed. 

Moss: In my experience, lighting systems are benefiting from new automation. Lighting control systems now mandated by California’s Title 24 are being implemented and benefit both the residents and the property managers. In the common areas, LED lighting is required and is required to be controlled by motion sensors as well to reduce the lighting load by 50% when unoccupied. Also, in spaces where daylighting is available, light harvesting controls are being used to reduce lighting loads when there is adequate daylight available. The new regulations have ushered in a new era of lighting control products which save money and extend the life of lighting systems.  

CSE: Is your team using building information modeling in conjunction with the architects, trades and owners to design a project? Describe an instance in which you’ve turned over the BIM to the owner for long-term operations and maintenance or measurement and verification. 

Russo: The vast majority (more than 80%) of our projects are designed using BIM in coordination with the architect, owner and trades to complete the project. Our engineers believe that the use of BIM typically reduces constructability issues during design provided the entire team (architect, structural, etc.) adequately models their components of the building. Additionally, BIM modeling is also frequently used by the trades during construction to provide constructability review and to produce coordination drawings. 

CSE: Has the internet othings” come up in discussion or been implemented on such projects? How has this integration impacted the project? 

Moss: We are designing our first project with these products. They are being implemented through design and coordination with the manufacturer. This project will be a new apartment community, consisting of 264 units in Irvine, California. The products will be used to control lighting and climate within the units by the residents. Digital assistants can also be used by the residents to control lighting and climate using these products. 

CSE: How have your engineers worked with building owners and facility managers to implement integrated technology in multifamily structures? 

Moss: Actually, due to cost considerations, the owner is usually the person directing the integration of this technology into the project.