General Information

Mail: University of Houston
Cullen College of Engineering
E421 Engineering Bldg 2, 4722 Calhoun Rd, Houston, TX 77204-4007
Map & Driving Directions (includes parking information)
Email: info [at] egr [dot] uh [dot] edu

CULLEN COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

News

Making smart buildings smarter: mechanical engineering alumnus invents smart building technology

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

By: 

Audrey Grayson
Giancarlo Mitterhofer displays the user-friendly interface of the Renaissance Management System behind him.
Giancarlo Mitterhofer displays the user-friendly interface of the Renaissance Management System behind him.

From his office in west Houston, UH Cullen College of Engineering alumnus Giancarlo Mitterhofer (BSME ’03) looks down at his smartphone and realizes two things: he’s not making as much money as he could and his environmental footprint is growing instead of shrinking.

That’s a lot of information to absorb in a simple glance. But with the invention of Mitterhofer’s Renaissance Management System, it’s information that can be gleaned in the blink of an eye. The hardware-software system automatically monitors and controls energy usage in buildings, displaying crucial information on energy efficiency in a user-friendly visualization dashboard.

In practical terms, that means the office building using the system, that he happens to own, has operating expenses well below average – about $6 per square foot compared to $8 for similar commercial properties in the area.

He’s multi-talented, of course

Though he graduated from the Cullen College with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2003, Mitterhofer is not solely an engineer. He is also an entrepreneur, property manager, realtor, business owner and most recently, self-taught programmer and software developer.

You wouldn’t know it by his long list of titles and successes, but he said it wasn’t too long ago that he couldn’t have imagined his future as an engineer and entrepreneur.

“Earning my engineering degree from the University of Houston was one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life,” Mitterhofer said. “That experience prepared me to take on anything I set my mind to afterwards.”

Mitterhofer is dyslexic, intimidatingly smart and an eager, avid learner. Traditional classroom learning was tough to keep up with, Mitterhofer said, so he constantly sought opportunities to apply chalkboard lessons to real-world problems throughout his college career.

“I learn by doing,” he said.

Three years after earning his bachelor’s degree from the UH Cullen College of Engineering, Mitterhofer made an unusual career move: rather than going to work at one of Houston’s many engineering and energy firms, he decided to try his hand at the commercial real estate industry, purchasing a 65,000-square-foot commercial building just west of Beltway 8, adjacent to Houston’s Energy Corridor and Westchase Business District. 

At the time, Mitterhofer had no prior real estate or property management experience. “I jumped in the pool in the deep end, but I didn’t drown. That has a lot to do with engineering,” he said.

All in the family

Mitterhofer now operates his own real estate company, G&W Holdings LLC, out of that same building at 800 Wilcrest Dr., specializing in residential and commercial real estate as well as property management tools and systems.

In Mitterhofer’s opinion, he’s got the best team behind him that money can buy.

“My sister is the accountant, my father helps with networking, I do the property management and my little brother supports in the development of software,” Mitterhofer said, pausing to look around the room at each of his family members. “I wouldn’t be anything without you guys.”

The family business runs like a well-oiled machine. Along with the below-average operating costs, the office building is at nearly 100 percent capacity.

“I have a competitive advantage in that, because I’m an engineer, I’m able to look at everything in a quantitative manner, and that has allowed us to reduce a lot of costs,” Mitterhofer said.

Dollars and sense

Reducing operating costs is key to ensuring a building’s profitability. Rents are determined by the market, but property managers can fine-tune how much money goes out the door for expenses.

Shortly after purchasing the building, Mitterhofer replaced its 30-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system with a brand new roof-mounted model with direct digital controls, allowing him to remotely monitor and control heating and cooling systems from his smartphone. This alone shaved more than $100,000 off of the building’s electricity bill each year.  

At its core, Mitterhofer’s desire to cut costs is pretty noble.

“Reduced operating costs translate to reduced rents for tenants, which ultimately benefits the small business owners renting office spaces inside of our building,” he said. “We are able to offer premium office spaces with top-notch property management to small business owners at affordable prices.”

From a wider-angle lens, reducing electricity usage and increasing energy efficiency means less harm to the environment, he added.

In 2015, commercial and residential buildings accounted for roughly 40 percent of total primary energy consumption in the nation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“A number of studies have shown that commercial buildings in the U.S. could use as much as 15 to 30 percent less energy if they simply improve operational practices,” Mitterhofer said.

One simple way of reducing operational costs is utilizing smart building technologies, such as building automation software (BAS), but roughly 90 percent of all commercial buildings lack such technologies, according to a study published by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 2012.

The not-so-smart building

Most smart building technologies work by leveraging all of the building’s systems – cabling, lighting, HVAC, security and internet – into a single system that can be controlled remotely through a smartphone or computer. Sensors installed throughout the building collect information on temperatures and lighting, among other things, and send this information to a centralized database.

Some smart building technologies simply collect the information from sensors, and other technologies will actually analyze this information and automatically make adjustments to the building’s systems accordingly.

The problem with a lot off-the-shelf smart building technologies is the same problem with one-size-fits-all clothing – one size cannot ever truly fit all. Much like people, buildings have unique sizes and personalities, and like clothing, smart building technologies work best when tailored to fit the building’s unique specifications.

At the root of many building automation systems is what Mitterhofer calls a “lack of engineering.” For instance, there is an ideal time to turn the air conditioning units on and off in order to maintain a comfortable temperature while using the least amount of energy. Most smart building technologies aren’t engineered to run such an analysis.

The oh-so-smart engineer

Determined to tackle his building’s remaining inefficiencies, Mitterhofer conducted a regression analysis – a statistical modeling process used to identify the relationships among multiple variables – to identify the optimal times to turn the unit on in order to maintain a comfortable temperature at all times.

Ever the engineer, Mitterhofer didn’t stop there. He wanted to compare his building’s energy consumption and utility bills with similar properties. Mitterhofer knew if he could teach himself how to code, he could write a script that collected this information into database systems, analyzed the data and provided quantitative feedback on utilities bills and energy consumption for commercial buildings across the Houston region.

Mitterhofer also knew if he could teach himself how to program, he could integrate all of the building automation systems he had already created into a single monitoring and control system that would increase his building’s efficiency even further.

These were ideas that, for the last two years, kept Mitterhofer awake at night.

The super-smart building

Learning takes time, so Mitterhofer worked late into the night to teach himself programming and coding in order to create a building automation software that would make his smart building even smarter.

Rather than simply monitoring inside temperatures, Mitterhofer’s Renaissance Management Suite also collects and analyzes information on all temperature-changing factors, such as weather conditions, total people inside of the building, how often the elevators are used and how many times the doors are opened and closed.

Since these factors are unique to every building, the Renaissance Management Suite offers something most other smart building technologies don’t – a real-time analysis tailored to a building’s unique personality.

The Renaissance Management Suite also provides information on how a building’s efficiency compares to the national averages for similarly-sized buildings.

“We believe that Renaissance Management Suite (RMS) could have a considerable positive effect on the environment and profitability of commercial buildings,” Mitterhofer said.

The future of smart

On a personal level, Mitterhofer wants to use his Renaissance Management System as a platform to grow his portfolio of properties across the Houston area, transforming some of the most inefficient properties into the most profitable and efficient buildings in the city.

On a global level, Mitterhofer hopes his smart building software suite can help other property managers do what he managed to with his own property – address inefficiencies, reduce energy consumption and offer subscriptions at affordable prices.

“I want to create a service,” he said. “I want to see as many people as possible benefit from using this software.”

However, if you prefer a more “plug and play” option, G&W Holdings can also fully implement the Renaissance Management System in any residential or commercial property in the area.

That’s what you call a smart move.

For more information on the services offered by G&W Holdings, including the Renaissance Management System, please visit http://wvele9.wixsite.com/gwholdings

For more information on the Renaissance Management System, please visit https://www.bldgot.com/

Department: 

Related News Stories

Yashashree Kulkarni receives ASME 2017 Sia Nemat-Nasser Early Career Award

Yashashree Kulkarni is all about twins

When Yashashree Kulkarni isn’t singing opera (her latest pursuit), the associate professor of mechanical engineering is singing the praises of twinning, the process by which interfaces known as twin boundaries are introduced in metals to make them stronger. Twin boundaries are created when layers of atoms in crystalline materials are arranged in pairs of mirror images (twins) stacked on top of one another.

Upcoming Events / Seminars