Energy and Smart Building Industry Blog

Balancing Cost and Comfort - The Case for Always Occupied Setpoints


CASE STUDY: How PhoenixET enabled a major pet specialty retailer to devise and quickly deploy a new comfort energy strategy across over 1,600 stores.

Fast Facts

The Client: 

A large pet specialty retailer with over 55,000 associates and 1,600+ locations. The client has unique retail offerings that require them to maintain comfort in enclosed spaces around the clock. Besides small animals under its roof, the retailer maintains animal boarding facilities, dog and cat adoption centers, grooming salons, and pet hospital partnerships requiring the conditioning of many small enclosed spaces 24 hours a day.

Study Use Case:

Demonstrating PhoenixET's capacity to develop an energy strategy that fulfills a retailer's priorities while managing costs.  

The Situation

The client provides indispensable pet products (food, medicine, etc.), pet services, and veterinary care throughout most of North America. As such, they were classified as an essential business when COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns began. Like other businesses, they faced many challenges at that time. They had to quickly determine safe occupancy limits and provide social distancing guidance for workers. The client’s leadership were weighing these decisions while governing bodies and CDC guidance fluctuated, and at times, contradicted. 

Another issue the client was contending with at the time was that summer was in full effect. Temperatures were soaring at many of their southern locations. “Hot calls” from associates and store managers were growing, and newly required face coverings were only adding to the problem. The hardware feature-driven optimized start strategies needed a review. The client decided the priority was to make sure associates never had to choose between being comfortable during shifts or wearing PPE. Comfort and safety became the priority. 

At this stage, the client store setpoints were at 73° occupied and 78° unoccupied. They were allowing temporary two-degree decreases, but any longer-term exceptions required upper management approval. 

Interim Resolution

At first, the client's Energy and Sustainability Manager allowed permanent exceptions, removing the approval requirement to keep associates comfortable and safe. The exceptions did not require justifications, which resulted in a sharp increase in facility tickets. The plan was not sustainable as non-standard operations would lead to wildly unpredictable energy bills. The client knew they needed to develop a longer-term strategy. 

The client's next action was to consult with their partners at PhoenixET, where they considered three specific courses of action. 

Option 1: Lowering occupied setpoints across the chain. - This would immediately make stores more comfortable but came with some significant risks. This plan only addressed issues during customer hours and did not mitigate comfort issues when associates worked and unloaded trucks and conducted pet care activities outside of open hours. 

The decision to move from 78° overnight to 71° during the day allowed a seven degree Delta, which was determined to be too high and could lead to a blow out of their maintenance and repair budget. They feared this decision could lead to more required equipment repairs, older HVAC units faltering, and potential issues with icing over coils eliminating cooling at a location altogether. 

This option was determined to be too risky. 

Option 2: Allowing manual overrides on a store by store basis. - This change would allow a more focused deployment of resources since action would only occur where requested. This option, however, meant completely unpredictable power bills. With summer escalating heat issues, this was also determined to be too risky.

Option 3: Always occupied setpoint. - This option eliminated the 78° setback overnight and put systems on an occupied 73°, rather than lowering temperatures to 71°. 

Maintaining always occupied setpoints at all locations was the option the client decided to test. 

Initial Testing

The always occupied setpoint was easy to implement, with PhoenixET taking the reins on implementing an initial test comprising 20 stores throughout the Southern U.S. Locations were selected across several ASHRAE zones as a good proxy for the rest of the U.S. and Canada.

With summer heating up and increasing average temperatures daily, the testing aimed to quickly collect as much data as possible to identify trends so the client's leadership could commit to a formal plan. 

After a few weeks, the trends were clear:

1) Newer stores ran less than expected, with newer equipment meeting setpoints fast. 

2) Stores with older equipment saw a slight increase in stage two cooling, with equipment meeting and maintaining the correct zone temperatures.

3) Stores, in general, were cool and comfortable when associates arrived. Stores were no longer chasing occupied setpoints for hours after opening. 

Upon reviewing these findings and cost estimates put together by PhoenixET based on potential runtimes throughout summer, the client's CFO approved the always occupied setpoint strategy. The decision to move forward occurred Tuesday, July 7th, and by that weekend, all 1,650 stores employed the new energy strategy. 


After moving to always occupied setpoints, some of the client's stores reacted very quickly. Others had a lag of a couple of days for the zone temperatures to catch up to the new setpoints, particularly those southern locations contending with much hotter outside temperatures. 

Once the strategy started leveling, it was evident that zone temperatures were most consistent in the early afternoon—the hottest part of the day. This consistency proved the plan was working very well. 

Soon after, hot call volumes decreased significantly. Year over year, the client processed less than half of the setpoint exceptions—a terrific result considering 2020 presented hotter-than-normal temperatures in some areas, and people were wearing masks at work.

PhoenixET helped the client achieve:

  • Building occupant comfort and safety, which was their utmost priority   
  • Energy scenarios to weigh and a way to swiftly test a selected strategy
  • Approval from leadership through test data and cost projections
  • An incredible five day roll out of the new strategy across 1,650+ stores
  • Consistent zone temperatures during the hottest part of the day
  • A significant jump in staff morale
  • A meager increase in energy spend

The most striking result the client found was that the conventional wisdom that you should turn setpoints up when a building is unoccupied is wrong. The data proves that employing always occupied setpoints encourages comfort and safety much better in their stores.  

PhoenixET Provides 

Integration - Connects to BAS and equipment without additional hardware

One Platform - Centralizes actionable data into a standardized web-based platform

ROI for Customers - Optimizes equipment efficiency to reduce energy costs, decrease repair and maintenance spend, and lowers capex through the extended life of assets
Please connect with our team to learn how we can help you create an energy strategy that meets your goals today. Request a Demo

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