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Controls Upgrades: Step 1: Survey the Existing Controls

By Rita Tatum - January 2012 - Building Automation

ems, bas, control system upgrades


Sooner or later, it happens. EMS/BAS controls start failing. Getting parts or someone to work on them becomes more difficult. Or new needs arise that the existing controls are not able to handle. Knowing where to begin and how to proceed with new controls installations can be daunting.

Four areas are crucial to the success of a controls upgrade, say facility managers who have hands-on, in-the-building experience upgrading controls: surveying existing controls, deciding what sort of controls you want, justifying the project and managing the actual controls upgrade. The lessons they've learned in those areas can help all facility managers navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of an upgrade.

Surveying the Existing Controls

The first step in any EMS/BAS upgrade is a thorough survey of existing controls. Brandywine Realty Trust, surveyed all 239 of its buildings to determine what was installed where, how old the equipment was, what level of software was being used and when the software was last upgraded.

During the process, the REIT found that there were nearly as many variations on the controls theme as there were buildings. "Some are relatively simplistic systems and some have all the bells and whistles," says Brad Molotsky, executive vice president and general counsel for Brandywine.

The REIT's energy team, which is part of Brandywine's sustainability team, analyzed the top three or four systems, developing each system's pros and cons. "So when managers decide to install an EMS system at their building, they know what ones to have bid for their project," says Molotsky. "They also know the capabilities of each system."

Brandywine has already replaced pneumatic or stand-alone electric HVAC controls with Web-based digital controls in some of its 239 buildings. Typically, the REIT retrofits the entire building's controls, says Stan Cichocki, senior property manager at Brandywine. "Now, from anywhere we have computer access, we can see the rooftop units working, the temperatures, static pressure and whether we are free cooling, mechanical cooling or in heating mode. We can also adjust set points to make them more efficient."

A careful evaluation of existing controllers may bring a pleasant surprise to facility managers: It's possible that all they need is a good tweaking. Ron Sharpe, now retired, was manager of building automation systems for The Ohio State University. Sharpe also is an emeritus board member of BACnet International, currently serving on the education committee. Sharpe has done numerous energy management projects for schools. Many times systems get installed and run optimally in the beginning.

"But over the years, the EMS gradually drifts out of control and starts eating lots of energy before anyone realizes it," says Sharpe. "Many schools have good pneumatic controls. If they are retuned, the school can save 10 to 15 percent. Then, if the building automation system also is adjusted, another 15 percent can be saved. With even small investments, schools often can reap an easy 30 percent in utility costs."





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