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By James Piper, P.E.
Building Automation Article Use Policy
Building control systems have long been promoted as the end-all, be-all for building occupant comfort and energy conservation. But when facility managers compare their building’s performance to that of other facilities, they often find that their facility’s energy use does not match up to expectations, or that the number of complaints from occupants is higher than acceptable.
In some cases, particularly if controls have been recently upgraded, the facility manager’s expectations of the benefits may have been too high. Either they were oversold on the system’s potential, or they simply did not understand what the system could do. But it’s more likely that the system has the advertised capabilities, yet is not making full use of those capabilities due to improper installation or operation.
There is little question about the benefits of a well designed and installed building automation system. Systems can reduce energy use by 20 to 30 percent or more. They allow operators and managers to monitor operations anywhere. Because they constantly monitor system operation, they can help quickly identify problems and diagnose complex operational issues. Still, many systems fall short of expectations. These steps can ensure the BAS performs up to its potential.
1. Ensure the BAS is properly installed. Some issues can be traced back to the original installation. How well a particular system performs depends to a great extent on who installs the system. Different issues arise from software that does not properly function.
Comprehensive system commissioning before the BAS is formally accepted will identify many of these installation issues. Unfortunately, some facilities forgo commissioning because of the cost and time involved. What this means is that errors that are the result of out-of-calibration sensors or improperly wired control loops will go undetected and uncorrected.
For new systems, it is important to verify the installation of all sensors and control devices, not only for their proper operation and readings, but also for their correct physical placement. All devices must have been installed and wired correctly. All devices must be cycled to confirm that they operate as intended. Skipping the commissioning process might save money in the short term, but the resulting operational issues that will go undetected will more than likely offset any initial savings.
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