Getting the Most Out of a Building Controls Upgrade
Part 1 of a 3-part article offering tips on how to plan and structure control upgrades
Building control systems put plenty of power in the hands of mere mortals. Energy-saving capacity and reams of facility data, plus the ability to ensure occupant comfort, allow facility managers to tailor system operation in an increasingly user-friendly way. But control upgrades are a complex matter, with plenty of opportunities for oversights and missteps. Among the potential preliminary steps involved are assembling a survey team, doing baseline surveys, and considering some key questions about the project.
To maximize the efficacy of building control upgrades, facility managers need to perform preliminary groundwork. Typically, this comes in the form of a controls upgrade survey prior to work. While this isn’t necessarily the first step in the upgrade process (see the sidebar titled "2 Approaches to Controls Upgrade Projects" in Part 3 of this article), it’s an essential part of the project. Savvy facility mangers will conduct an exhaustive survey, assess the human factor — and how it can derail even the best-laid upgrade plans — and ensure that existing equipment can be controlled via a new system.
Forming a Survey Team
Experts recommend forming a dedicated team that consists of on-site staff and design professionals, who work to assess needs and develop goals for the upgrade.
"You’ll want to identify the age of the controls, any difficulties in getting parts and service, the condition of the controller interlock, and timing sequences," says Jim Sinopoli, principal at Smart Buildings LLC. "Assess the BAS networks regarding network speed and throughput. Too many controllers on one network can slow the network."
The team should also identify global system software programs and control strategies, ensuring that decisions and specifications are documented for management. They should also be aware of the exact purpose of the upgrades. Determining the driving factors for the upgrades — whether management concerns, occupant safety and comfort, or the needs of the facilities team — helps build a strategy for successful controls upgrades.
Petty also notes that all existing legacy control system equipment serving the facility must be identified via field surveys. He advocates eliminating technologically outdated equipment that uses obsolete, proprietary programming languages and lacks sufficient memory or expansion capabilities, principally because replacement reduces future troubleshooting.
Barry Mathis, senior project manager of automation and control systems at McKenney’s, notes that the field survey portion of the upgrade is vital to understanding the existing conditions of the building. The survey, he says, "should be done immediately after initial contact with the facility management team to clarify the extent of the upgrade they are requesting."
Mathis says a series of questions can help guide facility managers, including:
- Will it be a full retrofit or a partial upgrade, with the balance to be completed in the future or upon tenants’ consent?
- How is the system operating now and how do you want it to operate upon completion?
- Do you have only local access now and want remote access, or do you also want to add subsystems to the control system?
- During the survey, identify all equipment to be considered in the controls upgrade, its location (roof, basement, or in between), and its accessibility (rooftop, above high ceilings, parking decks). Does it currently have controls? Does it have communications capability? Is it destined to be removed in the future? Do you have any future expansion plans?