Establishing the Need for New Controls

By Rita Tatum  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Common Problems for Aging Controls SystemsPt. 2: Determining and Stretching the Useful Life of ControlsPt. 3: This Page

To justify building controls upgrades, facility managers should answer three questions, suggests Althoff.

1. Are new building controls required to market the building or increase productivity of a business unit? A national property management company was marketing several floors in a Chicago high-rise office last year. The building had a constant volume air system, while other buildings in the area had more sensitive and efficient DDC control systems.

"Fortunately, the building was mechanically designed with individual supply dampers at each floor," says Althoff. "We were able to guarantee that the floors being considered could be individually upgraded with a DDC system, allowing their spaces to be fully LEED-compliant." Stand-alone controllers were installed with a new network backbone system, so the building owners could decide where they wanted to convert next. "This meant paralleling the old and new systems," says Althoff. "But the project worked seamlessley as far as tenant comfort was concerned."

2. Is there a new operating standard or goal — for example, energy savings, LEED or other operation-focused designation, or resolving HVAC complaints — that new building controls will achieve?

LEED certification and other energy-conserving designations for buildings can be win-win situations that are good for owners, good for tenants and good for business. Updated building controls not only make it easier to meet the HVAC requirements of such certifications and designations, but also make the on-going record keeping required for LEED easier to complete.

3. Is the current control system obsolete or is the building being penalized in increased service costs? Obsolescence often forces changes in building controls. Sometimes, facility managers are all but forced to upgrade controls because they are no longer supported by the manufacturer. While this situation does not give facility managers many options, it doesn't have to break the bank. If a company announces that it will no longer be supporting a specific line of control systems, facility managers can begin a parallel installation around those controls that allows the building to continue functioning.

"You can then often save components from the existing system and keep the old system operating until you have the monetary allowance or marketing reason to fully convert," suggests Althoff. "If abrupt failure is imminent, local control networks can be used until you have time to add the backbone and front-end systems."

New Focus on Energy

During the 1980s and 1990s, design professionals were often more focused on improving comfort conditions with controls. Now that energy use is a bigger priority than it was then, building controls need to be able to respond to energy management needs.

Integrating multiple systems with building controls allows the facility manager to benefit from many cost and operational opportunities. "Enterprise energy management is of great interest to many owners and leveraging real-time metering is essential," says McGowan. He points to rules in the District of Columbia and New York City requiring energy benchmarking using Energy Star. "And then there is California's law that mandates by 2011 an energy performance history before you can sell a building," he says.

"The next frontier for controls is energy markets with demand response (DR) being the first ‘killer app,'" says McGowan. The development of controls that permit demand response while minimizing the impact on occupants "represents a major opportunity to get paid by utilities for leveraging your controls to respond to DR events," says McGowan.

For example, the University of New Mexico helps to maintain the reliability of the local electric grid with building controls feeding into its enterprise energy management system. The system captures real-time energy data from 65 buildings on campus and converts the building controls information into knowledge tools for improving building performance. The university represents about 2 percent of the local electric grid's total load. The building controls system can respond to grid status by altering consumption during high demand time periods.

New controls can save two kinds of energy. The first, of course, is electricity. But the second — the energy expended by the facility staff — is also a precious commodity. And developments on the drawing board promise to save even more of the second kind of energy. Sinopoli sees building controls becoming more intelligent and more diagnostic in the near future. "There are software tools — fault detection diagnostic tools, based on research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology on HVAC systems — that can identify what might be the problem," he says.

Such innovations could not only save facility departments time, but also reduce downtime or prevent building-related problems that could diminish occupant productivity. As they arrive, these capabilities will offer another set of reasons for building controls upgrades.

Rita Tatum, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, has more than 30 years of experience covering facility design and technology.

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  posted on 12/28/2010   Article Use Policy

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