The chief advantage of wireless building controls – avoiding the potentially astronomical cost of running wires – is well-documented, but the question of which control system is best is tougher to answer. Today’s controls offer a staggering variety of dashboard styles, user friendliness, complexity and more, so it’s up to FMs to make sure the right system is chosen for the right facility.
If you’re considering cutting the cord in your building, make sure your wireless retrofit lives up to your expectations with these tips.
Installation and Integration
First, determine which building system is the best candidate for a wireless control suite. Lighting and HVAC are the most common, says Jim Kohl, senior product manager for Trane, which produces a wireless HVAC control system.
“They typically share the same schedule and are also the two building systems that consume the most power,” Kohl explains. “If you’re looking for energy savings, HVAC and lighting are where you’ll find the low-hanging fruit.”
If you’re new to control systems and building management software, keep future scalability in mind as you compare products. Most FMs would rather have a single interface combining all control systems rather than separate dashboards for each one, Kohl notes. However, the wide variety of products on the market brings with it a multitude of communications protocols, some of which can’t speak with others. Before working with a vendor, assess your specific needs and wants to determine which systems fit best – for example, a business with closed-circuit TV running 24/7 may want to use Wi-Fi to relay the CCTV feed because it can handle a bigger volume of data, Kohl explains.
Measure and Manage
To get the most use out of any control system, it’s important that you’re tracking the right things. Energy efficiency is a common driver for purchasing control systems in the first place, so monitoring energy consumption with the goal of lowering it is a good first step. Unexpected spikes or drops can also indicate other problems, such as impending equipment failure.
“Depending on the electrical load when a space is occupied and what the outside temperature is, building operators likely have some expectations about what energy consumption should be,” says Kohl. “The next step would be to look for outliers, then dig deeper to find energy savings opportunities.”
The same dashboard you use to measure energy use, temperature, and other vital building stats can also monitor the health of the control system itself in some products, says Chuck Piccirillo, marketing director for ENCELIUM (a networked lighting control system) with OSRAM SYLVANIA.
“Visualization software can verify system settings remotely instead of physically entering each space to make sure the control system is in operation,” says Piccirillo. “It also helps when design intent or operational needs change – for example, you could apply changes to sensor settings remotely in seconds.”
Wireless controls are fairly low-maintenance outside of any space changes that require reprogramming. However, the batteries powering these devices may require periodic replacement. Some long-life batteries range over 15 years and are typically replaced in a control system upgrade long before they actually stop working, Kohl notes. Other systems may offer warning or monitoring functions to help you spot batteries that are about to fail, Piccirillo adds.
Janelle Penny firstname.lastname@example.org is senior editor of BUILDINGS.