Retrofit Guide for Building Automation

07/01/2015 | By Janelle Penny

How to cut through the hype and find the best system for you

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Building automation systems (BAS) can do so much more than energy management. Intuitive interfaces can help FMs find hot spots, catch malfunctioning equipment, and target maintenance where it’s most needed.

The market is flush with options for your facility, but buying one of these systems is a complex decision that must be customized for each building. Maximize your investment and hit the ground running with these BAS purchasing tips.

Scalability from the Start
It can be tempting to focus on your building’s biggest energy hog (typically lighting or HVAC) at this stage. However, tackling this first is short-sighted. Focus on your broader goal first – for example, reducing energy consumption – and then return to more specific objectives, such as trimming lighting-related energy use first. Aim for a BAS that can expand to control additional building systems later if you’re satisfied with the initial savings.

“People tend to say ‘I need an HVAC control system’ because that has historically been the biggest energy load in a building. They don’t realize that with broader solutions, they can save a lot more,” says Danny Yu, CEO of Daintree Networks, which develops wireless controls for building automation. “That’s the benefit of technology that has emerged in the last few years from companies that are more software-centric. In the past, companies were more focused on selling hardware, not on giving users more applications – like how phones were 10 or 15 years ago.”

Arby’s Restaurant Group took a similar path when they investigated HVAC improvements a few years ago. The initial plan – deploying programmable thermostats that would save 4-5% on each restaurant’s electric bill – quickly expanded once the team found a scalable BAS that would increase savings by enabling more control than a thermostat would provide. Their chosen system also allows greater visibility and performance tracking. The system has since been installed in roughly 880 restaurants and manages more than 2,600 HVAC systems. Another 60 restaurants will receive the solution this year.

“Our goals were simple – standardize our thermostats across our portfolio and manage setbacks to a company standard to benefit the savings offered from a proven technology,” says Frank Inoa, director of engineering for Arby’s Restaurant Group. “The entire process was a learning experience. The more benefits we uncovered from different manufacturers, the bigger the wish list became for our future system. By the time we were ready to pilot various systems, we were quite educated on what it should look like.”

Defining your objectives in this way will help you navigate the next step – examining your existing team and assets, a necessary hurdle that will help you weed out BAS products that don’t fit well.

“Assess whether all or part of your services will be self-performed or delivered by a service provider,” recommends Paul Oswald, managing director of CBRE/ESI, which provides building management services that include BAS integration. “Asking questions regarding available time and skill level is critically important to making sure that the people part of the equation is adequately addressed. Then, once this element is understood, assess the current state of the building’s systems and determine the best technology path to enable the solution.”

Integrate Upgrade Replace
No changes are made to the existing system Same controls and equipment, but with new software and interfaces Remove both control
hardware and software
Add gateways or interfaces Allow the legacy product to
interface with other systems
Keep existing equipment
Maintain access to information from the legacy system   New controls and software

Define Your Purchase Criteria
After thoroughly determining what your goals are and what existing resources (both human and technological) you have, start developing a list of requirements that your eventual BAS purchase will have to meet. ASHRAE’s 2015 update to Guideline 13: Specifying Building Automation Systems walks readers through typical features, important project considerations, and tips on creating a BAS specification that meets your needs. It can prove an invaluable resource in understanding what’s available and helping you weigh the pros and cons of different features.

Ron Bernstein, president of Ron Bernstein Consulting Group and a member of ASHRAE’s Guideline 13 development committee, recommends that you also find a neutral advisor or automation consultant and develop a master plan with them before you start speaking with vendors. This will help you avoid accidental bias from sales pitches. Ideally, your consultant should be familiar with the different configurations described in Guideline 13 to help you determine what setup is best for your building.

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