Building owners and facility managers are continuously looking to boost their bottom line and increase efficiency across their buildings. One highly productive approach to optimizing building operations and reducing costs is integrating and automating building systems such as HVAC, lighting, fans, blinds and more.
Recent technological advances have changed the game for how systems integrators, building automation contractors, original equipment manufacturers and others approach zone-level integration and control across a facility. For decades, programmable direct digital controls (DDC) were the solution of choice. However, application-specific integrated room controllers that incorporate more comprehensive capabilities are starting to take the place of DDC, as they offer sophisticated aesthetics and design, and can significantly reduce the time and cost required to install and commission many types of building systems.
Leveraging Benefits through Integrated Technology
Prior to the emergence of integrated room control technology, proprietary, programmable controller technology was the norm. Each controller typically needs to be individually programmed by a manufacturer-certified HVAC technician and supported with software and licensing for each room or zone in a building, resulting in longer installation and commissioning times and higher cost. The more sensors for temperature, lighting, etc. that a controller must manage, the more complex the programming and installation becomes, and the more challenging it is to scale building system integration across a larger facility. For building managers looking to implement a building management system (BMS), the controllers must also be programmed for specific sequences of operation to network with the building system as well, further increasing cost and time.
Fortunately, application-specific integrated room controllers have been developed that capitalize on newer technologies such as wireless networking. These controllers incorporate more of the capabilities already built into the unit, reducing the time and cost required for installation and commissioning. The controllers are typically simple to understand and install, cutting down on the need for specialized technicians, and work right out of the box by setting the HVAC equipment to the correct set point. This combined savings can result in significantly lower total cost of installation.
More than ever before, integrated room controllers allow for sophisticated levels of building system controls. Many now include features that enable automatically adjusting set points and modes based on occupancy sensors, modulating outputs that more efficiently control heating and cooling equipment, as well as regulate and control fan speeds. In addition, the controllers can react to indoor air quality via demand response solutions, have the ability to monitor and network verify in room conditions and processes, and provide important network information to facility managers relating to diagnostics, alarming and building optimization capabilities.
For example, an integrated network room controller designed for a hotel room will include a complete ecosystem with necessary controls for heating and cooling, lighting scenes, blind / shade control, room diagnostics, occupancy sensing, and most importantly, guest comfort. These controllers also provide a related sequence of operation programming and usually include a simple-to-use local display / interface. For university dorm room settings, integrated controllers can control in-room comfort and automatically adjust set points based on room occupancy to maximize energy efficiency. They can also automatically de-energize HVAC systems if the windows are left open, as well as notify the user that a window has been opened. With this type of a solution, colleges and universities can make tremendous operational efficiency gains by increasing the amount of information the facility maintenance team has at all times and locations within the campus.
Finally, a key advantage of integrated room controllers stems from their support of open protocols, allowing them to easily integrate with third party technology and larger systems, which can in turn be controlled using a BMS. Integrated room controllers designed with native wireless capabilities can be managed remotely and deployed more easily, increasing their return on investment (ROI).
Elevating Design Aesthetics for Room Control Technology
As buildings in various industries, including hospitality, retail, education, casinos and more, aim to deliver a unique guest experience while driving operational efficiencies, an emerging class of integrated room controllers offers increasingly sophisticated design options for building managers, architects and designers.
These design-conscious elements work for large commercial and small- and medium-sized buildings, and include customizable characteristics such as casings, fascias and screen color options. These displays and screens can be easily configured to reflect the company’s logo and modified to reflect the buttons and information that are important to the room occupant.
Key Characteristics When Evaluating Integrated Room Control Technology in a Facility
Cost, functionality and design are among the top factors building owners should examine when selecting room control technology. However, additional factors must also be considered that can dramatically impact the effectiveness of the technology. For example, building owners should view the time to commission technology as a potential advantage – overall shorter install times can result in faster ROI. Another important factor is building occupant convenience. Whether installed as a retrofit or in new construction, integrated controllers can be commissioned with little work above a ceiling and no enclosures to mount, creating minimal disruption throughout the process. These key factors, along with networking and scalability capabilities, should impact the route building owners take in selecting room control technology for their facility and can create a tangible competitive advantage over competitors who use DDC devices.
Thanks to rapidly evolving integrated room controller technology, new capabilities continue to emerge making it possible to install controllers with essential built-in functionality. This can dramatically reduce the total install cost while opening up new competitive possibilities for contractors and integrators who install these systems.
As a first step, system integrators, control contractors, OEMs and other users should review upcoming projects and ask themselves if the extra flexibility of the DDC is necessary for the building, or if they can maximize occupant comfort with an integrated controller. Most commercial building managers will find the integrated controller will be the more appropriate choice. At the very least, users should investigate the potential advantage of utilizing application-specific integration controllers to reduce installation time and increase profitability.
JIm Sandelin, Sr. is vice president, Buildings Americas for Schneider Electric.