If your building control system – whether it be a simple thermostat, or a complicated system for fire, security, lighting, and HVAC equipment – isn’t running properly, it can cost you money and energy.
Building control systems can make you aware of operational anomalies, and they can help you understand your building’s energy intensity over the course of the business day, but there are many things that can negatively affect the operation of the system.
“Building controls are connected to air handlers, pumps, chillers, and boilers – big mechanical equipment – and a lot of things can go wrong in that interface,” says Greg Turner, director of global offerings for Honeywell Building Solutions.
Human error is perhaps the largest (and worst) problem that can occur with a building control system. “Someone trying to make sure he/she maintains a comfortable operating environment can bypass something, manually open a valve, disconnect an actuator, and then walk away,” says Turner. “The system may stay that way for weeks or months, wasting a whole lot of energy.”
Sometimes, errors are due to ineffective staff training. “If the staff isn’t properly trained in what the equipment’s doing and how it’s affecting the control of specific equipment, then you’re going to have problems with the control system,” says Reggie Jackson, a sales engineer with Norcross, GA-based Energy Control Systems. “The system isn’t going to run itself. There needs to be somebody who understands what the controls are going to do and how they’re going to save energy.”
Well-trained staff members should be able to spot the anomalies detected by the control system and know how to respond. Additionally, they need to be able to see anomalies within the system.
“Because it’s a mechanical system, things naturally break,” says Turner. “Valves, over the course of time, start to leak, dampers get stuck open or closed, filters get dirty, belts slip on air handlers. All kinds of things happen in the mechanical system – if the building control system doesn’t detect and report those things, it can lead to lost productivity and damaged equipment.”
One of the easiest ways to prevent these problems is to improve visibility within the system. Turner compares the control system to a check-engine light in a car. “You have to develop a system that allows you each day to understand the overall health of it,” says Turner. “How many things are on alarm? How long have they been in alarm? How many things are using more or less energy than they’re expected to use? What areas of the building aren’t achieving their setpoints? That report card will let you know if the system is healthy or not. The next thing is making sure you’ve got working procedures; in some cases, you have to have sensing systems in place to know if something has been bypassed.”
Jeff Singer, marketing communications director for Crestron, recommends choosing a system that includes audiovisual elements, and making sure that systems within the building control system aren’t competing with each other. “Integrating the lighting, the HVAC, and the AV enables you to maximize energy efficiency,” says Singer. “For example, some companies are just controlling lighting, and one of the ways they claim to be reducing energy costs is through daylight harvesting. But [you have to] balance that with room temperature. In warmer climates, or in the summer, if you leave the shades open to let natural light in, it may heat up the room.”
According to Singer, a building control system that’s integrated on a single platform will provide the maximum efficiency, comfort, and energy savings.
Turner recommends an open, Web-based system that is easy to maintain. “Look for products that support the latest Microsoft standards and keep up-to-date over time,” says Turner. “And look for things that support mobile devices because they certainly improve the productivity of your maintenance staff, your response time, and awareness when something is wrong.”
Amanda B. Piell ([email protected]) is assistant editor for Buildings magazine.