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What do I need to know about my building’s control system?

Friday, August 17, 2012

We’ve come up with a few key things you should understand about your buildings’ automation system. As a building manager, operator, or owner you should have a grip on the following:

  • Common problems for aging controls systems
  • Determining and stretching the useful life of controls
  • Establishing the need for new controls

Common problems for aging controls systems

Problems with aging control systems can stem from a variety of places. Some problems are simply a need for improvement to meet the tenants wants/needs while others are functional limitations. Possibly the most common issue is the lack of a long term plan to leverage and ensure that the control system remains operational.

  • Need for Improvement – Opportunities:
    • control energy use
    • reduce labor costs associated with operating less dependable equipment
  • Functional Limitations:
    • load shedding capabilities
    • point of use zone control
  • Lack of a Long Term Plan
    • staff have interfered with and circumvented the systems leaving them ineffective

Determining and Stretching the Useful Life of Controls

As a general rule most experts agree that controls are due for a face lift every 10 years or so. Anything beyond 10 years is aging, like many electronic devices, controls tend to go through generations on a fast-track basis. The life of controls will vary depending on their flexibility, if the controls are proprietary to a brand of equipment they usually have less ability to integrate with newer controls and therefore will not produce a holistic view of your building’s total energy use. If the system is less proprietary and more inter-operable there may be more life left in even a 15 year old system. BACnet came into being in 1995, these systems are likely to have more longevity.

Options for extending the life of an aging controls system include:

  • Installing of a hybrid control system
  • Upgrade the system in affordable phases

Establishing the Need for New Controls

Taking a simplistic approach, answer these three questions:

  • Are new building controls required to market the building or increase productivity of a business unit?
  • 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?
  • Is the current control system obsolete or is the building being penalized in increased service costs?

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