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Get Control of the Building

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Commercial building controls can play a pivotal role in maximizing the efficiency of HVAC systems. Nonetheless, commercial building controls are often viewed as cost prohibitive for buildings smaller than 5,000 to 10,000 square feet. One reason: in the past, commercial building control systems were custom built. A controls contractor was required for installation, which also drove up costs. In fact, only about 5 percent of smaller buildings typically utilize building controls, according to Chad Senger, Product Development Manager for Systems and Controls for Daikin Applied headquarters in Minneapolis, MN.

“People ask themselves How long will it take to pay off this investment?” Senger said.

Larry Weber, General Manager of Building Control Systems for Honeywell International, located in Minneapolis, MN, agreed, adding that balancing cost and comfort is an ongoing challenge for building owners and contractors.

“Comfort and energy efficiency are on opposite ends of the scale,” Weber said.

Reduced Costs
Preprogrammed systems largely eliminate the need for a controls contractor, making it more advantageous for contractors to integrate building controls into smaller buildings. Many commercial building control systems also implement intelligent equipment that communicates directly to the cloud, much like garage door openers that operate via Wi-Fi and can be controlled via mobile device, according to Senger

The advantages are significant. Commercial buildings with control systems have 10 to 15 percent lower energy costs than comparable buildings without them. Building control systems can also maximize the comfort of building occupants. For instance, anyone who has ever struggled to stay awake during a meeting conducted in a stuffy room understands that poor ventilation can have an adverse effect on productivity. However, a commercial building control system can be programmed to send a signal to start a Demand Controlled Ventilation (DCV) system when CO2 levels get too high. The result – less stuffiness and drowsiness – without the need to open the door for fresh air, according to Weber.

“At certain CO2 levels, you start to feel less attentive,” Weber said.

Without commercial building controls, buildings such as courthouses that experience high occupancy diversity often operate HVAC systems on schedules that don’t necessarily coincide with occupancy patterns. Some owners or tenants even resort to “just in case” scheduling for HVAC systems – placing systems in full operation during all hours that the building could possibly be occupied, often resulting in tremendous energy waste.

Integrating building control systems into HVAC operations in buildings with high occupancy diversity can eliminate such waste, according to Senger.
“If nobody’s in there don’t bring any (heating, cooling or ventilation) in,” Senger said.

Weber agreed, adding that commercial building controls can help to maintain comfort levels for occupied spaces, while setting back temperature controls for less used spaces,

“Controls can figure how long you need to run equipment to maintain comfort,” Weber said.

Many contractors also have service agreements with their clients, at least for the first year after the conclusion of the job. Installing building control systems with remote access can greatly reduce the expense associated with carrying out those agreements, according to Senger.

“They make more money if they don’t have to run out to the job site constantly,” Senger said.

Packaged commercial building control systems also provide peace of mind for contractors and building owners or tenants alike. That’s because packaged systems are designed to work together, rather than assembled from separate sources, and are therefore more likely to operate properly, according to Senger.

“Systems sourced separately can lead to finger pointing and withheld payments,” Senger said.

In addition, integrating commercial building control systems into HVAC systems can also facilitate compliance with government regulations such as Title 24 (California) and commercial building standards such as those from ASHRAE and LEED. Integration of commercial building controls into HVAC also helps maintain high performance standards, according to Senger.

“They build better buildings,” Senger said.

Making HVAC Systems Work Better
Building controls integrated into a well-designed HVAC system can enhance optimal performance (with minimal waste) while maintaining consistently comfortable indoor conditions. Integrating commercial building controls can also address many challenges associated with maintaining indoor comfort, although they cannot completely compensate for poor design and installation. For instance, poorly designed system HVAC systems must often run much longer than well-designed systems to maintain consistent air temperatures. introducing building controls can mitigate (but not eliminate) waste by ensuring that systems run only as long as needed, accounting for the associated inefficiency, Weber explained.

“Controls can do a lot, but they can’t do everything,” Weber said.

Likewise, retrofits represent a challenge for operating efficient HVAC systems. Prepackaged building control systems are almost never adequate. One cost-efficient solution for retrofits is to install a central control with communicating thermostats for each room integrated into the interface accessible by a mobile device or laptop, according to Senger.

Enhancing the Bottom Line
Integrating commercial building controls can also improve a contractor’s bottom line. Buildings with building controls earn more LEED points and command higher rates. In addition, customers are more likely to view buildings with control systems as being higher quality, with the contractors benefitting by gaining repeat business, according to Senger.

“A happy customer is a customer that returns,” Senger said.

Audrey Henderson

Posted In: Technology

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