Install carbon monoxide sensors to control exhaust fans so that the fans run only when carbon monoxide levels are high enough to require venting.
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Lighting can consume up to 35% of total energy used by a building. Upgrading inefficient lighting with energyefficient products can provide significant energy savings. Rebates for lighting retrofits are often available through the BC Hydro Powersmart Program and, as an approved contractor, we can assist you to access those rebates.
Kerr Controls Inc. is a BC Hydro Powersmart Alliance Contractor assisting our clients in identifying energy saving opportunities and accessing any qualifying rebates available through the BC Hydro Powersmart Program.
Today’s buildings rely so heavily on controls that it’s easy for everyone outside the facility department to overlook them. When building controls are doing their job, no one notices them. The building is comfortable, offices are optimally lit and things seem, well, normal.
But there comes a time when the building controls no longer perform optimally. And the complaints from unhappy building occupants begin mounting in your e-mail inbox. You know the problem. The building needs a controls overhaul. But how do you justify replacing those controls at perhaps $3,000 a controller in this economy? Sure, you can argue $300 in ongoing maintenance savings and maybe $600 annually in reduced energy usage. There’s lost productivity that could justify the remaining $2,100, but that’s hard to quantify.
Building controls experts suggest starting by identifying the problems your building controls are having, then approaching their replacement creatively. Here’s how the experts do it.
Few would disagree that building controls, as they age, develop performance problems. But the reasons for those problems are as varied as the buildings in which the controls function.
Jim Sinopoli, managing principal for Smart Buildings, lists common problems as getting repair parts and service on older controls, as well as more difficulty integrating one control system into other systems. “Older controls generally have proprietary protocols,” Sinopoli says.
“The problem of aging controls is not always a functional problem, as much as a need for improvement to meet the wants of a tenant, the inability to control the use of energy or the ability to reduce labor costs associated with operating less dependable equipment,” says Jack Althoff, owner representative, ProJX Inc.
But there are functional limitations to older control systems. Many do not offer capabilities like load-shedding or point-of-use zone control, says Althoff. With pneumatic or analog controls, tighter operating parameters are not possible because of the large swings in actuator travel inherent in such designs. “An electronic actuator can hold to one-half a degree easily,” says Althoff, “while an air diaphragm actuator can move as much as six degrees within its temperature setting.”
Aging controls are not always the culprit, according to Jack McGowan, CEO of Energy Control Inc. The building control problems that McGowan typically encounters are not technical issues or control-failure issues. “The biggest issue is that over time a variety of staff interfere with, circumvent and bypass systems,” McGowan says. “This is a symptom of the real problem, which is that there is rarely a disciplined long-term program to leverage controls, ensuring that they remain operational.”
By Rita Tatum – January 2011
McGowan says building controls have useful lives equal to or greater than the mechanical systems they control. “My primary recommendation to users is not to replace controls if they are functional,” McGowan says. While he admits 15 to 20 years is aging, some “aging” controls may have more life in them than others. McGowan points out BACnet came into being in 1995. Those interoperable controls are likely to have more longevity than their proprietary counterparts, provided they have been maintained effectively.
Kirk Beaudoin, territory facilities manager of North America retail operations for Nike, says that the question of whether controls are aging depends on the product they are controlling. “A light switch could last as long as the building itself, while any controls tied to computers or software often are obsolete in five years,” Beaudoin says.
“From a strictly obsolescence standpoint, controls are generally due for a face lift about every 10 years or so,” says Althoff. However, less proprietary controls may provide another five years of functionality, because they are more flexible.
Sinopoli agrees. “Anything beyond 10 to 12 years is aging.” Building controls, like all things electronic, tend to go through generations on a fast-track basis. “If there have been four upgrades in your building controls, it’s like using Windows 98 now that Windows 7 is out,” says Sinopoli. “You may run into problems trying to integrate with newer controls or getting a holistic view of your energy management use.”
In better economic times, replacing controls may be more easily argued in the boardroom. However, especially in today’s uncertain marketplace, installing a hybrid control system is a less costly way to achieve some of the benefits of a full replacement.
According to Althoff, 20-year-plus pneumatic systems often continue to perform their tasks adequately. “They are workhorses that can be retrofitted at the terminal end to convert the air pressure to direct digital control (DDC), which gives you a type of hybrid control system,” Althoff says.
In a hybrid controls application, the main valves continue to operate on pneumatic actuators. The pneumatic air signals are converted into DDC signals. These signals, in turn, receive and transmit data from zone thermostats, allowing tighter control in the building occupant’s personal zone.
While better than doing nothing, that approach has its limits. “These conversions allow building owners and operators good zone control without tearing out their main systems,” says Althoff. “However, they do not provide the same high level of energy conservation as a variable frequency drive that is controlled directly with a DDC signal.”
Another way to justify building controls upgrades is by changing them over in affordable phases. This option works well in multi-building campuses, such as university and medical campuses.
Sinopoli cites a large hospital campus that was having operational problems with its legacy controllers. Late last year it began replacing its older controllers. As the project is extensive and the health care environment requires optimum functionality in its buildings, the hospital decided to do so in phases. “That way, they can schedule areas in a building, making sure they can be down for the time involved in replacing the older controllers with new ones without jeopardizing patient care,” says Sinopoli.
By Rita Tatum – January 201
When Less Is More Some 15 plus years ago, Nike retail store lighting was designed for theatrical presentations, with dimming capabilities, strobe lights and music. As its marketing and presentation emphasis changed, the theatrics were abandoned but the lighting controls remained. “The existing controls in those stores was overkill,” says Kirk Beaudoin, territory facilities manager of North America retail operations for Nike. “It was like using a jet to run to the supermarket.”
And, like a jet, the controls systems needed considerable attention. Sometimes the lights and HVAC had to be shut off during business hours because the control system was down.
“We needed a simpler control system so that we could achieve cost savings in energy consumption, maintenance and repairs,” says Beaudoin. Now, retrofitted stores stay comfortable and the lights remain on so consumers can continue to shop and, in turn, generate more sales of Nike products.
Now, with simpler controls in place, Nike is seeing 20 percent savings on utility bills simply by having controls turn off its lighting and HVAC systems during non-store hours.
— Rita Tatum
1. Are new building controls required to market the building or increase productivity of a business unit? A national property management company was marketing several floors in a Chicago high-rise office last year. The building had a constant volume air system, while other buildings in the area had more sensitive and efficient DDC control systems.
“Fortunately, the building was mechanically designed with individual supply dampers at each floor,” says Althoff. “We were able to guarantee that the floors being considered could be individually upgraded with a DDC system, allowing their spaces to be fully LEED-compliant.” Stand-alone controllers were installed with a new network backbone system, so the building owners could decide where they wanted to convert next. “This meant paralleling the old and new systems,” says Althoff. “But the project worked seamlessley as far as tenant comfort was concerned.”
2. 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?
LEED certification and other energy-conserving designations for buildings can be win-win situations that are good for owners, good for tenants and good for business. Updated building controls not only make it easier to meet the HVAC requirements of such certifications and designations, but also make the on-going record keeping required for LEED easier to complete.
3. Is the current control system obsolete or is the building being penalized in increased service costs? Obsolescence often forces changes in building controls. Sometimes, facility managers are all but forced to upgrade controls because they are no longer supported by the manufacturer. While this situation does not give facility managers many options, it doesn’t have to break the bank. If a company announces that it will no longer be supporting a specific line of control systems, facility managers can begin a parallel installation around those controls that allows the building to continue functioning.
“You can then often save components from the existing system and keep the old system operating until you have the monetary allowance or marketing reason to fully convert,” suggests Althoff. “If abrupt failure is imminent, local control networks can be used until you have time to add the backbone and front-end systems.”
During the 1980s and 1990s, design professionals were often more focused on improving comfort conditions with controls. Now that energy use is a bigger priority than it was then, building controls need to be able to respond to energy management needs.
Integrating multiple systems with building controls allows the facility manager to benefit from many cost and operational opportunities. “Enterprise energy management is of great interest to many owners and leveraging real-time metering is essential,” says McGowan. He points to rules in the District of Columbia and New York City requiring energy benchmarking using Energy Star. “And then there is California’s law that mandates by 2011 an energy performance history before you can sell a building,” he says.
“The next frontier for controls is energy markets with demand response (DR) being the first �killer app,'” says McGowan. The development of controls that permit demand response while minimizing the impact on occupants “represents a major opportunity to get paid by utilities for leveraging your controls to respond to DR events,” says McGowan.
For example, the University of New Mexico helps to maintain the reliability of the local electric grid with building controls feeding into its enterprise energy management system. The system captures real-time energy data from 65 buildings on campus and converts the building controls information into knowledge tools for improving building performance. The university represents about 2 percent of the local electric grid’s total load. The building controls system can respond to grid status by altering consumption during high demand time periods.
New controls can save two kinds of energy. The first, of course, is electricity. But the second — the energy expended by the facility staff — is also a precious commodity. And developments on the drawing board promise to save even more of the second kind of energy. Sinopoli sees building controls becoming more intelligent and more diagnostic in the near future. “There are software tools — fault detection diagnostic tools, based on research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology on HVAC systems — that can identify what might be the problem,” he says.
Such innovations could not only save facility departments time, but also reduce downtime or prevent building-related problems that could diminish occupant productivity. As they arrive, these capabilities will offer another set of reasons for building controls upgrades.
Rita Tatum, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, has more than 30 years of experience covering facility design and technology.
By Rita Tatum – January 2011