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