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Managing More With Less

October 11, 2011
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Before building automation systems, facility managers controlled various systems within a building by physically visiting pieces of equipment, turning them on or off and making the necessary adjustments to ensure a safe and comfortable environment.

They were usually assisted by a staff large enough to perform the tasks required to properly operate and maintain the equipment and record data associated with equipment operations.

Today, thanks to more sophisticated control systems, those same facility managers utilize computers or use handheld devices to manage the equipment and systems operating in their facilities, while collecting a variety of data that enhances their decision-making process.

As a result, fewer people are required to operate the equipment, and facility managers find themselves with more time to devote to other job responsibilities, using a wealth of information at their disposal to make better, more informed decisions that impact building operations and performance.

What Is A Building Automation System?

A building automation system (BAS) integrates building equipment and systems, using an information technology-based infrastructure to gather information, logically organize it and deliver it where and when it is needed.

Critical building systems, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and fire and security, operate and interface with each other to more effectively manage the energy, comfort and safety needs of the building and its occupants.

The BAS serves as the hub of these systems.

A more sophisticated BAS can also integrate data from other building systems, such as lighting controls, systems and energy meters and submeters.

As a result, facility managers can use these systems as a single point of interface to interact with all of these systems, even on a global scale.

The BAS should be able to collect information and provide an accurate picture of what is going on in a building at any given time.

A system that can accurately graph a number of data points over time, detect patterns and provide trending information becomes critical to the decision-making process, particularly decisions regarding energy management.

In addition, facility managers should look for a BAS that is capable of collecting and storing years'' worth of data and features reporting systems that help facility managers mine that valuable data.

A BAS allows facility managers to see where and when energy is being used, where it is being wasted and where improvements are working to save energy or increase comfort.

Using the BAS as a tool, they can dig even deeper and search for the source of operational inefficiencies.

Enhancing Building Operations

The real power of a BAS lies in its features.

Facility managers can use the BAS in its most basic functionality to schedule zones and turn equipment on and off as necessary.

And, with the help of key performance indicators embedded into the system, they can analyze whether a building is performing properly or if it is operating out of range at any time during the day.

Alarm and trending features can be used to provide maintenance reminders and to troubleshoot equipment.

In addition, facility managers can use advanced features to gain even more efficiencies.

One example of this type of feature is demand limiting and load rolling.

Demand limiting predicts potential energy peaks by monitoring the building''s utility meters, then employing an appropriate control strategy to ensure that prioritized energy-consuming loads are curtailed until such times of the day when energy usage is billed at lower rates.

Load rolling reduces total energy usage by continually turning off noncritical equipment.

Even more efficiencies can be gained by integrating other building systems, such as lighting controls, into the BAS.

For example, integrated lighting controls can use motion sensors to detect whether a space is occupied and turn lights on or off as needed.

Similarly, thanks to system integration, motion or occupancy sensors can determine whether a room booked for a meeting is actually being used.

The BAS can be programmed to release a previously reserved room if after 10 minutes the sensors detect no motion in the room.

Security badges or identification cards can also be tied into the system, enabling lights to turn on or off when a badge or card owner enters or exits a building.


To ensure the accuracy of the data a BAS provides and meet goals for energy efficiency and building performance, it is important to properly maintain the system.

Several steps ensure getting the most out of the BAS investment:

  1. Post-installation commissioning
  2. Periodic re-commissioning
  3. Regular maintenance.
The first step, post-installation commissioning, ensures that the BAS is operating according to the original design specifications.

However, it is important to note that commissioning does not provide the broader picture — one which shows the full capabilities of the BAS and how the system can impact a building.

The second step, periodic re-commissioning, can help correct these problems by evaluating the system against the way the building is actually used, rather than just against the design requirements.

Re-commissioning programs often include a training component for facility managers and operators to ensure that they can keep the system operating optimally.

The third step, maintenance of the BAS, is critical to its ability to help facility managers make decisions on how to operate the building.

Sensors go out of calibration, equipment is added or removed, spaces change and people override systems — just a few of the reasons that regularly scheduled maintenance should be conducted by qualified vendors who know the equipment and understand the software that controls the equipment.

In addition, the service provider should have the ability to configure the BAS to provide greater visibility into how a building is operating and help implement cost-saving strategies.

In buildings where few things change from year to year, an annual inspection of the BAS is the minimum requirement.

However, in facilities that experience more frequent changes, consider more frequent maintenance inspections.

The goal of facility management is to ensure that the BAS is optimized to provide multiple benefits — more than just operating equipment and controlling temperature in a building.

By taking full advantage of the capabilities a BAS provides, facility managers can look closely at energy and cost savings as well as design strategies to address their changing environment — all while ensuring a comfortable, safe and sustainable environment.

Juliet Pagliaro Herman, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Associate (LEED-GA), is the product manager for planned service in North America for Johnson Controls Inc. She serves as the board vice president of Milwaukee Community Service Corps, an organization that trains at-risk youth for jobs in the construction trades. Dimitri Papadopoulos is the product technical support manager for service planning. He has worked for Johnson Controls for over 15 years. For additional information, please visit

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