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High Sales, Low Utilization

February 1, 2007
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Got a sophisticated cell phone but just use it to make calls? Welcome to the underused state of many intelligent building controls. Read about the CABA study examining what owners are doing, and what they should be doing.

High technology appeals to the collective imagination and dreams of facility owners, architects, and others in the construction and facility management industry. Implementing these systems, however, requires a sophisticated understanding of their capabilities and a mandate for life-cycle documentation that attractively offers “smart buildings” to the facility owner. Intelligent building controls systems are being offered to owners and designers as a concept; however, the full benefits are not currently realized due to weighing first cost over life-cycle cost and fear of new technology.

A parallel issue in the consumer world is the use of cell phones and personal data devices. These modern devices are sold with more and more capabilities, with current models offering games, cameras, personnel planners, music, task lists, electronic notebooks, address/contact lists, e-mail, and Internet access, in addition to phone service. Future models will offer movies, videos, AM/FM radio, and live television.

The modern world is hooked. The public is buying this technology in vast numbers as prices decrease regularly. Prices have dropped to the point that phone and data providers are giving away phones that two years ago sold for hundreds of dollars. Although many of us have embraced these devices, I would suggest that most of us are not using all of their capabilities. We often lack the commitment and understanding to learn and use all the features. For some, the new technology creates fear and anxiety. They own the devices, but are basically using them only as phones or occasionally as cameras.

THE PROMISE OF BUILDING AUTOMATION

The “smart building” or intelligent building controls system technology has a direct parallel. Price points are dropping as the capabilities of these systems are dramatically increasing. Designers and owners are sold on the value of highly intelligent building control systems as evidenced by a recent survey of building specifications conducted by Reed Construction Data/RSMeans for the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA).

RSMeans analysts searched hundreds of new projects for specifications that required intelligent building controls systems technology. The results of the survey indicated that government buildings, school districts, universities, colleges, and medical facilities are leaders in requiring intelligent buildings system technology for their buildings.

These systems have the capability to control lighting, HVAC systems, security, and fire protection, as well as many other systems. For the owner, intelligent building controls systems have great potential to conserve energy, shed load to avoid utility surge charges, and document and control energy usage while providing security monitoring and centralizing different systems. According to the study, current practice indicates that the systems are solely used to control and operate HVAC systems, and in some cases monitor energy usage. Like new data devices that are used as phones only, intelligent building controls systems are woefully underutilized.

Instead of wasting a few hundred dollars on a data device, building owners are losing thousands, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of the building by not realizing the full capabilities of these new systems. This decision is the result of lack of understanding of the systems’ capabilities, lack of commitment to demand full value for new building investments, first cost mentality over life cycle costs of the building, and fear of new technology.

New systems have the capability to address society’s pressing concerns for security and access control due to terrorist threats, fires, and industrial piracy. Additionally, building owners can reduce the cost of facility maintenance and labor with systems that are more centrally located, including controlled environments, clean and uninterrupted power and services, and monitoring from outside intrusion. Companies leasing space can also demand more control over lighting and HVAC systems. New intelligent building controls systems have the capability to respond to these enhanced requirements. Newer systems can also monitor and invoice tenants for extra services such as the use of building space outside of normal business hours.

MYRIAD REASONS

Why are designers and owners not using fully integrated systems controls in the design of buildings? There are many reasons, and the answer starts with an informed and involved owner. Professional designers design what the owner desires. If the owner lets the designer dictate the design, designers will default to what they know and choose the design with the least risk of professional liability. RSMeans interviews with owners and designers led to the conclusion that building owners are driving the design of building controls systems.

Another issue that was identified in the RSMeans survey is the problem of design segregation of building controls systems. A good example is a situation where an electrical engineer designed the lighting control system, a mechanical engineer designed the HVAC controls, and an outside consultant designed security, fire alarm, elevator controls, and parking access. To make matters worse, the building controls designer often relies on previous project specifications, which are essentially part of the mechanical specifications and do not adequately address the potential of full building control integration, including lighting, life safety, elevators, and security.

Other biases, such as keeping fire safety issues separate from the rest of the building controls and third party installation of security systems after initial construction, prevent adequate building control integration.

The cost of construction is the primary consideration of developers when building new office buildings. In these buildings, tenants often provide their own improvements, including lighting and security. Unless the tenant is also the owner, the life-cycle cost of building O&M is often not considered. There are significant benefits to owners of buildings with leased tenants who choose a fully integrated building controls system.

IN THE LONG RUN, HOWEVER …

In the study, the life-cycle cost benefits for fully integrated building controls systems was limited to 10 years due to the fast changing technological innovations in development for this market. Office buildings were chosen as the basis of the study. The results of the study illustrate present-value savings in first costs, energy savings, and maintenance for fully integrated building control systems to be $11.47/sq ft for office buildings 50,000 to 100,000/sq ft; $6.44/sq ft for office buildings 100,000 to 600,000/sq ft; and $3.39/sq ft for office buildings 1 million/sq ft and larger.

Other benefits were identified in the study that did not include life-cycle cost savings. These included reduction in vacancy rates due to improved tenant satisfaction and attraction of new tenants due to the benefits of fully integrated buildings. There were intangible benefits such as tenants feeling that the building was better controlled and a safer place to work. Other benefits included turning on lighting and bringing HVAC systems up to occupancy levels activated by the tenant when entering via parking access or the personnel security access system.

As an example, the last tenant leaving a space could reverse the process by reducing lighting and HVAC systems to a non-occupied state — thus saving the owner the wasted energy of having non-occupied spaces with lighting and HVAC at occupied energy usage levels. This process also improves security, because any activity in non-occupied areas would alert the security personnel of possible criminal activity.

An integrated security system with lighting and HVAC also reduces the cost of tenant improvements. If there are central systems that can be tapped into for lighting controls, HVAC controls, and security, the tenant does not have the expense of buying these separate systems. In addition, other utility services such as Internet access can be sold as part of the lease agreement, providing added revenue for the owner and reduced cost to the tenant.

There are also first-cost construction savings for fully integrating the building controls systems, which include an estimated 7% reduction in wiring costs by using a central control backbone system that monitors and controls security systems, lighting control systems, life safety systems, elevators, and HVAC systems as well as parking access and other systems. One less understood savings is the change in lighting systems that are often required if tenants vacate. Fully controlled integrated lighting systems can be modified with much less expense than traditional hard-wired control systems.

In conclusion, there are significant benefits to designing fully integrated intelligent building controls systems for new and existing buildings. Full cost savings are not as available with an existing building as with a new building, but in many cases, the savings in energy costs, maintenance costs, and improved tenant satisfaction justify the cost of changing to a fully integrated building controls system. There are many reputable vendors and contractors to assist owners in developing fully integrated intelligent building controls systems. CABA members and vendors are available to assist in this process.
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