What Is An Intelligent Building? Part 2: Intelligent Building Construction and Operation

November 2, 2005
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In the first half of this series, we looked at the definition of an intelligent building and what was necessary in the design process to ensure that the intelligent attributes were incorporated. This article looks at what is involved in the crucial phases of construction and operation of an intelligent building.

Project Negotiation and Value Engineering

Once an intelligent building is designed, the first challenge is to make sure that the team remains committed to keeping it intelligent throughout construction. There are a lot of discussions about the best way to contract for an intelligent building. The traditional model is to hire an architect who, in turn, builds a team with an MEP consultant and they, in turn, create project documents. General contractors are then asked to bid on the construction documents and assemble a project price using their team of subcontractors. Unfortunately during this process, the desire to make a building intelligent is often lost in the confusion of keeping the project within the allocated budget.

Often, we try to bring projects within budget through a process called value engineering, implying that we are enhancing the value of a project. In reality, this process often removes areas of high value in a desperate attempt to keep the project under budget. It is important that the design and construction team agrees early on as to the importance and priority of the intelligent attributes and works to keep them in scope, even when project budgets become a challenge.

There are a few alternative construction models that may work better for intelligent buildings. The simplest is a D-B process where the owner contracts with a D-B contractor to provide a project with the desired features for a set price. Another alternative is to break out the intelligent building portion of the project. This can be as nominal as breaking it into a separate specification section (Division 17 has often been used and Division 25 is designated by the new CSI-2004). In many cases, the intelligent building portions may also be split out in a separate RFP or on the bid forms for a supplier decision directly by the owner. The most radical approach, which is being used on projects outside of North America, is to hire a firm to design the building’s technologies and they, in turn, hire an architect and the rest of the project team. These approaches have the same desired result: to focus on creating a better building and not be overcome by the challenges of budget and schedule.

Construction Processes

On an intelligent building project, the design document files should readily extend into the construction process. The goal is to keep as much of the construction process as “paperless” as possible. Keeping updated electronic documentation is valuable, not just because it reduces cost during the construction process, but also because it forms the basis for continuous documentation of the project. In reality, the mission of many buildings is constantly in flux, resulting in the construction process never being totally done. Having accurate documentation of how the building is constructed and modified provides the ability to bring this information into operations.

From an environmental or green perspective we want to use construction processes that are sustainable. This means looking to minimize construction waste, utilize environmentally friendly materials, develop on brownfield sites, and recycle materials whenever possible.

Facility Operations

At the heart of an intelligent building are the benefits and changes that will occur in operations. The reason that we look to implement intelligent attributes is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the operations staff. The operation of most commercial buildings today is a challenging and often frustrating task. Operations staffs are bombarded with phone calls, meetings, and other tasks that leave little time for planning and strategic operations. In addition, many facility managers have received little, if any, formal training on how to successfully complete their complex and demanding jobs. As a result, the operation of a facility has become a craft, one that is often self taught, rarely well documented, and often, not repeatable.

A facility with a strong operating engineer may run efficiently and have satisfied occupants, yet the building across the street with a less experienced staff may run poorly and be uncomfortable. Add in that these buildings are often poorly commissioned and have been constantly modified, and the result is many buildings that do not operate properly.

Unfortunately for the business managers, owners, and investors of these buildings, there are no checks, balances, or controls in place today to let them know if their building is well operated or not.

One of the primary goals in an intelligent building is to provide the technology, tools, and processes to improve the operation of the facility. In many cases, these tools will be provided for the existing on-site operations staff. In other cases on-site operations staff will be replaced or augmented with services from a centralized operations center or service.

Building Management Tools

An intelligent building will typically have thousands of pieces of data available. The goal, however, is not to present all of this information to the facility operator. Rather, tools will be used to evaluate and prioritize, presenting only the required information to the operator. Examples of these tools include:
  • Complete integration. System integration of all critical building systems, including HVAC, electrical, fire alarm, security, video monitoring, and digital signage. All of these systems will be integrated on the building network and will share this infrastructure with other applications including data, voice, and video. This information will need to be secured and will travel on both the private and public networks. Open standards are at the heart of enabling the intelligent building as solutions including BACnet, LonTalk, oBIX, Modbus, and other protocols used to enable integration.
  • Tenant portals. One critical element of an intelligent building is providing a method for the building occupants (tenants, employees, associates, students, patients, etc.) to interact with the building and building management. In the past, this has been done with phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and faxes. Today, it is most effectively done with an internal website called a portal. Tenant portals provide information about the facility, contact information, directories, energy efficiency, emergency preparedness, and a central place to enter issues. Information from the portal can then be used to drive O&M requests. Since the portal is a two-way communications channel, it can also be used to collect critical feedback on occupant satisfaction and comfort levels.
  • System dashboards. Like the dash of your car, a system dashboard provides a summary of critical building alarms, energy information, and key maintenance items at a glance. The dashboard is responsible for summarizing all the critical building information and presenting it in the proper format for different members of the facility management team. For example, the operating engineer requires detailed information about specific mechanical systems, while the property manager needs a summary of energy and operating expenses over the last four weeks. The difference between a system dashboard and a typical user interface for an integrated BAS is in focus. Dashboards are more focused on sorting and filtering data to provide the information needed to perform specific roles. BAS tend to be much more generalized and designed for the operating engineer.
  • Next generation maintenance management programs. Maintenance management systems typically track workorders and schedule repairs, and PM. In the future, these systems will be closely integrated with the building systems, allowing for critical data evaluation from equipment, determining if it is operating properly, and what maintenance is required. These systems will also be used to deliver requests from building occupants by integrating with the portal. Operating personnel, both in house and contractors, will automatically be dispatched using wireless communications to their cell phones and PDAs. This allows for more proactive operations and for increased efficiency.
  • Enterprise energy management. Most energy management systems today are focused only on the operation of the building. This includes functions such as demand limiting, scheduling, and system optimization. Intelligent buildings take this one step further by incorporating real-time utility rate information and making energy management decisions, not just for a single building, but also for groups of buildings. By managing energy in concert with the utility, there is the ability to not only reduce energy usage, but more importantly, to dramatically decrease energy expenditure.

The Challenge

In the beginning of this series, we defined an intelligent building as: “Use of technology and process to create a building that is safer and more productive for its occupants and more operationally efficient for its owners.”

In simpler terms, the goal is to provide a better building. The result is a facility that uses less energy, has dramatically lower operating expenses, and provides an improved indoor environment and better responsiveness for the occupants. All of this provides a significant return on investment. As an industry, we know how to deliver on intelligent buildings. Many of the products and solutions are already readily available and understood within our industry. Others will be available within the next few years. The challenge that we face is to move forward together to start delivering on the truly intelligent building.IBT

Recent Articles by Paul Ehrlich, P.E.

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