Chances are, the buildings of tomorrow will be smarter, safer, more automated and computerized than the buildings in which we now live, work, shop and play. Sunlight will be used with maximum efficiency to boost indoor lighting. Lighting will work in concert with security. Security will mesh with life safety systems and HVAC will monitor itself for minimum energy consumption.

Yet all these things can be done today, thanks to the growth of integrated building systems (IBS). But one of the biggest issues with IBS is the cost of initial investment versus the long-term savings they promise.

Proponents tout convenience, since an IBS allows component systems to be customized, enabling them to perform tasks that were a pipe dream a few years ago. However, the primary attraction of an IBS is its ability to conserve energy dollars. But these systems are not inexpensive propositions and relatively few of them have been installed. Tom Ike, director of commercial integrated systems at Lutron, guessed that 10 percent of buildings are totally integrated but thinks that number will increase significantly as technology costs reach affordable levels.

“I think if the cost continues to lower, as owners become more aware of the benefits of these systems from a productivity standpoint, from an energy-saving standpoint, from the ability of governments to affect these standards, I see it becoming more and more of a necessity in a building rather than a luxury,” Ike said.

IBS and the green movement

The fate of IBS, which produce so-called “smart” or “intelligent” buildings, may be tied in part to environmental politics. Do an Internet search for the term “IBS” and the California Energy Commission Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program project Web site is one of the first things to pop up.

If it’s true that California leads the pack in environmental policies, then Ike’s prediction that IBS will become a necessity seems trenchant. The PIER site is a comprehensive guide to how IBS will make construction more green. You’ll find information on daylighting and productivity, HVAC design, skylights and integrated ceilings, residential duct placement and outdoor lighting—all with a decidedly environmental slant.

PIER’s mission statement says the “program conducts public interest energy research that seeks to improve the quality of life for California’s citizens by providing environmentally sound, safe, reliable and affordable energy services and products.” One of their concerns is the development and demonstration of technologies “not adequately addressed by competitive and regulated markets and that can make California’s buildings healthier, more energy efficient and more affordable.”

In other words, they promote energy-savings programs that private developers wouldn’t normally embrace. But there is a possible hitch. With a call for reduced regulation emanating from Washington, and for a state facing a huge budget deficit and a gubernatorial recall that might cause a policy upheaval, a program such as PIER—which can allocate $62 million for research and development—might look like a tantalizing target for funding cuts.

Added-value technology

About those potential savings: the Intelligent Building Management Solutions (IBMS) group claims a typical skyscraper with integrated systems gets a 30-percent savings in operational costs, a figure PIER also publicizes. IBMS, a multinational based in the Middle East, also says IBS-equipped buildings have longer lifecycles, scalability of systems and can increase property value because the added-value technology “may increase the appeal of your facilities to tenants and prospective buyers.”

What can this added-value technology look like? Lutron, one of the industry leaders in lighting control systems, offers Homeworks, a residential IBS developed about 10 years ago, and several commercial systems, the newest being Grafik 7000, released in June 2003.

Ike said Grafik 7000, built on a continuum of products, allows complete dimming, switching and integration to other building systems for entire buildings or campuses and gives graphical representation of the building space and its lighting. Grafik 7000’s stronger monitoring, metering and reporting capabilities can stand alone; prior versions had to tie in other products.

“It integrates with building management systems, HVAC systems, security and life safety systems—certainly audio/visual systems—really any other type of building systems, and there are numerous protocols we can use to do that,” Ike said.

Using a basic template, and with the number of circuits and customer requirements in mind, Lutron tailors Grafik 7000 to a particular user by working closely with the architects, consulting engineers, electrical engineer and contractors.

“But primarily, the way that you get most of the information is by speaking to the person that’s utilizing the system,” Ike said.

If a user wanted custom security features, Ike said Grafik 7000 could do a number of things. For example, if the security system were to trip, the lights would turn on to full brightness.

“At that time, the security cameras could focus in on that area—and no one would be able to turn the lighting on or off within that space,” Ike said. “That would automatically happen until the system was told to turn off by the operator or the alarm itself was turned off and went back to normal operation.”

In a life safety situation, a path of light could be created to help people get out of the building.

“We could also make sure the pathways of lighting were tied through this system to the emergency system so those lights were on full blast,” Ike said.

Using the system’s graphics capabilities, architectural drawings and a computer, a facilities person can lay out a building’s floor plan with the lighting intact and then adjust, either through zones or centralized control, individual lights in that space. The system can display the space you want to be in by taking CAD floor plans and turning them into 3-D renderings.

“With this system, you also can tie in your motorized window enhancements so that you would really get full light control,” Ike said. “If it’s a sunny day, a photocell could pick up that you have ‘X’ foot candles or ‘X’ light level in the space and automatically adjust your window blinds and your lighting at the same time so you’d have a comfortable working environment. You’re also saving energy.”

And Grafik 7000 can control up to 16,000 lighting zones.

“There aren’t too many buildings in the country—in fact, I’m not really aware of any—that we wouldn’t be able to handle with this system,” Ike said.

A software solution

IBS features can be implemented on the Web, which means systems access is available wherever there is a computer hooked to a phone line. For instance, Botech AB, a Swedish firm, has developed Greyhound, IBS software that can be Internet- or intranet-based. Botech claims the software lowers energy and maintenance costs and provides “secure anytime, anywhere building systems access, control, analytics and history together with lightning-speed system alerts to the device of your choice.” That means the software doesn’t need to be run on a dedicated computer; a person charged with monitoring a piece of commercial or residential real estate can use any PC anywhere—in an office, at home or even on vacation.

Besides being independent of a platform, Greyhound can connect and supervise existing outstations—as well as newer ones a contractor wishes to install—and uses common Web browsers. Botech says Greyhound has an “educational and user-friendly interface” that is simple to understand and its users need minimal training. Botech claims that by “opening just two windows you can easily compare, for example, energy usage across your facility group and optimize your operations efficiency.”

It works by connecting a building’s outstations, security access control, CCTV, etc., to the software. The end-user chooses modem, broadband, direct cable-link or a radio-link—whatever works best—and creates screens that show the desired system values and readings through a favorite Web browser. Botech will even host an end-user’s site and manage and maintain servers, modems and so on.

Say you would like quicker, more comprehensive response times for your building’s security or life safety systems. Greyhound can be set up so alarms are sent to internal/external paging systems, some mobile phones, via e-mail or to a printer, and the system administrator can change responders during holidays and staff changes. Greyhound can control HVAC settings in a private residence, making for optimum energy use, and set up lighting sequences for enhanced security, making an unoccupied house appear alive. The software also allows “blending” with different outstation manufacturers—Siemens/modem, Exomatic/broadband or EIB/radio, for example.

What the future holds

What does software such as Greyhound and Grafik 7000 mean? A more intelligent building, of course, but also a peek into the future. How long before many of the homes and businesses you wire will require such technology? As Lutron’s Ike asked, will it soon become a necessity? As our stockpile of fossil fuel shrivels, will governments mandate more and more changes in energy use?

As with many new technologies, the future of IBS hinges on further wireless development. Ike said the use of LANs and other building systems are part of that development but sees more individual control as the next big thing, including recent advances in individualized lighting control.

“So you can have a total building systems that’s tied right in and you’d have an employee who sits at their desk with a PC half the day and works on a set of blueprints the other half of the day, they could actually take a handheld receiver or a Palm Pilot and control the lights over their head,” he said.

This may be the new frontier in IBS. The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., conducted a study that looked for the link between lighting and workplace productivity. Industry experts have been keen on making the connection for quite a while, but proof has been hard to find. The study used temporary workers who performed a variety of office tasks in different lighting configurations:

Condition 1: Regular array of three-lamp parabolic luminaires, a common arrangement in office buildings today.

Condition 2: Linear array of suspended direct/indirect luminaires with wall washing arrangement. Called “best practice” by the industry.

Condition 3: Same as Condition 2, but workstations had small desk lamps with compact fluorescents that gave workers light-level control.

Condition 4: Direct/indirect luminaire centered over cubicle; occupants had direct control of the downward lighting using a computer-based dimming system.

Michael Myer, a lighting student who worked on the project, said he learned in the real world of lighting design, nothing is ever right.

“You have to check up on things, and you have to take steps to be sure the installers and the electricians have what they need. Everything may look great on paper, but it’s not necessarily going to work when you get it to the site,” he said. “Reality can just kill you. I learned proper design of luminaires and the difference between seeing lighting designs in books and in practice. Working with a real installation helps you start to notice the space and what’s good and what’s not and what’s missing.”

Claudia Hunter, an LRC human factors specialist, supervised the study and tried to gauge the workers moods and quality of decisions after a group task. Lighting that could be monitored for power use was analyzed. The details of the study were published in an August 2003 LRC newsletter, but the results were not complete at that time.

“We wanted to see how much energy was used and whether energy use would increase or decrease when workers had control,” Hunter said in the newsletter. “We hope, once and for all, to link productivity to better lighting in a way that’s supported by research data. We want to give people a reason to upgrade their lighting.”

As noted earlier, it’s the initial cost of upgrading that’s daunting. Everyone, we assume, wants to save money on energy and make our country less reliant on foreign sources of fuel. Further research and the acceptance of integrated building systems is a step in that direction. EC

FULMER, a Baltimore, Md.-based freelance writer, can be reached at johnsfulmer@netzero.net