Commissioning and Integration Gets Standardized

Standards under development this year are creating a model for integration of building systems that will help builders, installers and integrators sort out their roles. The Standard Guideline Project Committee (SGPC) at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is developing a multitier architecture model, already in use in some projects, to identify the specific roles of participants in the building of an integrated system. The four-tier model covers everyone from specific sensor installers to project managers and IT directors who will be using the integrated system.

The model is intended to define the tasks and the individual responsibilities within those tasks. Ron Bernstein, chief ambassador of open standards organization LonMark and a member of the SGPC committee, said the concept was introduced to ASHRAE in June 2012 and then presented to the general membership in January of this year. Several builders have already implemented the method, while the government has projects underway using a similar model that breaks the tiers into even more subdivisions.

The guidelines begin with sensors and actuators installed by contractors on the first level, with a second tier of integrators and low-voltage contractors installing temperature, lighting or other sensor controllers to report sensor data.

In the third tier, a company that takes on the role of master systems integrator integrates multiple subsystems, such as lighting; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC); and metering. This company would be a peer contractor that integrates the multiple systems.

In tier four, the owner’s IT department creates a graphic workstation to manage data at the enterprise front end.

Bernstein said that there is huge confusion still out there when it comes to the construction or integration of building systems. However, he said, this should resolve some of that confusion. Too many projects have led to contractor disagreements as to who was responsible for what task, followed by “strong letters of concern,” if not lawsuits, after the project wrapped up. Facilities are getting more complicated to integrate; dozens of other systems—beyond simply lighting, HVAC, gas detection, metering and emergency signage—all share a part in the facility network. Contractors and integrators must each then have a role in identifying the subsystem profiles and how they will interact with each other.

Questions arise not just in relation to who installs something, such as a fire panel and relay, but also in regard to the connection between the relay and a controller, which allows users to access each panel. The model intends to define each role, including inputs and outputs.

By January 2014, the guidelines will be available for general use, Bernstein said.

In addition, ASHRAE is investigating education opportunities for contractors and integrators with coursework being offered as early as this summer, and LonMark is offering courses and a series of webinars for its education programs.

The issuance of guidelines and the education, Bernstein said, are the result of a need by building owners for better solutions.

“Sometimes things don’t get done until the end-user demands it,” he said. There needs to be, he added, “a couple of very large end-users putting a stake into the ground,” that leads to a set of standards for the integration sector. This, he said, has already begun.

Smaller buildings get integrated, too

In the past, building management systems were primarily placed in larger facilities that required automation, but a high percentage of the buildings in this country are 100,000 square feet or smaller. Therefore, the industry is aiming to help these smaller facilities get the same benefits and energy-reduction opportunities as bigger buildings by offering less expensive systems that are scaled back to reflect the savings that a smaller facility should expect from their investment.

Installations that were once dedicated to large construction projects are now becoming the norm in smaller constructions.

“We’re seeing more buildings sharing data that an owner can monitor from a single location,” said Carlos Fernandez, Advanced Control Corp., director of sales.

In addition, the way in which the technology is used has expanded and matured. In the past, having multiple systems on a single network reduced the implementation cost on a project. This has now evolved to also include shared data to further enhance each system’s functions and to automate the way each system works within the building.

Fernandez pointed out that an office building owner who wants to integrate HVAC controls—as well as smoke, access, lighting and video surveillance controls—would do so for a tenant to automate or streamline their interaction with the various building systems with just one event that cascades through various systems.

Here’s an example: a tenant drives into the parking structure after hours, and by presenting her access card, she launches a number of integrated building functions, such as allowing her to park using the parking control system, showing a facial image to the guard who would be alerted of her arrival using the video surveillance system. The guard could then monitor her progress into the building. The system could turn on the lights to her office floor using the lighting control system and adjust the temperature with HVAC control. The data could also enable an employer to receive an after-hours payroll report based on her arrival and departure.

Choosing an automation platform

When it comes to open standards, such as LonMark or BACnet, for example, Fernandez said, “open systems really aren’t that open. Once a user selects a system platform—regardless if it’s open or not—that platform is what dictates the remaining infrastructure.” 

While an open system allows you to integrate various components that share the same protocol, the initial system programming is still only done using the original system. 

“The user still has to select a qualified systems integrator to do the work even if it’s an open protocol solution because your future relationship tends to go far beyond the initial upfront cost,” Fernandez said.

Green motivation

No matter the standards, the high cost of energy consumption is bringing a growing number of large and small facilities to the building controls market. Energy in a typical office building accounts for 30 percent of operating costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, making energy a bottom-line issue for building owners.

“Aging commercial buildings are energy intensive, but they don’t have to be. Building owners can reap significant savings in their energy consumption through energy efficiency and better technology,” said Dave Molin, general manager of building automation ECC Americas, Honeywell.

“I think contractors and integrators need to become better experts on energy efficiency for their customers,” Molin said, adding that 65 percent of commercial and industrial buildings were built before 1985 and lack energy efficiency. “Contractors are in the buildings; they know the systems, and, with proper training, they can identify the best opportunities for their customers to save money on energy. But most contractors and integrators need more expertise on energy efficiency to provide that kind of professional guidance.”

With that in mind, Molin said, it’s time for a new breed of contractors who can show their customers the value of improving building functionality, satisfying the new mandates and increasing energy efficiency.

“I see that as a tremendous growth opportunity for contractors,” he said.

Honeywell recently launched an Energy and Environmental Optimization program for contractors that provides the training and tools they need to help building owners manage their energy better and save money.

Contractors need to know what the technologies are capable of. For instance, the Honeywell Building Management Systems integrate a building’s mechanical and electrical equipment—such as ventilation, lighting, fire and security systems—to coordinate all energy-consuming loads in a building to save on electricity and extend the life of equipment.

According to Molin, contractors could also choose Honeywell commercial programmable thermostats and energy management systems to reduce heating and cooling demand by 15 to 20 percent in commercial buildings. In addition, the use of variable frequency drives control the rotational speed of an electric motor in an HVAC system and can reduce the electrical consumption of the motor from 30 to 60 percent.

“Our economizers help customers cut energy costs and extend the life of mechanical equipment. For example, when outside conditions are favorable, an economizer will use cooler outside air to cool the building rather than conditioning warmer air from the interior,” Molin said.

Submeters also help building owners better understand their energy consumption patterns and become more energy-efficient.

Molin indicated that, if every building in the United States employed efficient technologies, like the products Honeywell offers, the country could reduce annual energy consumption by up to 25 percent.

About the Author

Claire Swedberg

Freelance Writer
Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at .

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