Stay Cable Able

Economic improvement and rising demand for energy efficiency is boosting the market for structured cabling in building automation systems (BASs). Vendors and market analysts are preparing for large-scale growth. Integrated systems contractors can expect a surge in new installations and renovations consisting of low-voltage cabling to accommodate more bandwidth than ever. With this trend, customers and installers need to be ready to adopt the higher quality Category 6e (or better) cable, to meet a building’s needs now and also the growth that is inevitable over the next few years.

According to Navigant Research, the smart or energy-­efficient commercial buildings market is predicted to grow by 60 percent between 2013 and 2021. Company budgets are starting to include renovations and new construction after many years of waiting out a sluggish economy. In addition, energy efficiency is on the minds of building owners. In the past, intelligent green buildings offered an eventual return on investment, but it took a decade or longer. Today, building owners are reporting a 70 percent decrease in energy expenses as soon as the BAS is installed. With the lower cost of the energy, that means a more rapid return on the installation investment.

Cable manufacturer Siemon is testing this market at its own Dynamic Manufacturing Building facility in Watertown, Conn. The company has installed 100-kilowatt solar-powered arrays as an additional energy source and focused on carbon negation, rather than just reducing the carbon footprint. In Siemon’s case, that means using a 3,000-acre tree farm to offset emissions; however, the cabling involved in the building automation is central to the energy reductions.

“Everyone is doing the best they can to improve efficiency,” said Valerie Maguire, vice chair of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) TR-42.7 Copper Cabling Systems Subcommittee and global sales engineer for Siemon. 

At the same time, installation of building automation is becoming cheaper, smarter and more convenient, and Maguire said that trend will continue for at least the next five years. For example, a variety of sensors can be affixed to windows to determine temperature, humidity and other conditions and send that data wirelessly to an automation system.

“To make these systems work properly, you do have to have the foresight to put in the right cabling infrastructure,” Maguire said.

There is still an attitude among many customers and installers that Cat 5 or 5e cable, which is less expensive than the higher bandwidth next-generation cable, is good enough.

“People underestimate the importance of structured cabling,” she said. “It may be just 3 percent of the IT department’s spending but can cause 90 percent of the problems,” if the bandwidth can’t be accommodated. She argued that Cat 6 or higher is a necessity for today’s wireless demands.

Facilities also are looking for ways to manage the growing volume of data moving through their systems. One example for bandwidth management is the use of network zone topology, which consists of running a group of permanent channels or links from the electrical closet to boxes, each of which creates a zone. Users can then assign bandwidth limits to each zone. The boxes house 24 outlets to use for surveillance systems, data power and other requirements. A smart installation would provide six to 12 outlets free in each zone for future applications.

“It is then much easier for retrofitting,” she said. 

No one wants to run more cable for new applications in the future because it is expensive and disturbing for staff.

To manage its own energy efficiency, Siemon deployed Honeywell Enterprise Building Integrator (EBI) to monitor energy consumption and zoned the facility into smaller sections. 

“This kind of technology requires verticals to merge their cabling to a single system,” she said. 

Honeywell EBI uses an open architecture and industry standards to integrate existing building systems into one operation management system. Its software allows heating, ventilating and air conditioning controls; access control and surveillance; and sensor data related to energy consumption to commingle on a single network. These kinds of solutions have varied support from building owners and managers. Typically, the new integrated data requires facility staff members to reassess their own roles. Does the IT team take care of surveillance sensors? Will facility managers lose their value?

Without a BAS system, many facility managers spend the majority of their time responding to complaints, e.g., temperature problems around a specific cubicle. The latest systems, which can easily be managed with an iPad, spare that manager from climbing on chairs to reach a vent.

“A good energy package can shift attention from being reactive to being proactive,” Maguire said. 

That can mean a manager’s role doesn’t disappear; it shifts to overseeing metering tools and making adjustments before the complaints come in.

“Essentially every low-voltage system is getting intelligent,” 
Maguire said. 

For specifiers and installers, the revenue is in knowledge. She urged contractors to ask their vendor partners what they are offering today and what they expect to need in three to five years. 

“It’s critical to stay up to speed,” she said. “At the end of the day, education is everything. There is clearly going to be an explosion of new technology, and contractors who are successful will be prepared for it.”

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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