Would You Like Integration With That

Integrated Buidling Systems(IBS) interconnects multiple building systems or subsystems into a single user interface and represents a tremendous growth opportunity for electrical contractors. The trick is to demonstrate to building owners that the electrical contractor is the best source to deliver this highly sophisticated energy- and cost-saving technology.

With IBS, the electrical contractor can tie together lighting control, access control, fire and life safety, CCTV, or any of the traditional stand-alone systems and connect them to the building management system.

“In a true integrated building system, control is distributed among the already-intelligent devices on the market and requires a complete perceptual shift in how systems get designed, specified, installed and used,” said Barry Haaser, senior director of the LonWorks Infrastructure Business for Echelon Corp., San Jose, Calif.

From the electrical contractor’s perspective—according to Bob Riel, vice president and division manager of service and systems for Dynalectric Co., San Diego—IBS means taking building systems that traditionally have been separated, including lighting, environmental, security, fire alarm and life safety, audiovisual, sound and telecommunications, etc., and making them work together, communicate and provide the necessary information to better manage the building.

“For example, the swipe of a security access card will activate lights and environmental controls in the user’s space,” he said.

According to an article written by Mike Taylor, vice president of marketing for Honeywell Building Solutions, St. Louis Park, Minn., IBS enables most facility management teams to experience a 20 to 30 percent improvement in operator efficiencies and to use a single platform for multiple building functions, which reduces the time needed to train employees and the chances of human error.

Contractor’s role

According to Haaser, the consulting-specifying or architectural engineer usually designs the actual IBS for the building, and the electrical contractor’s role traditionally has been only the implementation of the plans.

“Today, however, the contractor is starting to play an increased influential role in specification because the designers are focusing more on open architecture integration, which requires more collaboration from the contractor and more reliance [on] its expertise of wiring infrastructure,” he said.

Since the electrical contractor is responsible for the installation of the IBS components anyway—running the pipe, pulling the wire, etc.—having the contractor specify the IBS itself is only logical.

“Contractors have the most expertise and are already familiar with the systems. Integrating and programming the complete integration of the building only makes sense,” said Dan Smith, president of the Electric Co. of Omaha, Neb. And because most of the time, Riel said, owners, engineers and architects do not give building integration the attention it needs during the initial design process, it is beneficial for the contractor to be involved in specifying the IBS early in the process to ensure adequate allowance for hidden and floor space in the design for the necessary equipment and wiring infrastructure of a true IBS.

“Having the contractor on the initial design team enables the owner to determine how it really wants the building to operate and to have a team member that is focused on those specialty systems,” he said. The contractor’s role in IBS specification, by definition, enables the design to be more complete and better fulfill the owner’s requirements with fewer change orders when construction actually begins.

The ticket to joining the design team early in the process very well may be the contractor’s existing relationship with the customer.

“If the contractor has established trust with the customer from previously working on traditional installations, its expertise could be called upon to help the architects and engineers provide the integrated systems that will best fulfill the owner’s vision,” said Marty Riesberg, director of electrical technologies and automation for the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC), Upper Marlboro, Md.

Approaching the owner

The best way to approach building owners to sell the idea of IBS is based on relationships and being proactive in the sales process, according to Haaser.

“One of the biggest problems in the electrical contracting industry is its tendency to be reactive to market changes,” he said. Instead, he added, electrical contractors should incorporate IBS installations into their business strategies and develop the expertise and reputation as an integrator, which will, of course, require the contractor to retool its business and be willing to make the necessary investments in specific expertise, marketing and sales skills.

“This approach, however, will allow the contractor to play a role early in the specification process,” Haaser said.

And approaching the building owner during the design process is the best time for the contractor to influence how the building is designed at the lowest possible cost, Riel said.

“This is the time that the contractor can affect efficient changes to the design without increasing costs for the owner,” he said. However, for those times when the contractor cannot approach the owner during the design phase, it still can offer IBS improvements to demonstrate the technology’s value and the contractor’s expertise in delivering a cost-effective system as a true system integrator.

Smith suggests contractors focus on the advantages of an open architecture system when approaching owners about IBS installations for their buildings.

“Let the owner know about the lower initial installation costs of an open source IBS, which shares wiring and does not require as much infrastructure,” he said. Riesberg agreed that contractors should start their approach to the owner with the advantages of open communication protocols over single, proprietary solutions because the main selling point of an open IBS architecture is that the owner can make changes as to how it procures, installs or maintains the IBS for their buildings.

“Open architecture protocols provide choices for building owners and allow them to pick the best-of-breed products and the installer they want,” Riesberg said.

In actually pitching the idea of IBS to a building owner, the electrical contractor needs to first establish a reputation in system integration and demonstrate that creating an effective IBS is one of its core competencies. This would involve procuring the necessary mechanical and control expertise, either in-house or through subcontracting.

“Once the contractor’s expertise in delivering an IBS is established in the market, it can sell the idea to the building owner,” Haaser said. That sale should include demonstrating the increased control IBS offers and how the owner would not be tied to a single vendor for products and maintenance, demonstrating the reduced maintenance costs offered by an effective IBS, and demonstrating how this infrastructure increases a building’s resale value through easier and less expensive moves, adds and changes (MACs).

Other benefits of an IBS that can be used to sell the idea include a safer work environment through the integration of lighting and security systems; the reduced amount of wiring and installation costs required because a truly integrated building runs multiple systems off of the same wiring infrastructure; and the increase in energy efficiency, which, depending on the level of integration and the kinds of systems involved, can reach 30 percent per year.

Justifying IBS to the owner

Along with selling the basic idea to the owner, the electrical contractor also might have to justify certain installations.

“There may be elements of an IBS that are more expensive up-front than a traditional building management infrastructure, but the overall life-cycle costs associated with an IBS will actually be lower,” Haaser said. The contractor can research the exact cost figures of an IBS versus traditional building management system to demonstrate how the IBS actually is more effective over the life of the building.

“The 3 to 8 percent upfront add-on costs for true integration are usually paid for through increased energy efficiency and tenant comfort,” Riel said.

The contractor also can justify choosing an IBS by showing how it can offer a more cost-advantageous maintenance contract to the owner, as opposed to those offered by specialty controls contractors.

“Electricians are already trained in maintaining the various systems and controls involved in an open architecture IBS, while controls technicians are usually trained in maintaining proprietary controls,” Smith said.

In addition, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005)—which established a number of tax deductions for expenses incurred for either new or retrofit construction of commercial or residential multirise buildings that are designed to achieve 50 percent energy cost savings relative to the requirements outlined in ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2001—is the type of concrete information that can really justify an IBS. The deductions—which originally applied to improvements installed after Dec. 31, 2005, and prior to Jan. 1, 2008, but which have been extended for one year—are limited to an amount of up to $1.80 per square foot for either retrofitting an entire building to improve energy efficiency or designing a new energy-efficient building or up to $.60 per square foot for partial improvements.

“Taking advantage of the EPAct deductions will allow building owners to realize benefits beyond the increased energy efficiency inherent in a closely controlled, integrated building,” Riesberg said.

Marketing your company as an electrical contracting firm, and also as a company integrator that can provide IBS expertise, will go a long way toward positioning yourself in the marketplace.

“Demonstrating to the owner that every system being installed is equally important and critical to providing a complete, effective and truly integrated building enables the contractor to focus on the building in its entirety and become more than a provider of electrical systems,” Smith said.    EC




About the Author

Darlene Bremer

Freelance Writer
Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.