Business (Managing Higher Ed)

Intelligent Buildings: At What Cost?

Intelligent Buildings


Controls are the future for building management. They allow end users to understand how, when and why their structures use energy down to a granular level. They can make spaces more comfortable, efficient and easier to maintain. But they add cost that may seem prohibitive at construction time. The Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) joined forces with market research experts Frost& Sullivan to study applying life-cycle costing to building controls. They, and other experts, weigh in on the matter.

The Paper

In a study written in 2013, CABA and Frost & Sullivan had several objectives in mind, but the overarching theme is evaluating the role of life-cycle cost (LCC) as a valid prerequisite in the process of adopting intelligent building design, technology and processes. They hoped their work would address many components of the issue, including adequate training and education efforts, exploring collaborative efforts to make LCC mainstream and identifying actionable items for effective industry changes.

Using a controlled, 150-sample survey conducted among building owners and asset managers the group uncovered many tantalizing facts about LCC. These include what college and university facility managers probably already know: that there is a need for financial justification; other simple payback analyses often stand in for LCC; LCC tools and calculations are complicated and, most importantly, a collaborative approach that includes consultants, owners, vendors and service providers is needed to integrate LCC into the building process.

Farah Saeed, principal consultant, energy and environment team, Frost & Sullivan, acknowledges that college and university buildings have adopted building controls on a “partial level.” She notes that it’s common to see lighting and HVAC controls in place. But she also states that there is “no unified message or education in place.”

Saeed further says that the best intentions often get diluted at they work their way through the actual building process. “There are so many stakeholders involved in the process,” she says of the architects, engineers, subcontractors and distributers involved in constructing a building. “Unless you have a single advocate to make sure technology is deployed it might not end up in a building even if it was specified.”

Saeed looks to a time where there is a unified message and organized education and training that will make justifying the costs of building controls easier.

The Practice

The results Saeed sees in the paper concur with what professionals encounter in the field. Matt Gates, vice president, Energy Management Services & Solutions, Trane, notes that there is a strong adoption of controls on most campuses, usually in the HVAC system. “It can be hit or miss with lighting,” he says. “Older buildings are not as easy to retrofit but newer structures usually have controls.” He also notes a change in control technology that is moving from a large panel in an electrical room to a mobile device.

Intelligent Buildings


LOOKING SMART. The new Life Sciences Building at SUNY Suffolk County Community College in Selden, NY (seen here and on page 30), designed by BBS Architects, includes displays in real-time detailing the building’s energy consumption and the amount of electricity harvested from its rooftop photovoltaic panels. Both the interiors and the site feature learning tools related to the building’s operations, design and function.

Gates mentions that he does see schools asking for an added overlay to their control system. His company offers BENS, a live dashboard that users can access to pull up and see interactive meter data. “A CFO will look at the data differently than a facility manager,” he says.

Gates admits that a system like BENS will not offer immediate savings in reduction in staff, so schools have to look at it with an eye towards the long haul. “It will help a maintenance department troubleshoot and prioritize problems,” he says. “You will see a savings in energy.”

Max McLeod, national business development manager, Siemens Industry, Inc., agrees with another of Frost & Sullivan’s findings; the piecemeal nature of a given building’s various systems. “The specs are written by different people,” he says, noting that a mechanical engineer may write the automation and control piece while a different consultant handles the fire safety system and a third person is in charge of the security. “This approach does not encourage cohesiveness.”

McLeod does see a trend towards collaborative design, especially in a Building Information Modeling (BIM) environment. Still he notes that there are too often many different systems running on many different platforms in a single structure. In answer, Siemens offers a “universal remote” solution with their Desigo CC.

“The view can be partitioned so different stakeholders can see what they need,” explains McLeod. “Of course you can manually manage individual systems, but this smooths the process and eases decisions.” Even complicated problems like whether it’s cheaper to get energy commercially or from a co-generation plant become easier with a tool like this.

This, of course, makes it attractive to facility managers. McLeod admits that a formal life-cycle costing metric like the kind CABA identifies is not often applied. He does, however, offer an eye-catching stand-in: a performance guarantee. “We can measure how much energy this system will save,” he says. Schools then can use their operating money to make a capital improvement and, if those savings aren’t realized, “we write you a check.”

This article originally appeared in the issue of .