Facilities (Learning Spaces)

Intelligent Buildings

Intelligent Buildings


Upgrading the energy performance of school facilities offers many long-term benefits, including improved facility efficiency, enhanced occupant comfort and reduced operational costs, while having a positive environmental impact, such as reducing carbon footprints. Applying the capabilities of a building automation system (BAS) is an effective way to gain energy efficiency and reduce utility charges. Sometimes this requires the addition of direct digital controls (DDC) to a school or a district may need to train staff to more effectively apply an already existing BAS.

Before you can begin to use BAS technology to reduce energy costs, it’s necessary to understand the facility’s actual energy use. Benchmarking the energy consumption of your school buildings will provide a baseline from which to begin mapping out a program to lower energy use and reduce utility charges. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program features an excellent, easy to use benchmarking tool. After populating fields with data such as utility costs and square footage, you will understand how efficiently your facility is operating based on a comparison to similar buildings. Achieving a score of 75 or higher on the 100-point scale, an indication the building is performing better than 75 percent of comparable buildings, qualifies the facility to be Energy Star certified.

With the benchmarking complete, the next step is to evaluate the systems in the school that use the most energy. These include lighting, mechanical systems — such as chillers, boilers and air handlers — and office and kitchen equipment. Conduct an energy audit to identify which building systems are inefficient and determine what steps are needed to bring them to peak performance. In older schools that still rely on pneumatic controls upgrading to a DDC BAS is recommended. Fortunately, the investment is well worth it because payoffs typical range from only one to three years, depending on the size of the school.

Applying the capabilities of a digital BAS will enable a school to achieve real energy savings. For example, it can be used to improve the efficiency of mechanical systems by optimizing start-up times, power-down times, and equipment sequencing — such as setting back the thermostat in evenings and other times when the building isn’t occupied and to program thermostats for seasonal changes. Schools can reduce lighting costs by installing occupancy sensors to automatically turn off lights when no one is present and back on when people return and use light meters to turn off lights when natural daylight is sufficient.

The experience of the Claiborne Elementary School in Baton Rouge, La., demonstrates how the BAS can be applied to save energy. When it opened, the Claiborne School initially experienced higher operating costs than the 60-year-old facility it replaced. For the facility staff, meeting the modern standards for ventilation and lighting while operating the school with integrated technologies was a challenge. This is not uncommon in school districts where tight budgets require maintaining aging equipment past its useful life and employees are more used to dealing with pneumatic rather than digital controls.

With outside help from a controls contractor and professional energy managers, the facility staff at the Claiborne School learned how to effectively operate the mechanical systems based on the original specifications. Then they used the BAS to develop specific modifications and refinements to the facility control sequences and energy management functions to further increase efficiency. These included changing the ventilation control strategies to more closely match delivered fresh air ventilation volumes to the actual needs of occupied spaces; applying discharge air temperature reset control during periods of normal humidity levels; and adding demand-controlled ventilation. The staff also took advantage of the integrated BAS’s capability to analyze, trend and quantify control functions and system operations to better understand how all building systems functioned.

As a result of these efforts, the school reduced energy use by 46 percent, lowering annual energy operating costs from $2.07 to $1.32 per square foot, an improvement over the first year operations and well below the per square foot cost of the old school facility. Furthermore, the energy efficiency improvement enabled the Claiborne School to win the national Energy Star competition The Battle of the Buildings in 2014.

The facility team at Claiborne School learned that they had the tools to operate an energy efficient facility; they just needed guidance in the application of the technology and interpretation of the data. For many school districts, additional training may be the key to achieving energy savings using the technology that’s already available.

Achieving maximum operational efficiency is not a one-time endeavor, but rather requires constant monitoring and proactive effort by the facility team. Fortunately, the BAS makes this possible, as has been the experience of the Fort LeBoeuf School District in Erie County, Pa. As part of the recommissioning process at several school facilities, the district’s facility staff learned how to keep systems operating at peak efficiency. Overtime, in a typical facility, setpoints are overridden, sensors fail and other components break. Now that facility managers at Fort LeBoeuf are aware of scheduling and setbacks, they make sure those are occurring as intended and they monitor components such as dampers or fans to be sure they are functioning properly — not stuck in “on”, for example. By being aware of these potential problems, the facility staff takes proactive action to monitor and correct as soon as the problem begins, which keeps the schools operating as intended, reduces energy costs and maintains — or enhances — Energy Star ratings.

The Fort LeBoeuf district saves more than $160,000 annually after completing a multi-phase facility enhancement program that included lighting upgrades, adding a new BAS, and optimizing boiler plant operations, in addition to commissioning major HVAC equipment. Significantly, all the renovated schools experienced strong gains in their Energy Star ratings, including achieving a perfect 100 at one facility.

Intelligent Buildings


Efficient yet comfortable. The Fort LeBoeuf School District maintains energy efficiency at the Robison Elementary School in Erie, Pa., by managing and controlling mechanical systems and lighting with an integrated BAS.

Advances in BAS technology provide other benefits that school districts will want to explore. For example, commercial facility operators are starting to rely on building analytics to maintain and manage their facilities. In the future, school facility teams will want to take advantage of the benefits of analytics as well. Building analytics involves gathering data from systems throughout a building, including the BAS, the HVAC equipment, various sensors, lighting controls etc. The analytics takes all of this data and interprets it in order to build charts and trend reports revealing facility operations and efficiency in real-time. Using data from analytics shifts the focus for a facility staff from a reactive service model to one that is more preventative. For example, the analytics can alert operators to changes that indicate a potential problem is coming before a system failure occurs. This allows technicians to pro-actively make repairs or adjustments in advance, rather than after occupants complain.

Analytics requires strong, secure networks and powerful computers, often contained in the cloud. The relative expense of the application and the level of knowledge required of the facility staff in order to interpret it means analytics are not prevalent in schools yet. As use of the technology becomes more widespread, however, it is likely that many school districts will want to adopt it.

Modern integrated BAS technology allows greater, more precise control of the energy using equipment in schools, enabling facility staff to more carefully manage operations to save energy. By first taking steps to ensure all the systems in a school are operating at peak efficiency and then maintaining them at that level using the BAS, schools can be confident they are managing energy resources wisely. Money saved could even be used to fund major equipment replacements to achieve even more energy savings in the future. New analytic technology allows facility operators to be pro-active in preventing system failures that could reduce efficiency and eventually schools will want to use analytics too, in order to get the maximum energy savings using the BAS.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .