Tag Archives: Building Automation System

Maintenance Savings May Help Justify HVAC Capital Investments

Once a bundle of projects has been identified, facility managers should also determine whether a reduction in maintenance expenses can legitimately be anticipated. Facility managers should determine if deferred capital renewal should be part of the analysis to justify large energy upgrades.

An example of additional maintenance savings that will lower the simple payback is a lighting project that changes out incandescent bulbs to CFL or LED bulbs. The typical lifespan of an incandescent light is approximately 1,200 hours, while a CFL has a life span of 8,000 to 10,000 hours and a LED light has a life span of 20,000 to 50,000 hours. The cost of the material and the time for repeatedly replacing the bulbs should be included in the analysis to identify the entire savings for the energy conservation measure.

Another maintenance savings example is replacing building pneumatic controls with a direct digital control (DDC) system. Pneumatic control systems use compressed air, which is typically generated by a compressor (or series of compressors, depending on the size of the system; some rare installations use nitrogen or other bottled gas). Typically the annual maintenance can be 40 man-hours for inspections and the scheduled monthly maintenance service required.

If this work is completed by a third party it is easily tracked and identified, but it is more difficult to identify the hours if this work is completed in house.

How Bundling Energy Efficiency Projects Helps Justify Large Capital Upgrades

A key step in justifying many large capital upgrades is to bundle them with other work that has a quick payback. There are a wide range of quick win strategies to bundle in with more complex endeavors. Low-cost or no-cost projects can be implemented by facility managers in conjunction with standard operations and maintenance procedures. For example, the facility manager can ensure that the outside air dampers for the air handling units are operational during peak cooling and heating conditions. If the dampers are not functioning properly and remain fully open during the winter months, the result would be an increase in energy use. The HVAC system would be trying to maintain the heating set point based on a lower mixed air temperature, due to the increased amount of colder outdoor air added to the warmer return air. If the dampers are functioning properly, the temperature rise would be much less and require significantly less energy.

Revisiting the applicable ventilation air requirements is another easy way to save energy. If a space previously used as a lab or a classroom is now an office, the amount of required outdoor air changes, i.e., the damper set points, could be altered. Also, changes made in space use often do not include HVAC system rebalancing. A space is often repurposed without any modifications to the HVAC system.

In a bundling strategy, the next step up from no- or very low-cost energy efficiency measures involves relatively small projects that may require an engineering design or additional evaluation. One example is the installation of variable frequency drives on motors. For example, a 20 horsepower pump operating 24 hours per day for a quarter of the year (91 days) with $0.08/kWh electrical cost will incur an electrical charge of $2,890 per year, assuming a motor efficiency of 90 percent.

The installation of a variable frequency drive will allow the pump to operate at decreased flow and pressure throughout the year. The flow will decrease at the same rate the motor speed decreases. The energy costs decrease as the cube of the flow (motor speed) decreases. If the installation of the variable frequency drive reduces the flow by 25 percent, then the resultant reduction in energy use is 58 percent. However, the reality is that approximately 50 percent energy savings will be obtained. The savings for this project is approximately $1,450 per year. Based upon RS Means, the average installed cost for a 20 horsepower pump is approximately $4,000 to $5,000 depending on location. The simple payback for this energy conservation measure is approximately 2.7 to 3.5 years.

All analyses of energy conservation project paybacks should of course be based on actual power rates paid by the facility. The impact on demand charges should also be considered.

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Steps Beyond Simple Payback To Justify Large Energy Efficiency Investments

When top management relies solely on simple payback based on energy savings, it can be difficult to justify energy efficiency projects involving very large capital investments. Those projects may be uncovered by energy audits, which — with current state legislation and energy incentives — are becoming an increasingly popular means for identifying and implementing campus and building renewal projects. Energy audits help facility managers identify ways to reduce energy consumption by changing the operating schedule of HVAC or lighting devices. Audits can also help justify replacing inefficient, aging, or failing equipment within a building.

Simple payback calculation is sometimes used to determine if the change in schedule or replacement is required. The simple payback is typically calculated by dividing the annual energy savings for each project by the capital cost to replace or modify the piece of equipment. If there are any incentives or rebates, they are subtracted from the capital costs.

When top management relies solely on simple payback based on energy savings, it can be difficult to justify projects involving very large capital investments. The simple-payback approach does not present the whole picture of the value of the upgrade.

There are several ways to try to overcome the limitations of that approach. One is to bundle projects, so that work with very quick payback periods helps to balance upgrades with much longer paybacks. Another step to help show management the entire project value is to include other factors in the analysis, like maintenance savings and deferred capital (the cost to replace a unit in kind if the unit is beyond its useful life). These factors need to be calculated very carefully to ensure that they are realistic.

The importance of this broader approach can be seen from a project conducted under the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ energy reduction program. The program aims to reduce energy consumption by 25 percent for all state-owned-and-operated facilities. The state used the simple payback method based only on energy savings (energy, rebates, and incentives) savings. The projects are expected to have a simple payback of 15 to 20 years or less to justify the investment.

A large state university evaluated under the program had identified a project with an energy savings of 21 percent and a simple payback of 19 years based upon energy consumption only. The university had to sell this project to its board and would have found it difficult with a simple payback of 19 years, but the university was also able to include the savings for deferred maintenance and deferred capital. The inclusion reduced the simple payback from 19 years to less than 9 years. (At the time of this writing, the contribution from utility company incentives and rebates for this campus was not included because a substantial amount of the design was not yet completed).

It’s important to note that there were more than 150 energy conservation measures identified in this project, with simple paybacks ranging from 6 months to more than 50 years. When all of these were considered under one umbrella, the overall project had a simple payback that was in the range of the total system requirement. Bundling helped to move forward projects with long payback periods; this is carefully programmed so that the overall project is still able to maintain an acceptable payback period.

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Key Findings From Retrocommissioning A High-Performance Building

KLH coordinated multiple tests and reviewed the functional performance testing data and the building’s environmental trend data to find a solution to improve system performance and operating efficiency, and reduce energy costs. Through this research, KLH identified multiple issues, including a problem with the building pressure—the RTU exhaust fan was only enabled when the outside air damper was open above a minimum position and the building pressure was above the building pressure set-point.

The minimum outside air damper position was set to 10 percent on all RTUs and the power exhaust outside air minimum position was set to 20 percent. This set-point prevented the power exhaust from operating and maintaining an appropriate building pressure. After looking at the building pressure trending, KLH discovered that the building pressure would continually rise throughout the day, until approximately 5:00 p.m., when all of the doors opened as employees exited the building. Because the building envelope was secure and the doors remained closed, the building pressure would rise to the point where doors were difficult to close once opened.

To combat this problem, the outside-air minimum damper position set-point (for the power exhaust system) was lowered to 5 percent on RTU #4 in an effort to see if the power exhaust fan would engage and maintain building pressure. Once the set point was lowered to 5 percent, the rooftop unit immediately began to exhaust air. After this change, the BAS showed the building pressure decreased until the programmed building pressure set-point was attained.

In addition to these findings, the RCx study uncovered other opportunities, which KLH recommended to further improve the building’s energy efficiency. These projects include: carbon dioxide space monitoring and outside air ventilation control, a new control strategy for supply duct static reset, installing an enthalpy economizer control, and implementing a new supply air reset control strategy.

The success of the RCx project shows how to utilize RCx not only as a means of obtaining LEED certification points, but as a foundation for responsible energy management practices. According to Johanning, knowing that the mechanical systems and controls operating the buildings are working in sync—and efficiently—creates peace-of-mind, and RCx is the vehicle to deliver those results. Not only did the Springfield RCx project exceed Johanning’s expectations, it also expedited the funding approval process for some of the recommended corrective actions to further enhance efficiency.

The Springfield RCx project was so successful that the business is planning to conduct RCx studies in selected facilities throughout its commercial office portfolio to further drive down operating costs. RCx is proven to be a smart choice for facility managers and building owners who want to streamline their building’s performance and operations. Doing so can further improve building efficiency, save monthly costs, and ensure happier employees with more comfortable working conditions.

Jerry Schmits is Director of Energy Solutions at Kohrs Lonnemann Heil Engineers. You can reach him at jschmits@klhengrs.com.

Retrocommissioning Improves Energy Efficiency In High-Performing Buildings

LEED certification and Energy Star benchmarking continue to grow in popularity for existing buildings as pressures mount to control operating expenses. As a result, energy efficiency is now mainstream, and managing a building’s energy performance is standard procedure among an ever-growing number of facility managers.

Energy Manager Patrick Johanning is one of them. Johanning works for an international commercial real-estate services corporation, where he manages energy cost and consumption for a Fortune 500 financial services company. Acting on a hunch that he could improve energy efficiency and reduce operating costs among his top-performing facilities, Johanning looked into retro-commissioning (RCx). The result was an RCx project in Springfield, Ill. — performed on a building that was LEED Gold certified with an 89 Energy Star score — which managed to produce a 10.4 percent energy savings on its HVAC system.

Multiple options existed for reducing the energy-related expenses, including energy audits and re-lamp projects. But while the benefits of these activities are well documented, the state of efficiency that existed between the facility’s mechanical and operating systems, and the control systems that function on the front-end, was not documented. While the RCx process is intended to restore a building’s equipment and mechanical systems back to their original operational design, functional performance testing can also improve energy efficiency. In short, if Johanning could show favorable RCx results in a high-performing building, he could find support for an RCx program across the entire commercial office portfolio. The first challenge was to both prove his hypothesis and get the project funded.

The funding arrived in the form of an RCx study rebate provided by City Water Light and Power (CWLP), the power utility company serving the building’s area. Johanning then hired Kohrs Lonnemann Heil Engineers (KLH), an engineering firm with experience in energy solutions and the RCx process, to help restore the building’s systems back to their optimal operational state while focusing on potential energy saving opportunities. The following details how KLH worked with Johanning to reach RCx success.
Beyond the low-hanging fruit

A review of the current facility requirements confirmed that there had been no material changes in the building zoning or use of the facility from its original design and construction.  Based on this information, the scope of the project was designed to focus on domestic hot water, snow melt, lighting, and HVAC. There were no blatant, major equipment or operational issues; preventative maintenance practices were in place; and the building was in exceptional physical condition. However facility staff interviews uncovered some issues related to fluctuations in the building pressure.

Functional performance testing of the HVAC system and testing of the BAS revealed discrepancies in the airflow throughout several of the VAV boxes. In addition, data from the BAS showed a steady increase throughout the day in the building pressure, and that the exhaust fans were not properly maintaining appropriate pressure levels. But despite these pressure levels, carbon dioxide levels only reached 75 percent of the maximum acceptable levels for indoor air quality—well within the ASHRAE minimum standards. The absence of obvious energy conservation measures—the low-hanging fruit—meant that the success of the RCx project would be an even greater challenge.

Growth Expected For Smart Building Measures

Despite the gains facility executives have seen from implementing smart building measures, less than half say that their organizations have developed an overall smart building strategy. (See Figure 5.) By comparison, most organizations have overall strategies in place for energy efficiency and sustainability.

Figure 5. Does your organization have an overall: R=826

Smart building strategy (R=878): 45%
Energy efficiency strategy (R=858): 74%
Sustainability strategy (R=845): 61%

Among organizations that do have energy efficiency or sustainability strategies, a majority of respondents say they rank smart building strategies as top priorities for those strategies. (See Figures 6 and 7.)

Figure 6. How important is a smart building strategy to your current energy efficiency strategy? R=631

A top priority: 52%
Not a top priority: 41%
Not implementing smart building measures: 7%

Figure 7. How important is a smart building strategy to your current sustainability strategy? R=511

A top priority: 57%
Not a top priority: 38%
Not implementing smart building measures: 5%

Although a majority of respondents say smart building strategies are top priorities, the percentages are far smaller than the number that say smart building strategies have helped improve performance in energy and sustainability. This discrepancy suggests that many facility executives may be failing to integrate smart building planning, on a strategic level, with energy efficiency and sustainability planning.

But the survey suggests the next few years could see a significant upswing in the implementation of smart building measures. While the percentages of those who expect to take the two most common measures, lighting upgrades or recycling, decline compared to what was done the past three years (lighting upgrades down from 83 percent to 62 percent; recycling down from 70 percent to 39 percent), many smart building measures show an increase. (See Figure 8.)

Figure 8. Which of the following steps do you anticipate your organization taking in the next three years? R=775

Expect To Take Measures

Controls upgrades: 47%
Integration of building systems: 41%
Automated monitoring and reporting: 40%
Automated optimization: 23%
Continuous commissioning: 22%
Automated fault detection & diagnostics: 21%
Dashboards: 19%
Increase compared to implementation in past three years
No change
+5 percent
+8 percent
+53 percent
+120 percent
+50 percent
+58 percent

The increase for “integration of building systems” is particularly noteworthy for two reasons. One is because it comes after three years of integration improvements in many facilities. The other is because integration is vital as the underpinning of a smart building strategy.

“Systems integration is central to a smart building strategy,” Zimmer points out. “By integrating individual systems and buildings into a common user interface, operational activities in the various subsystems can be monitored to detect inefficient operating conditions, allowing corrective action in order to achieve high levels of systems optimization.”

Moores believes all building systems should be accessible through the building management system and well interfaced for Internet access. Facility executives and others “should have access to pertinent information via dashboards,” says Moores.

Gerald Cotter, associate director of engineering and project management for Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, believes systems integration has to make smart building strategies “as simplified as possible.”

That’s not to say that systems integration guarantees a smart building. “Systems integration is an important element but will not in and of itself create value,” says Rob Murchison, co-founder of Intelligent Buildings, LLC. “There are many high-tech, integrated systems that are set on override or that don’t use interoperability.”

“Smart building strategies need to be easy enough for everyone to understand,” says Moores.

It’s essential to have a strategy for systems integration, rather than simply integrating systems for the sake of integration. “A systems integrator may come in and offer an overlaying control system that will monitor every system and subsystem in the building through one interface,” says Andrew Reilman, associate partner at Syska Hennessy Group, a consulting engineering firm. Reilman doesn’t believe that is an appropriate strategy for every building. “The question is, why are you doing it?” Gigabytes of data that no one uses or knows how to extrapolate are useless. “The facility executive needs an easy way to extract and collate data to verify energy model results.”

Analytics is emerging as an important area of smart building technology. The survey showed that about one in five respondents are now using analytics to improve energy efficiency while another one in three are considering that option. (See Figure 9.)

Figure 9. Are you currently using or considering analytics software to improve energy efficiency in your buildings? R=797

Using analytics to improve energy efficiency:


Considering analytics to improve energy efficiency:


Neither using nor considering analytics software to improve energy efficiency:


Role of the BAS in Smart Buildings

Basic control over building functions is essential to smart building strategies. Building automation is generally the cornerstone because its aim is to optimize energy performance while enhancing occupant comfort. Employing sensors, controllers, actuators, and software, a building automation system (BAS) may serve many functions, including:

  • Optimizing start/stop functions on various building systems and subsystems.
  • Scheduling maintenance.
  • Employing predictive fault detection.
  • Detecting abnormal operating conditions.
  • Alarming and preventive actions to minimize damage in case of emergency.

Depending on the BAS chosen and the preferences of the organization, decisions can be made manually by building operators, or facility staff can use embedded intelligence algorithms to automate actions.

The range of capabilities of a BAS makes it well-suited to be the basis of a smart building. And the survey shows that most facility executives do identify the BAS as the foundation of smart building strategies. (See chart below.) The University of Southern California (USC) has a smart building strategy that allows facilities management to see what’s happening in every campus building, according to Andrew Reilman, associate partner at Syska Hennessy Group.

Which do you think should be the foundation for smart building strategies? R=795

Building automation system: 55%
Software analytics: 11%
Not sure: 31%
Other: 3%

“They know what’s going on in operations and maintenance across building systems, down to the filters and their product numbers,” Reilman notes. USC’s building management system has a facilities management system layer that allows sophisticated control strategies. “But you could also treat a 50-story high-rise building as a ‘campus,'” says Reilman, to accomplish similar smart options.

Almost by definition, many BAS functions make a building smarter. For example, Thomas F. Smyth, director, facility services at Cobbleskill Regional Hospital, believes the advantage of a building automation system is “less human error. The BAS lets you create setpoints and parameters for temperature in a specific space, for instance, so that is not left to someone’s memory. It also does monitoring functions so that we don’t have unhappy surgeons in the operating room. Of course, the BAS is only as good as the people operating the system.”

Tom Walsh, chief engineer for Transwestern Commercial Services, believes another excellent use for BAS in smart building strategies is “trending data, particularly watching how and when temperatures rise and fall. This is invaluable information to use for planning energy use.”

In addition to controlling, monitoring, and trending strategies, a BAS can serve another valuable smart building function, says Gerald Cotter, associate director of engineering and project management for Connecticut State Colleges and Universities. “The BAS can show others what we are doing to save energy and encourage sustainability. When people can see the benefits, they are more willing to spend money on improvements.”

Experience Shows Value Of Smart Building Measures, But Obstacles Remain

Facility executives say that money often is the biggest obstacle to smart building strategies. Tom Walsh, chief engineer for Transwestern Commercial Services, stresses this includes not just first cost, but also return on investment (ROI). “We prefer ROIs in two to three years,” Walsh explains. He also looks for energy improvements that will increase the value of the building.

The survey results bear out the extent to which a lack of financial resources can be an obstacle to smart building strategies. While only 3 percent of respondents say smart building technology is not available today, 69 percent say they don’t have a budget for smart building strategies. What’s more, having staff resources — another budget issue — is an obstacle for roughly half of respondents. (See Figure 2)

Figure 2. What are the obstacles to development and implementation of smart building strategies in your organization? R=469

We don’t have a budget for smart building strategies: 69%
We don’t have time/staff to implement smart building strategies: 49%
Smart building strategies cost too much: 24%
I’m not familiar with smart building strategies: 19%
Top management does not support the use of smart building strategies: 18%
Information about smart building technology is not readily available: 8%
Smart building technology is not available today: 3%
Other: 7%

Thomas F. Smyth, director, facility services at Cobbleskill Regional Hospital, also believes another obstacle is education and training. “How much quality training is available from the company that sold you that system?” Smyth asks. “Sometimes the training is free. Sometimes training is so expensive you cannot afford it.” On the topic of training, Smyth also believes refresher courses are valuable both for existing facilities staff and for new hires.

Kristina Moores, an associate at Arup, an engineering and design firm, thinks the biggest obstacle to smart building strategies is not all building systems are tied into the building management system, followed closely by the lack of user education. “There are many vendors selling smart equipment and programs, but the new software may not allow for coordinated systems and points reporting from existing building systems,” Moores points out.

Experience With Smart Building Systems

Although funding has posed a hurdle to wider implementation of smart building measures, the survey shows that those measures have paid off with gains in energy efficiency and sustainability. Among facility executives who have implemented smart building strategies, a large majority has found that those measures aid efforts to boost energy efficiency and sustainability. (See Figures 3 and 4.)

Figure 3. Have steps you’ve taken to make your facilities smarter also improved energy efficiency outcomes? R=826

Yes: 82%
No: 4%
Haven’t taken steps to make the facility smarter: 14%


Figure 4. Have steps you’ve taken to make your facilities smarter also improved sustainability outcomes? R=830

Yes: 69%
No: 11%
Haven’t taken steps to make the facility smarter: 20%

It’s worth noting that fairly significant numbers of facility executives say their organizations haven’t taken steps to make the facility smarter. When those organizations are factored out, the vote for the value of smart building measures is even stronger. Looking strictly at respondents who have taken smart building measures, 96 percent say those steps improved energy efficiency, and 86 percent say they improved sustainability.

These results are in line with the experiences of those who are familiar with smart building strategies. Facility executives and independent experts alike have seen that smart building strategies can improve building performance, increasing overall energy efficiency and assisting in sustainability efforts. In addition, the savings in energy costs can improve the bottom line.

According to CABA statistics, advanced smart building strategies can reduce energy use as much as 50 percent compared to unimproved buildings, “with the most efficient buildings performing up to 70 percent better than conventional properties,” says Zimmer.

With smart building strategies, energy efficiency isn’t achieved at the expense of occupant comfort. “If you put the effort and brainpower into your BAS, you can get what you are looking for in controlling the comfort level and also keeping a handle on the energy side of things,” says Smyth.

Provided senior management buys into the smart building strategy, implementation and execution are thought out, and accountability exists, “smart building strategies can significantly lower operational costs through optimizing building functionality across different systems such as lighting, HVAC, security, elevators, etc.,” says Rob Murchison, co-founder of Intelligent Buildings, LLC. Murchison also points to the importance of retrocommissioning and continuously commissioning the building, as well as monitoring and measuring progress.

Key strategies that enable energy efficiency and sustainability ideally use BAS and building energy management systems from building inception, suggests Zimmer. On-going commissioning also is critical. “Through the use of these technologies and techniques, building owners and managers can realize many financial benefits, including lower energy costs, lower maintenance costs, and lower repair and replacement costs,” he explains.

It’s important for facility executives to present a complete picture of the economic value of smart building measures when seeking funding. “Building managers can use life-cycle costs analysis to calculate the cost of a building system over its entire life span,” notes Zimmer. The life cycle process analyzes the long-term impact of construction and infrastructure costs on forecasted operational costs throughout the expected life of the property.

Importance of People in Smart Building Strategies

Experts agree that people play a crucial role in smart building strategies. For Shircliff, the three pillars of a smart building strategy are buildings, people, and technology. “The buildings must be enabled and the people, including process, aligned to best leverage newer technologies and basic information technology (IT),” he says.

Smyth believes a program that focuses on educating employees and hospital staff is essential. Communicating what smart building strategies are being implemented can be accomplished by an email that explains the precise situation, according to Smyth. “Let’s say we want to turn off all computers when they are not in use,” says Smyth. “So we show how many kilowatts per hour can be saved and how that adds up as we get more cooperation. Then we may show what that savings can represent. For instance, we may be able to add another piece of equipment for our patients.”

Walsh also believes keeping building occupants informed helps in energy conservation and sustainability efforts. He uses a newsletter to tell building occupants how much paper is being diverted from landfills, the advantages of using automated faucets, and even the benefits of variable frequency drives.

Like Smyth, Walsh has found informing building occupants encourages them “to pitch in with everyone else. We also get more feedback and that is a good thing.”

Zimmer sees a smart building strategy as combining IT, equipment, and the efforts of highly skilled people.

“The universe of technology solutions that create an intelligent building has evolved considerably over the last decade,” says Zimmer. “Innovations in energy-saving solutions, smart sensing, remote monitoring, automated diagnostics, as well as a myriad of Internet-based solutions have made their way into the domain of intelligent building solutions. The solutions allow buildings to become more responsive to the needs of occupants. The solutions, however, do require oversight by professionals with a high level of expertise.”

Medical Center Uses BAS for Smart Energy, Sustainability Strategies

Located in central Texas, Dell Children’s Medical Center is part of the Seton Family of Hospitals. The 503,000-square-foot medical center has achieved LEED Platinum certification for new construction.

Acting as the heart of this accomplishment is a building automation system (BAS) that efficiently integrates numerous facility systems and devices. From a single workstation, technicians can monitor and control indoor air quality, HVAC operation, and utility distribution. An energy management system also integrates the fire alarm system and provides air handling system control.

Alan Bell, Seton’s director of design and construction, reports that “with our building system we’ve been able to achieve about 17 percent better efficiency than ASHRAE standards, which was the target for our LEED rating.”

The medical center’s BAS supports complex smart building strategies for energy conservation and sustainability. For example, integration with variable frequency drives in combination with underfloor systems drives energy costs down. In addition, chilled water consumption is monitored, kilowatt-hour use is calculated, and run time on all pumps is managed by the BAS.

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