April 2015

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Top 10 Reasons for Smarter, Unified Building Control Systems

A truly intelligent building is one whereby systems do not just integrate, they converge.

Geoff OlsenGeoff Olsen,
P. Eng., LC
Sales and Program Manager, Lighting Controls
Distech Controls

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Imagine an intelligent building that knows when to dim the lights, when the sun is shining through the windows, and when to set back mechanical systems such as chillers, boilers, and air handlers. All of this is possible, but not necessarily easily achieved.  Integration, the buzzword du jour, is actually easier said than done. A rather complex process, it is often challenging to maintain integration when systems operate independently. In fact, a truly intelligent building is therefore one that is unified via systems that do not just integrate, they converge.

There is now a clear movement in the building automation and energy management sector towards this idea, whereby the numerous functions within a building or space are successfully combined under one supervisory and control system.  The benefits of doing so are considerable and range from simplicity, to occupant appeal, and to energy and maintenance savings (overall life cycle cost savings). The following outlines the top 10 reasons for smarter and more unified building control systems:


  1. Keep it simple
Convergence entails less wiring, less infrastructure, and less controllers.  Separate, isolated control systems require their own network infrastructure running throughout the entire building.  In addition, for each of these systems, there are usually stand-alone servers and distributed room/zone controllers.  Why not keep it simple and merge these into a single unified system? 
        1. Eliminate complications related to integration
Integration is the process of communication between these various systems.  Points and information are passed back and forth so that systems do not conflict with each other and so as to facility coordination between operations.  Typically, when integration is left to the end of a project, it can prove to be complicated and expensive.  Confusion between contractors and manufacturers can also ensue, particularly over issues pertaining to responsibility for integration.  Why not remove the need for integration altogether? 

  1. Simplify relationships
When dealing with building automation and energy management, owners and facility managers often have to juggle a multitude of contractors and service organizations, each responsible for disparate systems with their building.   With a unified control system, the owner/operator is able to streamline the process so as to have a single point of accountability.  Why not have less cooks in the kitchen?

  1. Use one piece of software for operators
Software that enables the monitoring and control of systems within a building is key to smart, efficient and flexible buildings.  However, the unfortunate reality is that building operators often have to manage multiple, independent software platforms. In addition, these are typically hosted on their own computer servers. Why not empower users with a single software interface for the programming and control of an entire building?

Occupant Appeal:

        1. Improve occupant satisfaction
Systems such as lighting, HVAC and shade control all have a significant impact on the comfort of building occupants. In traditional set ups, there is often a duplication of control and room devices where the occupant must use a minimum of three room devices to adjust temperature, lights and shades. More often than not, the occupant makes adjustments to address his biggest irritant on a specific day.  This could actually be countering the control sequences linked to the other systems or functions in the room. Ensuring that these vital systems operate in a harmonized manner and have simple, combined interfaces is therefore crucial.  Why not strive to maximize comfort levels for your occupants?

        1. Provide easier, cleaner occupant interfaces
In a typical office situation, the space will be equipped with at least one light switch, a thermostat, and blind control. Why not simplify things by providing occupants with a single room device (interface) to make the space more aesthetically and functionally streamlined?

  1. Increase occupant productivity
Studiesi have shown that properly set lighting and temperature levels have a significant impact on occupant productivity: an increase of up to 20% with appropriate lighting, up to 50% with appropriate temperature settings, and up to 9% when provided control over their environmental settings. Why not invest in the biggest asset (and cost) in your building? The people. 

        1. Enhance tenant appeal
Attracting high quality tenants, and retaining them, is paramount for building owners and facility managers.  Why not add combined controls and energy management tools found in top-tier buildings to make your building as attractive as possible?

Building Owner Benefits:

        1. Achieve energy saving synergy
Advanced building control systems are proven to have a significant impact on energy usage. However, the systems work independently of each other, perhaps delivering energy savings as a sub-system, but not as the sum of all of the systems.  It is only through convergence that these systems can work in concert, and that savings can be maximized.  In fact, studiesii have shown that unified building control strategies can result in demonstrated savings in excess of 30% on HVAC and up to 60% on lighting. With these kinds of results, why not maximize energy savings by having HVAC, lighting and shades within a room react to a single occupancy sensor?

        1. Aim for the lowest total cost of ownership
With less infrastructure, simpler operator controls, fewer external relationships to manage, and maximized energy savings, there is no better way to lower the capital and operational costs of a building.  Why not operate a smart building while keeping a keen eye on the bottom line?

As momentum towards smarter buildings continues to grow, so will the complexity of managing the multiple systems found within these facilities. Building owners and operators therefore stand to benefit from a solution that can simplify the process, all the while ensuring energy efficiency and occupant comfort. Convergence allows for the successful combination, all under one control system, of the numerous functions within a building including HVAC, lighting, shading, card access, video surveillance, and power monitoring.  In applying this concept to a building, one stands to benefit from increased simplicity, occupant appeal and significant energy and cost savings. As the industry increasingly experiences these advantages, it is clear that the prevalence of smarter, more unified building control systems will only continue to expand throughout the world of building automation and energy management.

About the Author

Geoff Olsen is a sales and business development professional in the Green Building industry who finds creative ways for organizations to leverage technology to reduce energy usage in their buildings.  His areas of expertise include energy management, lighting & lighting controls, HVAC, building automation, and tenant engagement.  Coming from the lighting controls industry, Geoff joined Distech Controls because of a belief that a wide variety of building controls should be unified under a single control system. His primary focus at Distech Controls is the Smart Room Control solution – a system that completely unifies HVAC, lighting and shading automation with a single room-based controller.  These controllers are then networked, using open communication protocols, to attain building-level automation and control. 

Geoff is a graduate of McMaster University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and Business Management, and is a member of Professional Engineers Ontario.


[i] Source CIBSE TM24 Environmental Factors Affecting Office Worker Performance:  Review of Evidence
[ii] Source Hanover Hannover University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Germany


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