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Building Automation for Small Commercial Buildings

The benefits to having automation in smaller buildings include the ability to better control energy usage, but also include monitoring, preventative maintenance and enhanced grid integration.

Paul Ehrlich, Ira Goldschmidt & Angela Lewis
Building Intelligence Group

As published
Engineered Systems 
May Issue - BAS Column

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Generally when we think about building automation (BAS) or system integration projects, they are for larger projects such as schools, office buildings and hospitals that are 50,000 square feet or larger.  These larger projects have more complicated systems, higher energy usage, and can readily justify the investment in sophisticated controls. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration though, these larger buildings comprise only 6% of the U.S. commercial building stock.  Even looking in terms of floor-space, buildings less than 50,000 square feet comprise 50% of the total floor-space, which means that they, in turn, use about half of the total energy consumed by all commercial buildings.

Total Floorspace

This raises a question about how we can provide connection and automation for these buildings, beyond what is available using programmable thermostats.  I see three distinct sets of solutions evolving for these smaller commercial buildings.  Each has great potential and I expect that all three are going to continue to evolve:

Downsized BAS:

The same controls that are used for larger commercial buildings can readily be used for smaller projects as well.  In fact, this is a fairly common approach for owners such as school districts that want to use the same system to monitor larger and smaller schools.  The only real challenge here is cost, but suppliers are starting to offer new options that make these large building systems attractive even on smaller projects.

Small Commercial BAS:

There are a number of new products on the market that are specifically focused on small commercial building automation.  Most of these start with a smart communicating thermostat (wired or wireless) that in turn connects to a central panel which can control additional loads, such as lighting.  These systems are often focused on certain types of buildings such as retail or restaurants.  These systems offer great potential at an attractive price point.

Upsized Home Automation:

Control Solutions, Inc In reality, many small commercial buildings are not much larger (or more complicated) than a large residence.  Home automation systems are finally starting to take off. Systems that provide for web enabled automation of HVAC, lighting, and plug loads are now available at your local home center.  Even more intriguing are some of the new solutions being sold by cable and phone companies that offer security, HVAC, lighting, fire and water detection.  The entrance of large technology companies into this space is anticipated to lead to rapid growth.  It is a reasonable expectation that the same systems being designed for homeowners could easily be adapted for use in small commercial buildings. 

The benefits to having automation in smaller buildings include the ability to better control energy usage, but also include monitoring, preventative maintenance and enhanced grid integration. Look for these new systems as you embark on your next small commercial building project.

About the Authors
Paul and IraPaul and Ira first worked together on a series of ASHRAE projects including the BACnet committee and Guideline 13 – Specifying DDC Controls. The formation of Building Intelligence Group provided them the ability to work together professionally providing assistance to owners with the planning, design and development of Intelligent Building Systems. Building Intelligence Group provides services for clients worldwide including leading Universities, Corporations, and Developers. More information can be found at  We also invite you to contact us directly at or


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