October 2016

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Controls Project Life Cycle

The focus this month is on that cycle and some of the challenges related to the design and delivery of controls systems.

Paul Ehrlich & Ira Goldschmidt
Building Intelligence Group

As published
Engineered Systems 
October Issue - BAS Column

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During the past twelve years, I have had the opportunity to work on many controls projects.  Many of these were large systems integrations projects, but others were more typical projects, consisting of new controls as well as other retrofits to provide improved energy efficiency, comfort and operations.  Each project is unique with its own team and dynamic, yet there is a common cycle that all projects seem to go through.  The focus this month is on that cycle and some of the challenges related to the design and delivery of controls systems.

Controls projects come together through various paths. Some projects are “traditional” and come through a conventional new construction process where a controls design is needed as part of a new building or major remodeling.  Most of our projects though come through what might be considered as “non-traditional” paths. Typically these projects are developed directly for owners, focusing on improved efficiency and operations.  Such projects generally begin with a planning process conducted for the owner, bringing together stake holders (facilities, operations, leasing, IT, construction, energy, HR, etc.) and carefully examining what is currently in place and what should be in place in a future and more “connected” system.  Other projects are very heavily driven by energy efficiency, generally beginning with an investment grade energy study that includes a detailed analysis of what is in place today, recommendations for new optimized systems, and support of an energy model to help estimate energy savings.

While a more traditional project may already have funding budgeted, the non-traditional projects require a detailed process to build a business case and work with the owners’ team to justify and approve a budget.  This added step requires work on both the technical side as well as detailed financial analysis.  On many of these projects, owners may need assistance obtaining incentives, grants, and other funding mechanisms. 

Design and Contractor Selection:
I have written many columns about the process needed for a good controls design.  In summary though, it includes a detailed specification, points list, and sequences as well as details about any desired integrations. In obtaining bids, we typically try to pre-qualify contractors so that by the time we are reviewing proposals we know that our contractors are capable of doing the project.  Of course, there is also the reality part of all projects, working to get scope and budget to fit, making the necessary adjustments to bring in a project as close to budget as possible.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Delivery and Commissioning:
From the engineer’s perspective, this is both the easiest and most difficult part of any project.  By this phase, most of the effort falls onto the contractor.  Still, our role is to represent the owner and to make sure that the system works the way it was intended.  Unfortunately, this is also in many ways the longest and toughest phase of any project.  Getting a project 80% done always seems to be fairly easy, but the last 20% can be a real challenge for the entire project team.

Owner Support:
The final phase of any project is hand off, training, and use by the owner.  Our role during this phase is often more focused around dealing with any problems that arise.  In an ideal process though, there would be a process for continued engineering support and analysis for the owner’s operations team.

In Closing:
I wanted to finish this month’s column on a personal note.  I have been working as a controls and integration consultant for twelve years and writing this column for the last nine.  Starting this fall, I am transitioning into a new phase of my career and will be taking a position with the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) in Richland, Washington. PNNL is one of the Department of Energy’s national labs, and my efforts will be focused on their programs on the development of solutions to better integrate buildings with the electrical grid. I am going to miss being actively involved in projects and the chance to write for this fine publication.  My final two columns for 2016 will offer a glimpse into is involved in achieving building to grid – so watch this space for more details.

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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