An industry looks beyond automation for a definition of the intelligent building

From the realm of pure science fiction just a few decades ago, automated systems have become ubiquitous in buildings both commercial and industrial. The majority of fire, security, access control, energy, lighting, communications, and HVAC systems are now automated, driving up demand for hardware, software, and services, such as installation and training. In its recent report on total building automation systems (BAS) revenue, including software and services, ARC Advisory Group states that the worldwide BAS market is expected to continue to grow at a rate of nearly 5% over the next five years. The Dedham, Mass.-based industry analysis firm also predicts that by 2009 the BAS market may exceed $25 billion, up from nearly $22 billion in 2004.

Driving the demand for BAS is the need for energy management. With oil at more than $60 a barrel, building owners are looking for ways to lower their utility bills and reduce operating and maintenance costs. The demand for automated systems is great, but does automation necessarily indicate intelligence?

Experts at the forefront of intelligent building design say it doesn't. Automation is only one key aspect in the design and construction of an energy- and cost-efficient integrated building that can be called “intelligent.”

What makes a building “intelligent”?

“Everybody means something different when we talk about an intelligent building,” says Dr. Frank Spitzer, consulting electrical engineer with Toronto-based IBI Group, a multi-disciplinary consulting organization offering services in urban land, facilities, transportation, and systems. “To me ‘intelligence’ is the ability to reuse information, preferably by sharing it between a number of traditionally segregated systems. There are philosophies that say we should continue to maintain segregated systems, and there are those people who, as computer capacity and computer power increases, are very happy to try and make one system that does everything. So when I talk about ‘intelligence,’ I'm talking about the proper sharing of that information and the establishment of an appropriate hierarchy.”

To combat this confusion about what constitutes an intelligent building, the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), the Ottawa, Ontario-based not-for-profit association that promotes advanced technologies for the automation of homes and buildings in North America, managed the report, “Technology Roadmap (TRM) for Intelligent Buildings.” Published last year, TRM defines an intelligent building as one that “applies technologies to improve the building environment and functionality for occupants/tenants while controlling costs.”

CABA is also at work on a Web-based ranking tool called the Building Intelligence Quotient (BIQ). The association expects the ranking system to provide an objective means to evaluate and measure the “value” of intelligent building performance, a design guide for integration of building intelligence in new building projects, and a building automation retrofit action plan tool. Much like the ranking system used in the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, BIQ will provide neutral, third-party criteria to measure a building's intelligence, and thus its increased value.

“One of the things that's going on within the industry right now is we're starting to come up with a lexicon to describe intelligence, and we're starting to come up with tools to measure it,” says David Dern, marketing director for CABA. “The Asian Intelligent Buildings Institute lists 60 or 70 attributes that might go into an intelligent building — they actually look at the level of Feng Shui in the building. In the U.S., one of the things we think about is energy efficiency because you can't have something you might call an intelligent building yet it has no daylighting. That doesn't make any sense.”

For some professionals, integration and efficiency are inextricably entwined in the definition of an intelligent building. “Intelligence in a building is two different things,” says Paul Ehrlich, P.E., president of Building Intelligence Group, a consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. “It's definitely integration. You look at how that building's going to be used and how the business systems are going to tie into the building systems.”

As an example, Ehrlich cites an airport that instead of having discrete system for lighting control, fire detection, security, and HVAC control has one or two systems that “start to allow you to get a common view of all those things.” In this case, the flight control system was integrated into the building control system so that when a flight is scheduled to arrive at a certain gate, the lights and air conditioning at that gate are automatically activated. In addition, when luggage is expected at a certain baggage carousel, the lights and air conditioning in that area are activated. “That's the difference between a building that has some automation and a building that's truly starting to be intelligent,” says Ehrlich. “It's tying together the business needs of the building along with the building systems.”

The second part of Ehrlich's definition of an intelligent building involves cost efficiency for building managers as well as maintaining the comfort and productivity of its occupants. “‘Operationally more efficient’ means that not only is the building more energy efficient, but it also means it can run with fewer people,” Ehrlich says.

In an integrated system, one building manager, using a handheld device, can automatically be notified about pending or cleared work orders. He can also monitor security cameras in any part of the building, and even control lighting. “The benefit that we get from these intelligent buildings is a more comfortable space — one where we've got better control of the lights and the air conditioning,” Ehrlich says. “It's also a safer space because we're able to monitor the fire alarm systems and the security systems from a central location. It's also a system that costs less to run. Energy efficiency figures into that, as does comfort.”

The moment of convergence

Unfortunately, in the majority of buildings in North America, the systems stop at automation. “We still have separate computers that operate probably five or six systems in the average large building,” Spitzer says. “Very few operations allow the network to share information among them, and it's very rare for there to be a well-organized hierarchy of control.”

However, recent advances in systems technology have made implementing building intelligence possible — as well as more economical.“It's what some people call ‘convergence,’” Ehrlich says. “It used to be if you wanted to put something on a network, it would cost you thousands of dollars, and you had to be an IT guy to do it. Now we can build Internet technology into a product for the cost of a chip — below $50 in manufacturing cost.”

The technology is ready, the standards — changes to the 2002 NEC Code and the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) MasterFormat 2004 — are ready, the products are ready, and the opportunity is there for owners who want to implement these systems in their buildings. However, there are some real challenges to designing and constructing an intelligent building. In some cases, suppliers don't carry all the products needed for the full implementation. Even more common is a lack of design and construction firms that have an understanding of all the systems. “There's a gap between somebody who understands the electrical and the mechanical and the networking systems and can design those to work together,” says Ehrlich. “If you go within an engineering firm, it's traditionally organized with a mechanical group and an electrical group, and the data guys are in a different firm altogether.”

Once a developer or owner finds a firm that can handle the job, the task of coordinating subcontractors can be overwhelming, even on a project as simple as installing a door. Traditionally, a carpenter installs the doorframe and the door, and then that same carpenter would also install the lock, hinges, and hardware. But in an intelligent building, the door may contain an electromagnet and an electric hinge. There could also be a panic bar as well as an access control system, which then needs a card and an electric strike. “You can't hang that door properly and prove that it works until the access control system, the fire system, and the controlling components are installed,” says Spitzer. “Those can't go in until the building is much further along than it normally is when you hang the door. So suddenly you've got a major coordination problem and issues with respect to sequence of construction and constructability. It's doable, but without question it requires a greater degree of coordination.”

Accepting the challenge

“Probably five years ago, people who were more involved in the low-voltage work kind of resented the fact that an electrical contractor would come in and say, ‘We'll not only pull the high-voltage stuff, we'll also pull the low-voltage stuff,’” Dern says. Now the tables have turned, and certification standards for low-voltage work have become more rigorous. Electrical designers and contractors are now being encouraged to accept training on low-voltage systems. Some take advantage of the free seminars offered by product manufacturers, and others find instruction through associations, training firms, and, in some cases, the unions.

“Contractors have an opportunity to be multidisciplinary,” Spitzer says. “I found that in many cases the unions have been in the forefront. They've said, ‘You tell us what it is that they need to know, and we'll try and help you.’ Sticking their head in the sand and saying it doesn't exist, or we're not going to do these things is regrettable and inappropriate.”

Sound words of advice to designers and contractors who want to work on intelligent buildings is to start with an understanding of information systems and information technology. “If you're doing an electrical distribution system, it's important to understand how your power metering and your power monitoring is going to tie into the network,” Ehrlich says.

An awareness of new technologies will also be imperative in the intelligent building field. “If you do a lighting control system, you should understand what the impact of new technology like wireless mesh networking, which dramatically cuts the cost of installing the systems, is going to be.”

In addition, designers and contractors should try to develop relationships with the building owners and imagine what the future occupants — be they industrial, commercial, or residential — will need in the space. “Start thinking about what your skills are, what it is you bring to the table, and how you're going to work with owners to bring value to their business,” says Ehrlich. “The skills to do a good electrical system design for a building are very valuable skills, but they're skills that are also not unique. There might be a hardworking engineer in India that could do a great electrical system design, but he's not going to be able to work with an owner and understand what their business needs are and how that system's going to be able to work better.”

Driving forces

A lot of regulatory issues have come into play the last few years. The changes to the 2002 NEC Code, which requires proper cable management on the part of the building owner, and the breakup in divisions in CSI's MasterFormat 2004 may actually become a strong impetus for building owners to start thinking “intelligently.” The recent increases in energy costs and incentives put forth by the 2005 Energy Policy Act may also put owners on the road to asking for intelligent design and construction. In addition, building owners are seeing many of their facilities managers retire and are finding it difficult to find people to take their place. Owners have also felt the impact of commercial vacancy rates and will do almost anything to keep their occupancy rates high.

“No building owner in their right mind goes out to their architect and says, ‘You know, the next building I do, I want to spend another $5 a square foot because I have too much money,’ Ehrlich says. “So a big part of using intelligent systems is in understanding of the economics and the benefits.”

Technology has risks: viruses, hackers, obsolescence. However, the biggest challenge to intelligence in building design may be the industry itself. In a somewhat conservative industry, proposing up-front costs for integrated systems may be risky. “I think that the biggest challenge is that in the building industry, we will keep doing what we've always done unless there's a good reason not to,” says Ehrlich. “Frankly, we put up buildings, and they stay up for a long time.”

For more information on intelligent buildings and to read the “Technology Road Map for Intelligent Buildings,” visit the CABA Web site at

Intelligence on the Home Front

“The networking for a traditional single-family model tract home used to be two phone outlets and a cable TV outlet in the living room,” says Derek Fraychineaud, vice president of construction for the Playa Vista planned community on the Westside of Los Angeles. Compared to Playa Vista's fully networked condos, lofts, town homes, and detached residences, the previous wiring could be considered positively Luddite.

When residents move into housing in this master planned community, a fully integrated backbone of systems has already been installed. “We add multi-mode fiber to every one of these homes,” says Fraychineaud. Cat. 5 runs lead to the thermostat for temperature control, surround sound prewire is placed in the media rooms, and a home run goes to the power distribution box for the X10 technologies. Every room has at least one — if not two — network outlets, which are hot from the moment the new residents move in. To finish off the backbone, the homes come with a cable modem router and a switcher on a DOCSIS platform. The systems in the residence have their own intranet, which the new homeowner can control.

Playa Vista runs conduits to the roof of all of these buildings in the event that wireless or some type of dish technology comes along. “The idea was that we tried to future proof these homes to the highest degree possible,” Fraychineaud says. “We put high-quality, high-tech wiring throughout the home. We've also run fiber to each one of the projects throughout. It's dark right now, but at some point if that becomes viable or in the next phase, it'll be ready for it.”

The intranet within the home can be customized after the purchase of the residence. Homeowners may add lighting controls and smart appliances, depending on the their needs. “Our first generation of move-ins were spending somewhere in the neighborhood of on average maybe $1500 worth of technology upgrades per unit,” Fraychineaud says. “We're now somewhere up in the $5,000 to $7,000 per unit range.”

Fraychineaud admits that the consumer has been slow to pick up on it, but they're now seeing a rapid increase in the amount of technologies that homeowners are buying. What sells these residences is their connectivity.

TAGS: Design
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