Make building controls a priority, not an afterthought…

Jon Belfield, Building Controls Industry Association, BCIA
Jon Belfield

Bill Gates is quoted as having said “People don’t know how to want the things we can offer them”. For example, some things we now consider normal were once considered as unnecessary luxuries – early electric lights were switched on/off at the fitting meaning you would bump into furniture as you fumbled for the switch. When it was realised that a switch could be fitted just inside the door, for a time, many people considered this as a needless indulgence.

We have similar examples in the world of building energy management systems (BEMS) as technologies move from being ground-breaking to ‘normal’ and data is integral to this. The vast amount of data available to us can either be viewed as amazing or incredibly scary depending on your personal outlook. Thanks to evolving technology, new data is being generated all of the time.

The key that many innovative products in our sector is unlocking, is the sifting through and the processing of vast amounts of data to spot patterns, trigger discrepancies or make changes to the way a building is controlled and managed. This allows us to move ever closer to the integrated smarter buildings that will become normal – like a light switch!

Ultimately,the clever use of data can greatly reduce energy consumption in today’s commercial buildings, something which needs to be at the forefront for building managers for a whole host of reasons.

Understandably, today’s intelligent buildings are hugely benefiting from innovative building controls and an influx of data. There is a growing demand for effective building controls as the BCIA’s Market Information Service (MIS) discovered a new Q1 record set this year of £654.8 million for the total controls and BEMS market in the UK. This represents a 0.3% increase in comparison to Q1 one year ago and highlights the impact that building controls are having in today’s modern commercial buildings. These are great statistics and something that the industry should be very proud of.

However, recognising the importance of controls within a building is critical and ideally this should start at the design and build stage. It is widely known that if you look at the approximate percentage of costs of a building, the 10 80 10 rule applies: 10% is invested at the construction stage, 80% is spent on the cost of running building services, such as heating, lighting and air- conditioning and the final 10% is accounted for in dismantling and demolition.

As with many areas of life, cutting costs often prevail in building projects and it is not uncommon to the find that a number of sensors, actuators and so forth can be reduced at the design stage as a way to lower costs. What many people fail to realise is that not considering the lifecycle costs of a building at the initial design and build stage, will almost inevitably lead to higher operating costs and a reduction in the ability to achieve energy savings over the long term.

The ability to control the building is a significant factor in maximising efficiency and this means the controls strategy must be considered at every stage of the life cycle for services within to work to their optimum.

With a control strategy in place at the design stage, this will ensure a BEMS will work effectively to control essential services in a building. A BEMS collects vast amounts of live data about your building. With a constant flow of data easily accessible through effective building controls, this presents building managers with a bird’s eye view of a building and complete transparency. A lot of controls products are highly flexible which allows the building owner to monitor and control HVAC and building services.

As the nights are drawing in and colder temperatures are on the way perhaps you would like to set the heating to come on during office hours if the ambient temperature falls below a certain figure?

Jon Belfield, Building Controls Industry Association, BCIA

This is only possible if the building controls are fit for purpose and designed to keep the building operating at peak performance. Without sufficient and effective building controls installed, you may end up in the scenario of the heater being on full blast but the windows open. This is more common than you may wish to believe and wastes huge amounts of energy. This is exactly the type of situation we want to avoid and we can – simply by considering the impact and benefit of building controls from the start…

It goes without saying that through constant maintenance, monitoring and management of a BEMS and building controls, this will help to achieve savings during its lifetime.

It can easily be overlooked, but naturally a building changes over time and evolves. Therefore, as demands change, a BEMS is integral to highlighting weak points in existing systems and services that may benefit from an upgrade.

Ultimately, it is clear that there needs to be more spotlight on the long term running costs of a building – as energy prices are continuing to rise. Investing in efficiency pays off, the results may not be instantly visible, but they will offer a Return on Investment (ROI) over the years which not only provides an energy efficient building but is beneficial to your organisation.

There is a theory in a recently published book called The Imaginary Economy (by Mario Fabbri) which suggests that the best thing you can have in an economy is not just highly innovative producers but confident and adventurous consumers. This is our challenge, to drive home the real financial value that controls can bring and get sophisticated building energy management systems to be seen as normal as a light switch!

I suggest making building controls the priority from the getgo by acknowledging that building services account for a large proportion of the lifetime costs of a building.

We have no excuses; we have access to vast amounts of data at the touch of a button which makes managing efficiency in a building much simpler. This will ensure that building controls are a vital component of building design and lead to an increase in sustainable and energy efficient buildings.

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