In many existing buildings, especially those where the age or historic significance restricts the changes that can be made to the structure, a building automation system (BAS) may never be considered.
That’s because the requirements of wired building controls make a BAS too costly—and perhaps not even physically possible—in those buildings.
Wireless technology is changing that by eliminating the communication wires between system controllers, unit controllers, zone sensors and service tools. This freedom from wires provides the option to consider automated building controls in existing and historic buildings where the technology wasn’t feasible or was considered too costly in the past.
Using wireless technology to install automated building controls can provide many advantages, including improved building efficiency; performance and occupant comfort; and the ability for remote access, control, monitoring and troubleshooting of building systems.
A Cost-effective Option
Picture a 100-year-old building with poured concrete walls. It may have pneumatic controls or perhaps an even older, standalone building mechanical system that runs on manual valves.
In the past, running wires through these types of walls or ceilings to install newer building controls or building automation was prohibitively expensive, and in many cases not even physically possible, especially in protected historic structures. Wireless technology allows for building automation to be added in these types of facilities without disturbing walls or historic details of a building, and it’s a technology that offers cost-effectiveness for the life of the system.
Renovations or upgrades to older buildings often present additional challenges, such as the potential presence of hazardous materials in the walls or the unknown of dealing with the standards of building codes from a different era. Using wireless technology eliminates these risks because there is no need to disturb the walls or existing wiring.
Cost-effective installation is another benefit of wireless technology because it can reduce the complexity, time and cost of the installation process. With no wires to maintain or fix, the technology also offers reduced service and repair costs over the life of the system. Some wireless options offer long-lasting or lifetime batteries, which contribute to ease and affordability of maintenance.
Making Automation Possible
In many older buildings with pneumatic systems, it is becoming more difficult and expensive to keep aging systems running. Additionally, building owners or facility managers in many of these buildings want the operational capabilities that new technologies and modern building systems provide, such as unified control of multiple systems and remote management.
Advancements in wireless communication for building controls puts these capabilities and technology advancements within reach in older and historic structures. Enabling automation via wireless can provide capabilities, such as remote access to building systems, unified control of multiple building systems and multiple buildings from one interface for easier management, and improved performance and efficiency.
The result is consistent occupant comfort, reduced operational costs and an improved building environment.
The Moody County Courthouse in South Dakota is an example of an aging building where the building controls and systems were updated using wireless technology. The HVAC systems in the Moody County Courthouse were more than 30 years old, failing and in need of replacement. Officials there wanted to replace the systems without compromising the integrity of the century-old building.
Wireless technology allowed them to replace the HVAC system for improved reliability and comfort, as well as install a web-based BAS that provides system-wide monitoring, control and diagnostic capabilities from a single location for improved efficiency and ease of use.
The ability to upgrade a building’s controls with wireless technology is an economical way to leverage existing buildings rather than constructing new facilities and to preserve historic structures for their intended uses.
In addition to preserving the structure itself, using a BAS to improve the building environment can help preserve and maintain the condition of important documents or items of historical value that may be stored in these buildings. For example, advanced building automation can provide precise temperature and humidity control in these spaces—capabilities that may not be available with other building systems.
Reliability and Performance
Wireless solutions can be used in building automation systems for many applications, including sensing, equipment, system communications, remote access and service tools. Past wireless technologies used in building automation were not specifically developed for these more demanding applications, often coming with less-than-optimal results, including high maintenance requirements, questionable reliability and difficult integration.
Technology advancements mean today’s wireless solutions offer reliable and secure performance by taking advantage of new wireless standards, such as ZigBee Building Automation. These standards offer better outcomes including extended signal range, longer battery life and improved reliability through a self-repairing mesh network. These technologies can make wireless communication more reliable and more cost effective than wired solutions. In addition, secure wireless networks available on the market use AES-128 encryption, keys and device authentication to ensure network security.
As wireless technology continues to extend to other building devices and systems, even more options will become available for building controls applications.
In addition, building automation systems that use standard open protocols, such as BACnet, offer flexibility for the future. This allows for the easy integration of devices if there is need to expand or change the spaces in a building; this increases options and flexibility as building needs and technologies evolve.
A Solution for Retrofit Applications
Upgrading the building controls and mechanical systems in older buildings and historic structures can present numerous challenges. With wired building systems, these challenges can be too costly—or physically impossible—to overcome.
Wireless communication technology makes improved building control financially feasible in these facilities without disturbing or altering the structure.
A wireless solution puts building automation, and the improved building performance and energy saving strategies that automation can bring, within financial reach in more buildings and applications.