Building controls monitor the “pulse” of energy used in buildings and provide flexibility for individual control that the building occupant desires. For example, lighting and heating/cooling energy use can be minimized when integrated with security to turn off lights and reduce heating/cooling requirements for unoccupied areas. Integrated controls that summarize building energy consumption for electricity, gas, and other energy sources allow facilities to predict times of peak loads and manage the overall energy use. Healthcare facilities have a daunting task when planning, constructing, and maintaining these systems designed to keep the building running and ensure a high level of patient care.

Unfortunately, when not properly integrated, even sophisticated controls do not function as expected. The breadth of systems controlled makes integration extremely difficult. Yet, there are significant rewards in both new and existing buildings when controls are integrated to maximize both energy efficiency and individual control.

Successful management of controls integration begins with identifying the “pulse” of building control, which proceeds into design, and then is followed by procurement. Installation and execution finalizes and ensures success of this lengthy process. Three key things must occur to allow for successful management of controls integration: (1) the owner's goals must be solidified by the designer, (2) the purchaser of the controls must include goals and objectives in agreements with the installer, and (3) the installer must prepare systems to execute the goals and objectives.

In today's market, every system has controls. Unfortunately, only select systems can communicate with each other. When they do communicate, they speak different languages. Meanwhile, the end user, who is trying to learn a new system, may find ways to get the necessary jobs done and take over the controls. Thus, controls become ineffective.

How to Make It Right

The design of the control must begin with the end in mind. Focusing on the end product pushes the team to work together toward those end goals. Unfortunately, the end product isn't always as clear as one would hope. Identifying core controls versus desired controls is a necessary exercise in our budget-driven society. The key is to understand the benefits that controls can bring to building efficiency. This drives the definition of core versus desired. Most importantly, having the goals clearly identified allows the designer to create with explicit objectives.

The purchaser of the defined controls must also communicate the goals with the necessary objectives to support the agreements made by the project team. To accomplish this, installer contracts are written so that the installers are accountable for the end product they have helped define. If this is not properly defined either to the purchaser or to the installer, the controls will fall short of expectations. Having a purchaser that drives the goals and objectives into agreements will solidify the successful management of controls.

Development of the complete team—the owner, designer, purchaser/manager, and installers—begins with the process of controls integration. Integration requires cooperation between all control installers and vendors. Ultimately, which controls are going to speak which language defines how the multiple systems will communicate. The goals and objectives defined in agreements will clarify the path to integration. Tasks required to make each project's unique controls speak with the related systems now can be executed.

The continued monitoring and cooperation throughout installation is necessary to control the system as a whole. At the end of the project, the core control should be matched to the design parameter to see how the systems are performing. This will provide a baseline to monitor building efficiency and confirm to the end users that the controls are functioning as planned.

Service and verification of controls once a project is complete also must be included in the agreements. Operation and maintenance staff should provide support, especially as they begin operating a new system. Ensured success of the building's controls can only be determined after a prescribed period with a real building load.

Pitfalls of controls integration can be avoided. The best way to accomplish this is through a defined set of goals and objectives made into reality through teamwork. The teamwork element cannot be understated and requires management of roles and responsibilities identified in all agreements. The purchaser of the controls must translate the goals and objectives into agreements, thus allowing management of controls execution. Success is achieved when building efficiency and individual controls are quantifiably monitored and justified. This gives the client, and more specifically the operation and maintenance staff, the ability to keep their fingers on the “pulse” of the building's energy flow at any time. HD

Leed-Certified Professional, CG Schmidt Construction, Milwaukee

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Healthcare Design 2006 May;6(3):22