BAS Brings the Green Revolution to the HVAC Industry

In Articles by Scott Wilson

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In HVAC, building automation system (BAS) technicians manage and tune systems designed to maximize energy-efficiency in order to bring down heating and cooling costs in large commercial and industrial buildings. For most businesses and building owners, the incentive to incorporate these systems can be measured in dollars saved.

And beyond the simple metric of utility spending, some modern building owners want to evaluate other measures of how efficient or inefficient a building or factory might be by looking at other things that BAS can influence… water and sewer usage, HVAC energy use versus ambient environment temperatures, and ultimate cost of operation and maintenance.

Corporations being corporations, the initial concern for most building owners implementing BAS is cost savings. The bottom line is that it has to add to the bottom line. The investment in BAS only happens when it becomes clear that it will pay for itself in the foreseeable future, and begin saving money over the long run.

But cost is no longer the only concern.

Building automation systems are helping managers achieve the cost saving goals that justify the installation of these systems, while in the background some architects and engineers are more motivated by the more altruistic side of sustainable building design.

Certifications As the Stamp of Sustainability

LEED certification for buildings has existed since 1994 and is old news to HVAC mechanics and installers as a method of evaluating energy efficient buildings. As technology and design have boosted the limits of what can be done with natural heating, cooling, and ventilation, it’s been a natural step to automate the monitoring and control of building systems to hit peak efficiency using limited resources.

In fact, a properly installed BAS setup counts toward LEED certification points. But even more stringent requirements are being investigated today as HVAC technologies and BAS capabilities improve.

The brand new Bullitt Center office building in Seattle, Washington, opened its doors in 2013 claiming to be the greenest commercial building in the world, the largest structure at the time to achieve the strictest green building certification in the world, the Living Building Certification.

Designed to achieve a 250-year lifespan, fully 210 years longer than the typical commercial project, the Bullitt Center was built to be completely carbon neutral, with on-site water and sewage processing, energy neutral electrical systems, and constructed of completely non-toxic substances.

None of these goals would be achievable without high-tech building automation to manage them.

The natural HVAC system, for example, uses distributed temperature and CO sensors throughout the structure to monitor conditions and manage the completely automated, motorized, triple-pane window system to open them and flush warm air from the building on demand. The BAS also handles an array of motorized slats for shading to regulate solar energy falling on the building exterior to ensure comfortable temperatures inside.

Automated lighting sensors also reduce electrical usage by monitoring light levels and cutting back on electrical illumination when sunlight is sufficient. And building tenants are expected to adhere to a strict energy budget to ensure that they do not outstrip the electricity provided by the overhanging 545-panel rooftop solar array. The Climatec Access BAS energy dashboard keeps all building tenants apprised of their current consumption. Alert and monitoring systems built into the software keep HVAC and other building maintenance staff ahead of problems that might arise in the advanced green energy systems.

Sustainability Goes Beyond The Green Movement…

…Turns Out It’s Good for Business

Bullitt Center was built by an environmental non-profit as a demonstration of what could be achieved at the outer limits of green building with today’s technology, but for-profit businesses are also beginning to embrace social responsibility as a design ethic.

A combination of government incentives, corporate responsibility, and market positioning led Brooks Sports to commission another Seattle-based sustainable building for its world headquarters. Stone 34 makes use of such features as:

  • Hydronic radiant beams for heating
  • Rainwater harvesting to offset water consumption
  • Natural daylight collection and vacancy controls
  • Smart power systems

All of these, of course, are managed by a building automation system to keep habitability balanced with eco-friendliness.

The Frontier of Sustainability Rides With Building Automation

Unintended consequences often go hand-in-hand with new techniques in HVAC. But BAS can help head off those problems at the pass, too, by distributing smart devices throughout buildings to both monitor and manage unexpected issues. The Internet of Things uses independent, but networked, sensors and actuators to cooperatively fine-tune building HVAC for greener performance over time.

The critical nature of BAS to this performance is reflected in the LEED certification standards, which can count a properly installed and configured BAS as contributing up to 48 points toward a certificate.

Protocols such as BACnet tie these systems together, and BAS HVAC technicians become adept at connecting and troubleshooting the distributed building systems they connect. Because both sustainable buildings and BAS systems include far more than just HVAC components, a solid understanding of plumbing, electrical, and other mechanical systems is also required.

BAS work on sustainable buildings evolves as quickly as the underlying green technologies do, which means that staying up-to-date is a must for every BAS HVAC technician. Proper installation and configuration is critical.

Continuing education, such as that offered by the Building Efficiency for a Sustainable Tomorrow (BEST) Center, keeps technicians in the loop by covering technology solutions for sustainable buildings. BEST offers curriculums at the crossroads of all three fields:

  • Sustainable facility operations
  • BAS
  • Commercial HVAC

The Building Performance Institute is another organization with a focus on sustainable HVAC work. BPI certifications cover a range of relevant specialities, including analysis, leak control, and building envelope inspection. BAS controls assist in all those aspects of building energy performance control.

Sustainable buildings will soon simply be all buildings, and today’s BAS systems will evolve into a critical, but common, component in every aspect of commercial HVAC work. Keeping the environment clean and healthy and minimizing HVAC costs will go hand-in-hand, and BAS technicians will be instrumental in making it happen.