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Buying Guide: Building automation systems

See how your facility can work smarter instead of harder through building automation, so you can save energy and improve your bottom line.

Maximizing occupant satisfaction and minimizing costs is a fine balancing act for building owners and facilities managers. Adding to that, buildings also change over time – even with energy-efficient building materials and equipment from the start, energy efficiency performance can degrade.

That’s where building automation systems come in.

What are building automation systems?

Building automation systems combine different technologies and software to control building systems, from heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) to lighting, security systems and more. They can be incorporated into a new construction building, but also retrofitted into legacy buildings. When functioning properly, these systems can reduce energy waste and improve efficiency.

Building automation is growing, as more buildings spring up and organizations look to curb their energy costs and lower their environmental footprints. The global market for these systems in commercial buildings is expected to reach about USD$108.5 billion by 2024.1

How does it work?

Building managers can potentially gain more insight into usage and control for everything from automatic doors to water faucets to lighting – anything that uses energy or utilities – through building automation systems.
 
Various tools and technologies come together to trend condition and energy consumption in a building and find opportunities to optimize. They can monitor power supply, HVAC systems, security and surveillance systems, along with lighting sensors.
 
Different sensors can track temperature and humidity in a room and give that information to controllers that then change the operating system accordingly. Take a boardroom as an example. As more people enter the room for a meeting, the temperature and humidity level may rise. Sensors will detect that and make adjustments, so everyone stays comfortable.
 
Some more advanced systems collect data on how a building is using energy continuously to inform smarter decisions. Advanced systems can also have fault detection diagnostics to monitor the building and find any performance issues or failures. They can provide alerts when equipment breaks down or isn’t running as it should.
 
Ultimately, building automation systems are geared towards helping a building run more smoothly and use less energy – potentially saving money and creating a better work environment.

Potential benefits of building automation

Like all energy efficiency projects, using building automation can help reduce energy costs significantly, by adjusting lighting and temperature based on occupancy needs. They can also curb ongoing maintenance costs (and reduce risk), by flagging equipment performance issues before complete failure.
 
While these systems and the buildings they run in vary, research suggests that well-defined building automation systems can help reduce unnecessary energy costs across several types of buildings, including hotels, residential buildings, offices and other commercial spaces.2

Aside from cost savings, there are also benefits to the occupants – namely, comfort. In the boardroom example, a crowded meeting space wouldn’t become overly stuffy. Day-to-day, especially during periods of unpredictable weather, your employees can continually feel comfortable and not have a too-hot or too-cold space disrupt their productivity. Automating lighting and security systems can also improve safety conditions in your workplace, along with saving energy.
 
Reduced energy use overall also contributes to a lower environmental footprint for your building, which has benefits when it comes to boosting your organization’s brand. Consumers and other businesses are looking to support organizations who are not only committed to the environment but can prove what action they’re taking to reduce their impact. Building automation systems can play an important role in making your operations more energy efficient, which your customers and shareholders will appreciate.
 
And, along with contributing to building your brand value, automation systems can also potentially increase your overall property value, too.3

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Getting started with building automation

Many major technology, automation and energy management companies offer building management systems, customized to your space and needs. Building automation systems can be a substantial capital investment, so partnering with the right provider is critical for maximizing your ROI.
 
It’s important to first work with your provider to understand the state of your building and where you’d like to get it in terms of energy efficiency. Think about how you use your facility, what occupants really need most and what your goals are in terms of performance and energy savings. Keep in mind that adopting building automation doesn’t necessarily require a complete overhaul of your systems. For legacy buildings, retrofitting just some equipment – HVAC, for example – and employing more automated monitoring tools can yield a lot of the benefits of a full building automation system.
 
Part of building automation is future proofing your business as you gain more occupants or change your operations, so it’s also wise to find out how your automation system will accommodate your future needs and growth. That task also requires asking about interoperability. As your needs grow and change, you may want to implement new sensors or smart technology from different vendors, and everything will need to work seamlessly together to truly maximize efficiency.
 
The best building automation systems should also be easy to use. Look for software that’s intuitive and visual, so you can truly take advantage of data and analytics tools to turn insights into action. Ask about your options for mobile access, too. That way, management can have insight into energy use and equipment operations even if they’re off-site.
 
Finally, ask whether your provider can handle not only the upfront technology and system set-up, but also ongoing support. Training is critical for you and your team to get the most out of your building automation system and to ensure it’s working properly, so it reduces energy waste instead of potentially wasting more by not functioning well.
 
By taking the steps to find the right building automation system for your organization’s needs, you can improve your operational efficiency and reduce costs – without compromising how your staff and customers feel.