What's Good for the Goose ... er, Panda...

Tai Shan, the nation's resident baby panda, just turned one. "Peaceful Mountain" in Chinese, the panda has come a long way from the hairless four-ounce creature that many dubbed "butterstick." I had the good fortune to see the youngster on a recent trip to D.C., where I learned that his successful transition to "rambunctious toddler" is partly attributable to technology developed for commercial...

07/01/2006


Tai Shan, the nation's resident baby panda, just turned one. "Peaceful Mountain" in Chinese, the panda has come a long way from the hairless four-ounce creature that many dubbed "butterstick." I had the good fortune to see the youngster on a recent trip to D.C., where I learned that his successful transition to "rambunctious toddler" is partly attributable to technology developed for commercial buildings. As part of its ongoing maintenance and monitoring contract with the National Zoo, Siemens Building Technologies had a hand in implementing the environmental control system for the panda habitat. "Essentially, we've taken a traditional BAS and applied it to a different environment," said Mike Piotrowski, SBT's project manager at the zoo.

In the habitat, the company installed nearly 60 sensors to monitor various conditions. Granted, the devices were there mostly for dedicated research. But they were also placed to study, and later maintain, environmental conditions. "We wanted to be able to create a micro-climate in the summer," said Lisa Stevens, the zoo's panda and primate curator.

Therefore, as part of the project, a pair of grottos were constructed and outfitted with two different cooling systems. One involved misting/fogging and the other chilled water via radiant tubing. Part of this was done to determine the cooling systems that would be installed in the zoo's Asia Trail exhibit, currently under construction. "The pandas didn't really care," said Stevens, but the zoo keepers did, because the mist system made the area too wet. It also wasn't efficient, blowing cold air into the artificial cave, she said.

With the research program having concluded, the sensors, today, are mostly monitoring temperature and humidity levels. But they're still tied to an integrated, zoo-wide system that remotely regulates a number of other habitats and even a related conservation park across the Potomac. Why is the zoo doing all this? "We need to build better environments and more appropriate habitats for all animals," said Stevens.

I couldn't agree more, but I'd like to include man in that category. Ironically, the real human interest story here should be: Why aren't we all living in much more comfortable habitats? If PETA inspected the IAQ conditions of most offices today, they'd likely rise in mass protest. So what will it take to get more controls and IAQ sensor points in buildings? LEED? A government mandate? I'm not sure. Jeff Harris, author of this month's "How To" on selecting health-care HVAC components, may be on to something. He's included a matrix that assigns weight to costs and benefits associated with various equipment options (see p. 42). Perhaps for BAS to take off, the community needs such a chart. I pledge to keep on this topic, and hopefully, bring new information to light. One of our sister companies, R.S. Means, is currently involved in developing a life-cycle cost calculator with the Continental Automated Buildings Assn. It appears this reporter needs to make a few phone calls.





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