Creating efficient, effective labs: Building automation, controls

Laboratory and research facility operators must produce precise, reliable results every time in order to stay in business—and they insist upon that same precision from the engineers working on their buildings. Building automation systems and integration often come into play.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 29, 2015


H. Jay Enck, CPMP, CxAP, HBDP, BEAP, LEED Fellow, LEED AP BD+C, QxAP, Chief Technology Officer, Commissioning & Green Building Solutions Inc. (CxGBS) Duluth, Ga.

Ian Marchant, PE, CEM, LEED AP BD+C, Senior Mechanical Engineer, CDM Smith, Latham, N.Y.

Mike Walters, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Confluenc, Madison, Wis.

CSE: When designing integration monitoring and control systems, what factors do you consider?

Marchant: The first priority is meeting project specifications. However, keeping systems simple is also important-complex operating algorithms can save a lot of energy, but if they are not understood by the owner’s operators they can be incorrectly adjusted, improperly maintained, or bypassed altogether. Initially, this can be overcome by proper training. Over time, employee turnover and/or lack of system understanding can result in more energy use than necessary. Calibration of sensors can also cause a lack of proper control. Once an operator cannot trust the control system, "workaround" fixes will be found to bypass a once reliable control system. A robust commissioning and retro-commissioning program can overcome these problems.

CSE: What types of cutting-edge sensors, biometrics, or other controls are you specifying in these buildings?

Walters: I have become convinced of the value of Aircuity’s air quality monitoring suite for many different environments, including laboratory facilities. New construction projects, where a complete ventilation system can be designed to leverage this type of technology, allow for significant operating and capital efficiencies, but existing buildings can be equally viable candidates. Laboratory demand control ventilation, facilitated by air quality sensors, can be a great energy conservation measure.

CSE: What are some common problems you encounter when working on building automation systems?

Enck: There are variety of problems, including manufactured equipment sequences of operation not performing correctly; control contractors not completing the required programming, incorrect programing especially of metering, and variable refrigerant flow systems, etc; use of wrong types of sensors for lighting and daylighting control; programming of supply and exhaust controllers to track properly in maintaining correct pressurization of the zone and the building; incorrect sensor locations; and a control contractor uploading the wrong version of programming after commissioning.

CSE: What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome, and how did you do so?

Enck: Interoperability or interaction between the building enclosure and the HVAC system, interoperability between the various HVAC components during various operating modes as well as emergency modes, interaction between HVAC components during each climate season, and the current use of the facility by the occupants must all be examined and analyzed to identify operational issues affecting the building’s performance. CxGBS identifies these issues through testing, setting up data logging of specific data points, analyzing the information, and presenting the information to the relevant members of the design, construction, and operational team to work through and correct these issues.