Integrate building systems to improve functionality

Integrated building systems can connect several engineered systems within a building to make it more energy-efficient and to trim costs.

By Neil Maldeis, PE, CEM, GBE; Trane, White Bear, Minn. October 3, 2017

Learning objectives

  • Learn how the data provided by a connected building and its smart devices can be collected and applied to gain energy and operational efficiencies, which lead to cost savings.
  • Understand which devices can be connected through a building management system and how open communication protocols allow equipment from various manufacturers to work together.
  • Assess how to get started and identify a trusted partner to lead you through the process.

Connected buildings, the internet of things (IoT), and smart devices are buzzwords in the industrial market. But do your building clients have a true understanding of what a connected building is and the benefits that it can provide?

Connected devices, such as lighting, security systems, and HVAC equipment, produce data that can be captured and applied to significantly increase energy savings and operational efficiencies. Technology advances and the ability to turn building system data into usable information also enable a more sophisticated approach to service and maintenance. And because data can be gathered from one piece of equipment or from dozens, it’s possible to start small.

The bottom line: It’s all about the outcomes that matter to building owners and facility managers. Whether the goal is energy efficiency, cost savings, or improved occupant comfort, a connected building can help building owners and managers achieve their desired outcomes. Specifying products and services that provide greater value over time enhances your relationship with your customers, making you more competitive.

Assessing the goals

Start by determining what a building owner or manager wants to achieve. Do they want a greater understanding of building performance? The ability to track utility trends? An easier way to control building setpoints remotely to improve occupant comfort?

A connected building is the answer to all of those questions, providing better control of building systems, remote access to system controls, a detailed view into real-time performance, and more advanced options for analytics.

It’s easier than ever to access building data, and technology advancements are driving the expectations of building owners and occupants. With greater capabilities to control buildings comes greater possibilities for energy savings and comfort.

Choosing the right solution that takes advantage of the building data at your customer’s fingertips starts with understanding what customers want and need.

Decisions with data

A connected building starts with a building automation system (BAS), which aggregates data from equipment that is able to connect to the cloud or the internet. As more connected devices are integrated into networks, more value can be delivered.

The real value is in the data that tells your customers how systems are operating and performing. The BAS can collect trends about average setpoints over a certain period, how often equipment is running, and hours of building usage. This information can be delivered via easy-to-read dashboards.

Equipment metering also can be integrated into a BAS to provide detailed utility data, such as average kilowatt hour usage for specific pieces of HVAC equipment.

This information helps building owners and facility managers make informed decisions about how to operate the equipment to achieve better energy efficiency, track maintenance requirements, and dispatch service/maintenance personnel automatically.

Integrating building systems

A connected building can go beyond HVAC equipment—integrating other systems such as lighting, security, water, and elevators. A BAS can dim lights, raise building setpoints, or slightly slow down elevators and escalators. Typically, these actions are unnoticeable to building occupants, but there are potentially large financial benefits.

This level of integration involves looking at the whole building and the way it is performing as a group of integrated/interdependent systems rather than as many independent pieces.

Varying types of systems—and even equipment from different manufacturers—can be integrated when they speak the same language. Or in other cases, a communication bridge can be used to connect equipment that does not speak the same language.

Look for equipment and systems that use open and standard protocols, such as BACnet, LonWorks or ZigBee. This helps ensure integration of different types of systems and equipment to drive value for your customers.

Which pieces should be integrated first, HVAC equipment or lighting? It depends on what goals your customers are trying to accomplish.

Working with an equipment provider that has expertise in building controls and integration is helpful. An experienced partner can provide insight about which equipment and systems can be connected and integrated.

While most equipment is easier to install during new construction, there are many products designed for installation in existing buildings. Wireless communication products can be added to equipment to create connectivity, which means equipment does not need to have built-in capability to connect to the internet.

Building connectivity doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Starting with one piece of equipment and implementing other devices in stages is possible, which also makes it easier to take the first step.


In one real-world example, a movie theater chain uses a building management system (BMS) to integrate HVAC and lighting controls at each of its locations. These building-level systems connect to a web-enabled, enterprise-level BAS network. This cloud-based connectivity allows a facility manager to monitor, control, and apply changes to its buildings across the country from a central location.

This system integration with enterprisewide control delivers numerous benefits including the ability to synchronize lighting and HVAC system setpoints with ticket sales and showtime schedules. On Friday nights, as the cinema lobby fills, the theaters automatically adjust as tickets are sold, ensuring that the crowded new-release showing is cool while the less popular screenings are temperate. The theater chain saves money by leveraging automatic heating, cooling, and lighting adjustments based on occupancy needs.

Advanced services available through the theater’s BMS also provide remote resolution of system alarms 24/7 and intelligent dispatching of system information and troubleshooting to the technicians’ handheld devices.

In another example, a regional microbrewery uses the connectivity of a BMS to gather enterprisewide system data from locations in 13 states. The web-enabled building control provides corporation-level access to all of the sites, providing cloud access to enterprise data and the ability to view and adjust site conditions and equipment operation from mobile devices.

Benefits with integrated control

Connected buildings provide capabilities to improve building performance, reduce energy use and operating costs, shrink a building’s environmental footprint, and enhance reliability and uptime. Your customers can reap these benefits long-term, and it all starts by choosing the right systems and controls at installation.

Solutions that deliver value and efficiency over the life of the system, like the connected system at the movie theater, optimize customer’s building operations. Keeping customer expectations top of mind can guide you as you determine the best equipment, systems, and controls to meet their needs.

Neil Maldeis is the energy-solutions engineering leader at Trane. He has more than 35 years of experience in the contracting and energy fields.