Engineering workable, successful office space: Automation and controls

Whether new or retrofit, office buildings can be a challenge for the mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), or fire protection engineer. Building automation systems and controls must be carefully planned.


Julianne Laue, PE, LEED AP, BEMP Senior MEP Engineer, Center for Sustainable Energy Mortenson Construction MinneapolisTony McGuire, PE, FASHRAE Founder McGuire Engineers Inc. ChicagoTony McGuire, PE, FASHRAE Founder McGuire Engineers Inc. Chicago


  • Julianne Laue, PE, LEED AP, BEMP, Senior MEP Engineer, Center for Sustainable Energy Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis
  • Tony McGuire, PE, FASHRAE, Founder, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago
  • Nathan Snydacker, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, ESD Global, Chicago

The MEP team at McGuire Engineers worked on the existing chillers and their associated chilled water pumps at the office facility of Illinois Tool Works. The 550,000-sq-ft structure had been used by Kraft Foods. Courtesy: McGuire Engineers

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

McGuire: Our primary concern in monitoring and control systems is commissioning. The best designs are compromised if the smallest details aren’t correct. 

Snydacker: We take many factors into account when designing monitoring and controls systems, including how the building or space will be used, how long it is expected to last, who will provide maintenance and upkeep, expandability of the system, and associated cost benefits. 

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

McGuire: BAS is a wonderful approach that is often a problem when software does not permit the owner/user to readily access for adjustments. All buildings need flexibility. 

Snydacker: Coming into a renovation project where there is an existing BAS, we often find systems that are either antiquated or have limited expandability. Upgrades to the existing systems have often not been anticipated in project budgets and can be difficult to build into a project once lease agreements and tenant improvement funds have been implemented. 

CSE: What types of cutting-edge control systems have you specified into these buildings? What type of push-back are you receiving from the contractors, clients, or other team members?

McGuire: We approach each building as a unique item. Ownership, occupancy, and operating personnel differ. Wireless controls can be wonderful for some, and terrible for some. The controls segment of the industry remains a very dynamic element. 

CSE: What types of smart building projects have you worked on? Please describe any facilities that have incorporated the Smart Grid, automated systems, or other integrated system. Discuss the protocol (BACnet, LonWorks, etc.) and its pros/cons.

McGuire: Every building we design is smart. However, we keep it only as smart as the ultimate user can manage or need. 

CSE: Discuss the trends of convergence and automation within building technology, including controls of all systems within one network. 

McGuire: Building technology advances are among the most exciting parts of the MEP fields. 

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