Firstly, when I say “controls system” I mean a Building Automation System (BAS) or Energy Management System (EMS) featuring a system of Direct Digital Controls (DDC) that can be controlled and monitored centrally by computer. For more info on DDC controls, check out this website: http://advanceair.net/building-automation2.htm
A well-maintained controls system can last anywhere from 10-20 years, depending on the type of system and its capacity. Controls are extremely powerful tools that will quickly pay for themselves and provide years of energy savings, but they must be selected carefully, used and maintained properly to get that payback.
Invest in Non-Proprietary Software
Like everything else, in order to get the most out of your controls system, you must invest wisely upfront. Ideally you want a system that is not too highly proprietary – the two most popular platforms are BacNet® or LonWorks®. Each platform has its positives and negatives in comparison to each other, but both platforms have very good following and seem to be here to stay. Longevity is vital to getting support, replacement parts and easily upgrading or expanding your system in the future. Advances in controls technology even allow these platforms to integrate with each other to some extent.
Properly Train Operating Staff
The next step is to train on-site staff to operate these systems properly. In order to know if you controls system is effectively performing, you need to really understand its purpose and function. Most controls system installers will offer a brief one-time “training session.” This is usually not enough. There are too many bells and whistles to truly understand all of them in one sitting. When your service provider is working on the system, work with them as they resolve issues or update settings, ask questions, every service call can be a learning experience for staff. Any good service provider would welcome the opportunity to share knowledge of the system and provide a little impromptu training session.
Monitor System Regularly and Semi-Annually Review
Controls systems are not “set-it-and-forget-it” investments. At a minimum, they should be monitored daily for alarms and irregularities and thoroughly checked annually or semi-annually to make sure the system itself, as well as all of its settings are maximizing energy savings and control. If on-site staff is unable to provide proper continual monitoring or the semi-annual inspection, this is a service offered by many controls contractors. If systems are set up to be monitored remotely, the cost for daily monitoring is typically minimal and the benefits are enormous. Annual maintenance should be provided on-site, generally during seasonal preventive maintenance visits once or twice per year. This is also a good time to see if expansion or upgrades are necessary.
If you really want to be thorough confirming that your system is functioning correctly, you can also use devices independent of the controls system, such as data loggers, to confirm that the sensors and controls settings are calibrated correctly. This service is often provided by contractors under an Energy Services Contract.
If you’ve selected wisely, had a well-trained staff and/or controls contractor monitoring and maintaining your controls and haven’t done major changes or expansions to your HVAC equipment, you can easily get 10 years out of your initial controls investment. At the ten-year mark, it is time to start looking at options. Can you upgrade the existing system to extend its life? Or do you need to plan for a total system overhaul in the next few years because of system problems or limitations?
Though we all want our controls systems to last forever, next week’s blog will discuss how you will know that it’s time to say goodbye to your old controls system…stay tuned.