May 2008
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More on the Challenge of Writing the Controls Specs….

Open/standard communications protocols is probably the most important example of where a specification should contain explicit, prescriptive requirements.

 Paul Ehrlich & Ira Goldschmidt
Building Intelligence Group

As published

May Issue - Column 

Last month we shared with you some of our controls design insights born from, not just our actual project experience, but also the unique experience of helping to develop the ASHRAE guideline for specifying DDC controls. In that column we listed our first three key lessons about designing building controls:

1)  The controls design is much more then just the specification
2)  The design needs to fit the project
3)  Know when to be performance based

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To continue this discussion…

4)  Be prescriptive for key elements

While we are proponents of controls specifications that are generally performance based, there are portions of any design that needs to be highly prescriptive. Open/standard communications protocols is probably the most important example of where a specification should contain explicit, prescriptive requirements. This is especially true in projects where integration with an existing BAS is being undertaken. Specifications not only need be detailed about the type of protocols and their option for each portion of the system, but should also cover the proper protocol conformance testing and certification to which the controls must conform.

Further, today’s building automation systems involve the integration of controls elements spread throughout many specification sections (i.e., controls provided with mechanical equipment and/or systems in other divisions such as lighting control). This trend has shown that, for each “element” in the system, we need to very carefully and explicitly define:

Control Solutions, Inc Unless the above details are spelled you can be pretty well assured that the low bidders for the various “controls elements” will not have everything required for the full integration effort included in their prices! Given the variation in protocols and protocol options supported by all of the “control element” bidders it would seem an impossible task to develop a specification that covers all possible bidder combinations. However, this where the use of the “basis of design” for each mechanical/electrical equipment involved can come to the rescue (i.e. the design should be based on the protocol and protocol options used by each mechanical/electrical equipment basis of design, with a clear requirement about what the other bidders must include in the price should they not comply).

The development of a good controls design can often mean the difference between a conflict-prone and smoothly-run building automation system installation. This is becoming more and more critical every day as the various building automation controls elements are increasingly being provided under many of the other mechanical/electrical specification sections. We encourage everyone in our industry to find a way to spend more time on controls design, an effort that involves not just the controls specification but all of the key elements involved in the design of an automated building.

About the Authors

Paul and IraPaul and Ira first worked together on a series of ASHRAE projects including the BACnet committee and Guideline 13 – Specifying DDC Controls. The formation of Building Intelligence Group provided them the ability to work together professionally providing assistance to owners with the planning, design and development of Intelligent Building Systems. Building Intelligence Group provides services for clients worldwide including leading Universities, Corporations, and Developers. More information can be found at  We also invite you to contact us directly at or


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