October 2013
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Upgrading Aging Building Automation Systems

A well-designed upgrade can provide the ability for enhanced operability and reduced energy use, easily paying for the upgrade cost.

Paul Ehrlich, Ira Goldschmidt & Angela Lewis
Building Intelligence Group

As published
Engineered Systems 
October Issue - BAS Column

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Often when we are evaluating or assessing an existing building, we are on the lookout for equipment and systems that are in poor condition or approaching the end of life.  While it is fairly straightforward to evaluate the condition of mechanical equipment, determining when a control or building automation system needs to be replaced or upgraded can be more complicated.  Let’s look at some criteria that would drive toward a recommendation to replace or upgrade a system:

There are many goals when upgrading or replacing a control system.  The most important ones are to have a system that meets the owner’s needs in terms of performance, cost and support.  We like to see any new or upgraded system follow open protocols whenever possible, and to utilize a web browser interface.   Upgrades are also a great time to evaluate the benefits of integration including together disparate systems and connecting in equipment for additional data.  It also is a good time to improve the system by deploying additional sensors and algorithms to allow for system optimization.  A well-designed upgrade can provide the ability for enhanced operability and reduced energy use, easily paying for the upgrade cost.

Reliable Controls There are many paths to achieving an upgrade. We recommend starting by talking with your existing system supplier to find out what options they offer.  Some suppliers have a migration program that readily upgrades hardware and software at a reasonable price.  Other times it is possible to migrate older systems with the use of a web based platform that can connect to older application specific controllers and allow for expansion using open protocols and a web based user interface.  In the most extreme cases, for example in moving from a fully pneumatic system, the only option is complete system replacement.  Each of these options has its own set of pros and cons.  For example a complete system replacement is more expensive, but it provides for consistent system documentation as well as the same tools and parts to be used throughout the system. 

We often assist the owner by developing an RFP that clearly states the requirements for the upgrade, including products, protocols, work practices, new sequences, what needs to be replaced, integrated, etc.  The existing system vendor may be allowed to provide pricing for a migration platform while other suppliers are invited to bid an all-new system.  The owner can then evaluate the vendor proposals and look at which provides the best overall solution.  In many cases we have found that an all-new system may be more cost effective than attempting to bridge or migrate an old system.  Owners should take special care to make sure that the new system includes the necessary commissioning, training and support so that they can be successful with the new system. Ideally a replaced or upgraded system should become an effective tool that will serve the owner for many years to come. 



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 www.buildingintelligencegroup.com  We also invite you to contact us directly at Paul@buildingintelligencegroup.com or ira@buildingintelligencegroup.com

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