September 2008

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 An 8-Step Strategy To Making Existing Buildings Smart
An 8-step strategy for improving the performance of existing building stock.

  Jim Sinopoli
Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings
Contributing Editor

Author "Smart Buildings"

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”
Henry Ford

With increased focus and higher visibility on new construction we tend to short change the marketplace for making existing buildings smart and green. With existing buildings making up 99% of building stock there are no reasons why existing properties can’t be as smart or as green as new construction. What follows is a discussion of some implementation issues in existing buildings along with an 8-step strategy for improving the performance of existing building stock.

New Products
Past Issues

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Existing buildings come with baggage; they already have building technology systems installed. Some of the implementation issues include:

  • A number of the systems, especially the automation systems, will be using proprietary or legacy network protocols which will need to be migrated to open protocols. Typically this may mean the use of gateways or middleware to translate protocols to achieve Enterprise or full network integration.

  • There is a lack of cable pathways in existing buildings resulting in the opportunity for greater use of wireless networks and devices.

  • There are issues related to abandoned cable. The National Electrical Code requires unused cable to be removed during renovations. This can increase a project’s time and costs.

  • There may be organizational issues involved with facility management, security and information technology that have been established as separate departments that may find it a challenge with an integrated approach.

Despite the challenges, the financial metrics of improving the performance of a building and adding appropriate technology amenities can be compelling. The investment in an existing building is returned in several ways: lower operating and energy costs, lower maintenance costs, lower cost of tenant improvements, premium rents, higher asset valuation and a positive effect on capital planning.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Deployment
While many building owners find the concept of upgrading the performance of existing buildings persuasive and intuitive they struggle with moving from the concept to actual deployment. Here is an eight-step strategy to successfully improve the performance of your existing buildings:

  1. Go Through A Discovery Process
    Generally, the information available on the mechanical, electrical and other system’s performance in existing buildings is sparse. For example, if the building is using a typical BAS terminal from one of the major manufacturers, the system is likely providing more raw data than useable, actionable information and in many cases building engineers cannot get full utilization out of what data is available. Despite the meager amount of data, pull together as much information as possible and analyze it to gain insight into the building’s performance and to identify trends, pain points and opportunities. Gather as much detailed information about the capabilities and features of the existing systems including point list and sequence of operation printouts, what similar properties have done, what the energy and maintenance costs are for the building and what has generated most of the building maintenance work orders and costs. Survey occupants and tenants and any third-party contractors for energy and cost saving recommendations plus increased overall building performance improvement. Physically inspect all energy, cost impact and performance impact building systems.

  2. Benchmark the Building’s Performance
    The only way to determine the effectiveness of the building’s system upgrades is to have a baseline. After the upgrades, you’ll want to conduct a “before” and “after” comparison to judge the effectiveness of the upgrades. Benchmark the current energy usage, the energy cost on a per square foot or other measurement matrix and the number and type of work orders or contracted maintenance expense over at least 2 years. Conduct surveys of tenants or occupants regarding their current satisfaction of lighting, security, technology amenities, etc.

  3. Decide Whether To Seek LEED Certification
    Recent studies have shown that LEED certification has a positive financial effect on the value of a building. So if a building owner is upgrading systems and wants added financial value, incorporating LEED certification as part of the strategy makes sense but needs careful evaluation based on the level of LEED certification the owner may apply for.
    A critical part of the LEED certification for Existing Buildings (which focuses on operations and maintenance) is system upgrades. Much of what is often proposed as a strategy for existing buildings can satisfy some of the LEED criteria. LEED certification for existing buildings also requires addressing issues other than system upgrades such as recycling, exterior maintenance programs and cleaning and maintenance issues.

  4. Prioritize And Fund The Effort
    Prioritize and sequence the system upgrades based on potential financial return and technical analysis. If you have a portfolio of real estate, prioritize on a building-by-building basis and pick out a couple of buildings to use as pilot projects. Set a budget for the upgrades and commit funding. If funding is an issue, consider the use of an Energy Services Company (ESCO). ESCOs essentially enter into energy performance contracts. Initially, they may be paid a fee for energy audits and a feasibility study. The ESCO may then determine the cost of the energy system upgrades, the potential energy savings and put together a business case for funding the costs of the upgrades in return for a portion of the energy savings. Some ESCOs may even fund the non-energy technology upgrades as well, again, depending on the business case. Talk with your local utility providers about incentives or funding programs for energy savings.

  5. Upgrade the HVAC and Lighting Controls First
    You’ll want to make sure that the major energy-related systems are improved to perform optimally. Prior to changing out any of the mechanical or electrical system hardware, you’ll probably need to upgrade the control systems and the control system terminal application software. This will usually allow the owner to obtain the needed information about the systems, its usage and its issues prior to investing in the more expensive mechanical and electrical upgrades. Some system issues may not be mechanical and electrical but can involve sequences of operation, changed use of rooms, undocumented system changes, etc. Getting the information through a new set of controls and operator software will give you insight into how to effectively and efficiently re-commission the systems.

  6. Recommission The HVAC System
    With the information obtained from the new control system and physical inspection, re-commission the HVAC system. Make the hardware upgrades or replacements as needed. Studies have shown that recommissioned systems in commercial office space can save 10-30% in energy and have an average payback of 9 months. In a hospital environment, where energy usage may be 2.5 times that of commercial office space, the payback can be measured in weeks.

  7. Upgrade The Security, Energy-Related And Technology Amenities In The Building
    The decision as to what other systems need to be upgraded is based on the estimated financial return of the investment. That is, will it lower operating costs, lower energy costs, or provide a basis for increasing the bottom line? The security systems obviously need to provide adequate security but they also need to be integrated into the lighting and HVAC control. An access control system in particular can provide information (i.e. number of persons in an area, when people are in an area, etc.) that can be used to adjust and manage the HVAC and lighting systems. To better manage energy within the building, you’ll need to add sensor systems (CO2 sensors, occupancy sensors, etc.), metering for all energy and utility systems and a power management system for high voltage monitoring as an integrated part of the energy and asset utilization. Finally, if your building is commercial office space, examine those technology amenities that tenants may perceive have value. The idea is to turn the “value” into higher lease rates, and tenants who rent for longer periods. These type systems may include digital signage, Wi-Fi throughout the building and a Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) that improves cell coverage.

  8. Upgrade The Monitoring, Management And Operation Of The Systems
    All of the system upgrades, recommissioning and LEED certification is for naught if the right tools and personnel are not in place to monitor and manage the systems and keep the building’s performance in an optimal state.
    This is where open systems are especially important so that building system data, facility management systems and the business or property management software platforms can be fully integrated to provide actionable information on the building’s performance. The information needs of a facility manager, a CIO, CFO and CEO are all different but will need to be addressed in deploying the operational tools. The tools may require middleware, open databases, and some customization especially for software integration of enterprise or business level platforms. While important, operating the building is more than just building system software integration and nice web dashboards. The skill sets of existing personnel in facility management, security and IT may need to be examined, and the organizational silos between security, BAS and IT may need to be removed. If the building owner is upgrading buildings in a portfolio of real estate holdings, a centralized building operations center for all the buildings will prove to be the most effective and efficient method of monitoring and managing each building and the complete enterprise. The ROI, efficiency and effectiveness of the entire operation typically increases as both horizontal and vertical integration solutions are deployed and when properly designed can have compounding value.

For more information about evaluating, creating and deploying smart building solutions, hardware and software technology design or to schedule a Continuing Education program for your office write me at


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