Article - April 2003
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Post Completion Considerations

We will consider two stages: the warranty period, and an examination of the actions that ensure our building remains operating at peak efficiency for the life of the building.

Jim Henry
Automation Contractor and Consultant
Contributing Editor

The final in a series of articles on the delivery of BMCSs to our clients.
Also read
The Construction Process
Tendering a BMCS
Specifying Control Systems 
Control System Technologies
and the series introduction BAS or BS?

This is the final article in our series. We have gone through building automation technology selection, specification writing, tendering, installation, and up to the last article, commissioning. Now we are to the final article, post completion considerations of a building automation system.

In it we will consider two stages: the warranty period, and an examination of the actions that ensure our building remains operating at peak efficiency for the life of the building.

Then, to wrap the series up we will do a retrospective of our general approach to the industry. We will wax philosophic and maybe even get a little emotional. Those of you unable to get in touch with your feelings will feel uncomfortable, and should not read the ending.

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Warranty (Defects Liability) 
So, we have a completed building. How is everybody feeling? We will consider the owner, the mechanical contractor, and the mechanical consultant. Though relevant, we will ignore the builder, the architect, and other players. The owner is tickled pink (where does that expression come from?). He has a brand new building with all sorts of great toys, and the BAS is certain to be one of them. The mechanical contractor is feeling relieved to have substantial completion prior to liquidated damages, and the consultant is wary, wondering if the mediocre job the contractor has done, is going to compromise the performance promised in the design brief.

Of course, if there is anything wrong with the air conditioning, everyone starts by blaming the controls. But, hey, that is just part of our world. It gives the BAS contractor an opportunity to show off the amazing capabilities of the new BAS system. We can run trend logs of the day-to-day performance of every system. We can pinpoint a fault or temperature variation within seconds.

Okay, let's look a little deeper at the relationships.

The consultant just wants reassurance that the building is meeting design expectations. He will be a little anxious that the heating and cooling loads were correct. The consultant generally only wants to confirm that the system is delivering the airflow, heating, and cooling that were promised. He will be looking for trend logs to confirm that the building mechanical services are performing satisfactorily.

The mechanical contractor cares not a whit about anything, other than getting through defects liability (warranty) without having to put another cent into the project.

On most jobs, the mechanical contractor has seen his profit margin erode down to almost zero through the construction period. The only way to recover some profit is to get through defects liability (warranty) without additional costs. The worse the job the contractor has done, the more he is likely to need to save these costs. Consequently, he is going to call the controls contractor to go take a look and fix the problem every time he gets a complaint. Controls contractors learn very early on in the business to provide the first visit gratis, but to ask for a purchase order from then on before attending site. This ensures the controls contractor gets paid if it is not a control problem.

From previous articles you will remember that we have two types of projects: - good ones and bad ones.

On a good project the warranty period will be twelve months where there will be the occasional call to go repair some minor item that has been overlooked, or to fine tune a system here and there, and occasionally there will be a requirement to repair a failed piece of equipment. Most true equipment failures that are going to occur will occur in the first year. Otherwise equipment usually lasts for its design life, if properly serviced. The mechanical contractor and the building automation contractor will be on site regularly performing scheduled maintenance as part of their contractual responsibility.

On bad projects, as previously seen we already have a horror show. Warranty period will just be a carry on of the bitching and fighting that has been going on since it became apparent during commissioning that we have a substandard system. Usually this will be a combination of everybody's faults. Good mechanical consultants don't accept inferior controls systems and good mechanical contractors award jobs to controls contractors with a proven track record. Problem jobs are usually a problem from top to bottom. The problems will be myriad and vary from project to project. Lawsuits get started. Eventually a compromise is made where everybody loses (except the lawyers), everybody is pissed off, and a semblance of a working building is accepted.

Post Warranty
Okay, we finally make it past the warranty period. Now the profit begins. The cost of maintenance contracts on proprietary intelligent systems suddenly triples, as does the cost of any changes or ongoing tenant fit outs. Nothing like being locked in for the contractors to start raking in the profits.

Oh, right. This is a BACnet project, specified the way we recommended way back in article two, and tendered the way we recommended in article three. In that case the client has flexibility in selecting maintenance vendors. As long as the automation contractor has done a good job, and is not trying to soak the client, the client probably will keep the original contractor on for service.

Now that we are past the warranty period, the building owner, or his nominated representative has full control and responsibility for the building. The reality of most organisations is that they accept the (relatively) fixed costs of energy consumption and allow a minimal budget for maintenance and repair as a real cost of doing business. However, even in very large organisations, (like most individuals, companies and governments), the focus is only on today and near-term costs. Very few owners make decisions based on life cycle costs. Obvious long-term strategies are ignored because of initial capital cost.

There are a variety of reasons for this.

For example, a lot of property owners got screwed by EPCs (Energy Performance Contracts) in the 1990s. EP Contractors came in promising big savings, then did very little work and collected on spending a couple of days organising cheaper electrical rates. The client was locked in for an extended period, and watched others getting real savings that they could have had themselves, with a little research.

Some EPCs in our industry used an EPC to justify the capital cost of installing a new proprietary BMS. This guaranteed a locked in service contract for the next twenty years at "the usual rates". In this industry you have to know your way around to know what games are being played.

On the other hand, Some EPCs provided real value in many large installations. Retrofits to lighting and the installation of power factor correction provided quick payback periods and massive savings.

Too often owners have no idea what they are doing with their buildings. Decisions on a fifty million dollar building are left in the hands of a guy who has no idea what most of the building does. He is a basically a security guard. He is given a minimal budget and tries to scrape by. His biggest decision is who to give the filter replacement contract.

Government green house policies and building energy ratings are changing this in Australia. About bloody time too. Europe is miles ahead of the world in this regard. Energy consumption rates are a major problem, both for national competitiveness in the long term, global warming (though this is still not proven), and cost of government utility infrastructure.

It makes sense for governments to write legislation that force the construction team to justify the life cycle cost of buildings, in the design and installation phase.

Regardless of the incentives of government, building owners must consider the real life cycle cost of the systems in their buildings.

Building owners should have a competent organisation analyse and make policy decisions. Interrelated costs include:

Study after study has shown that a yearly review of the BMCS to continue fine tuning performance is cost justified. As well investment in a reasonable maintenance program (both automation and mechanical systems) ensures longer life of capital plant, lower energy consumption, and fewer breakdowns. This leads to happier tenants and better rents. You wouldn't consider driving a car until the engine seized before doing maintenance, yet many major buildings are run with exactly this sort of mentality.

Many developers build buildings with the intention of flipping the building shortly after completion. If this is going to be the case, there is a good likelihood that minimizing energy consumption has been a very low priority. As well, the automation system will have been selected based only on price. This will cost more in the long run either in inflated maintenance contracts or in a poorly performing system.

Introspective Retrospective
Okay, over the past year we have taken a long detailed look at building automation from start to finish.

We have asked what, when, and mostly, how. But we have not asked why.

Why are we doing what we do? The first reason most people will give (including the author) is to make money? Hopefully, that isn't the only reason.

In the automation industry we have a real chance to make a difference to the world. Building more energy efficient systems serves us all in the long run. We can reduce global warming, decrease demands on our natural resources, and provide a more comfortable working environment. There are a myriad of technologies coming to the forefront that give us real improvements in the quality of finished building we can provide. Open protocols and the Internet allow us to integrate systems and provide capabilities that weren't there just five years ago.

But are you going to work hard providing the best building you can?

A couple of years ago I gave a talk to a hi-tech business organisation of which I am a member. Previous speakers had finished off their talks with some of their philosophy. I thought long and hard before deciding what to say to end my talk.

"The only thing that matters is being able to look at my wonderful kids each morning, and feel that I am worthy of the unconditional love and trust I see in their eyes."

Let's get our priorities right and feel good about the job we do each day. And let's make a difference with what we do. The world sure needs it.

On a personal note. I realise that I embarked on my career in controls just over a quarter century ago. It has been fifteen years since I had a vacation longer than a week. I have left Electromation and have decided to take a few months off to relax, enjoy my kids, and work on my house.

Jim Henry

The S4 Group
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