June 2015

Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.

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Building Things We Overlook

With the current trends of big data, analytics, and the internet of things sucking the oxygen out of the room it’s hard to focus on other modest aspects of the industry that have been around awhile.
Jim Sinopoli
Jim Sinopoli PE,
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor

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At times we all overlook some of the aspects of the building industry. With the current trends of big data, analytics, and the internet of things sucking the oxygen out of the room it’s hard to focus on other modest aspects of the industry that have been around awhile. We may overlook many facets of the industry, or simply don’t have the time, but it’s probably related to not knowing the value or benefit of the industry attributes. What follows is a discussion of three subjects we dust off: Division 25, COBie and KNX, and their benefit to the building industry.

Division 25

AutomationDuring the previous revision of the MasterFormat in 2004, Division 25 with Integrated Automation was added. The addition of an Integrated Automation Division in some ways recognized a broader inclusion of technology in the 2004 revision, an area woefully ignored in the earlier construction specifications. Decades ago, in the 1980s, the MasterFormat had just 16 divisions with nothing related to IT even though local area networks were being installed. Some designers used an unauthorized “Division 17”.  Division 25 was a milestone as it gave credibility and visibility to building systems and their integration, quietly reinforcing their implicit value for buildings.

Industry reaction to the use of Division 25 has generally been subdued; it was a totally new division unlike many of the older spec divisions that were just renumbered and revised. There was also some confusion as to which divisions were to carry parts of building systems, and finally, a general lack of understanding or appreciation of integrated systems by the AEC industry. This doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been used but it has been underutilized and typically is addressed much later in the design process. One would have thought that industry recognition of integrated systems eleven years ago would have pretty much quelled any doubters of its value. Some thought Division 25 would surely be mainstream and integrated systems would be part of the programming and conceptual design for any new facility. But that didn’t happen, partly due to the lack of guidance on how to create a specification for integration.

Division 25 is within the specification group of the MasterFormat and part of the Facility Services subgroup which includes fire suppression, plumbing, heating/ventilating/air conditioning, electrical, communications and electronic safety and security. Integrated automation is clustered with all the other sections in which individual building systems may be specified.

Division 25 focuses on the interaction between building systems and the optimization of building operations. While almost every aspect of the decision-making process made during design and construction may have some impact on operations and maintenance, integrated building systems are directed towards operations. We now integrate systems on a regular basis; these include applications such as daylight harvesting, integrated life safety, demand response, off-hours system activation, event management and integrated building management systems.  While the typical BMS systems have some limited capabilities to integrate systems they are not necessarily capable of integrating all building systems.

Division 25 has the usual specification format: a GENERAL component laying out the administrative and procedural requirements for the contractor on the job, a PRODUCTS part listing for the equipment, materials and products required, and an EXECUTION scheme describing how the products and equipment are to be installed, post installation requirements, documentation, etc. The subsections of Division 25 provide a listing of what must be specified:

While the number or types of building systems are not restricted in the specification format, the systems specifically mentioned include:

Within each of these systems there are additional levels of detail that must be addressed. For example with HVAC there are specific sections for terminal devices such as actuators and operators, sensors and transmitters, control valves, control dampers and compressed air supply. For electrical systems there’s a specific section on terminal devices such as power meters, KW transducers, current sensors, battery monitors, lighting relays and UPS monitors.

Developing a good Division 25 is much more than following a format; it’s about articulating the client’s requirements and at the same time clearly conveying to the potential contractor what needs to be developed, fabricated, installed or constructed as well as how it needs to operate and supported. The key to writing a good Division 25 is specifying in detail the sequence of operations.

The premise is that individual building systems are specified in other Divisions and Division 25 is focused primarily on integration of all those systems as warranted. In order to facilitate integration the designer of Division 25 must coordinate or guide and at times require other designers to conform to some set of integration standards in order to address communication protocols, databases, naming conventions, etc. You’ll want to provide an open architecture and at the same time minimize the use of different protocols or database standards. The Division 25 format does have a subsection on network gateways but you’ll want to avoid or minimize their use as they add another piece of hardware to the network.


COBieBuilding Information Modeling (BIM) is a data management tool for new construction and a true technology innovation. While we all think of BIM related to three dimensional models of HVAC, electrical distribution, and other building aspects, BIM also has an Operations Building Information Exchange referred to as COBie. COBie is a format and depository of data related to the equipment, materials, products, warranties, spare parts, product specs and building information.  The idea is to collect building data as the process of design, construction and commissioning is performed. An example would be an engineer in the design phase would identify particular information about a valve needed in the building and incorporate it into the engineer’s design specification, then creates a COBie file. During construction, the contractors should update the data on the actual valve installed with data related to the manufacturer, actual specs, warranty, spare parts, maintenance, etc.

contemporary COBie is a system which allows the building owner to capture all the important project data at the point of origin, including equipment lists, product data sheets, warranties, spare parts lists, and preventive maintenance schedules. Unfortunately, many times new construction uses BIM, but only the 3D modeling; the building owner or the architect has not required the design team to provide COBie files based on the design team’s specifications. The same is true with the contractor and installers not being required to provide COBie data. Why is this important?  One reason a building may not perform as well as it should is often related to how the newly constructed structure was “handed off” to the building operators. A poor transition process may mean the building operations get off to a bad start and never fully recover or only catch-up after much effort. Design and construction phases for a new building have structured processes and the handoff activities from new construction to operations are addressed in the project specifications. Despite the clear requirements and acknowledgement of close out activities, the transition or handover is often undervalued, misunderstood and/or overlooked. Many of the critical elements of the “handover” pertain to the relevant data or information regarding the design and construction of the building. This information is essential to support operations, maintenance and asset management.  COBie allows for easy retrieval of information and data electronically to facility management systems such as asset and maintenance management. The result is that the construction to operations handoff is shortened and operations has a smoother transition. 

The KNX Protocol

I would guess many building automation or integration technicians in the US have little to no experience with the communication protocol KNX. It probably is due to KNX’s creation being based on three European standards; the European Installation Bus (EIB), BATIbus and the European Home Systems Protocol (EHS). While the US is partial to BACnet and Modbus, Europe is partial to KNX. Many countries in proximity to Europe, such as the Middle East, parts of Asia and Africa also use KNX. There is a KNX Association that administers the standard. It is an international, European and Canadian standard. KNX is an open, worldwide standard supported by more than 300 vendors and manufacturers, with installers in over 100 countries. Initially KNX was mainly used for lighting, in rooms and modest spaces for integrating lighting, shading and HVAC.  KNX can be used throughout a building, but larger automation such as the mechanical systems and chiller plants may still use other protocols.KNX

KNX can use twisted pair cables, radio frequency (RF) or data transmission networks in connection with the Internet Protocol for communication between the devices. KNX links and interfaces for Ethernet/IP, RF, lighting control with DALI and building.  KNX has a device certification which is very rigorous and minimizes what a manufacturer is allowed to specifically configure communication objects. The KNX tools are intuitive boosting the number of certified partners. Why is KNX important? I expect more KNX to be introduced in the US, as large automation companies offer KNX devices for their international clients, some of which are large international enterprises wanting to deploy “standard devices” with local resources.


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