March 2009

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Sustainable Design of Building Automation Systems
A sustainable BAS is achievable with proper initial design considerations that include the use of open protocols, standardized Network Management tools and open access to product and training. 

Patrick Winkelman,
Vice President Sales, Americas,
Distech Controls, Inc.


As responsible global citizens, our increasing awareness to live a more sustainable lifestyle has created demand to find new ways to increase the efficiency and life span of every part of a building. As an integral part of efficient buildings, Building Automation System (BAS) should be no exception.   

New Products
Past Issues

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In the past we thought of life cycle cost of a Building Automation System with the acceptance that the BAS had a fixed life span of 10 years or less, due to a number of factors including: advancing technology coupled with the desire for the newest offering, short life of availability of key components (such as electronic chips), proprietary software and hardware components that limited expandability and limited available knowledge to continue to service the aged equipment. As the BAS system would continue to age and the factors take hold, a Building Owner would have typically been left to resort to a complete building automation system retrofit. 

While this is a reflection of what has been the history of the industry, it certainly does not have to be a limitation of BAS. With increasing demands to reduce, recycle and reuse, such limitations will and can no longer be accepted.  

Fortunately, reasonable sustainability can be achieved in the BAS providing substantial value to the owner and reducing the impact on the environment. A sustainable BAS can be achieved without increasing initial procurement and installation cost, and can deliver substantial reduction in life cycle cost, while improving serviceability, reducing energy consumption and improving user satisfaction. Although this is a tall order, it is very capable of being delivered with current technologies. 

Requirements of a Sustainable BAS. 

Let’s first establish the requirements for a sustainable BAS 

- Continuous availability of the majority of system components (hardware and software) compatible with the original system. These components are not necessarily from the same original manufacturer; ideally they are from multiple manufacturers. This would allow the building owner to have brand “A” VAV replaced with brand “B” VAV on the same network, communicating with the other controllers seamlessly. This needs to be no more complicated that replacing one brand of tire on your car with another. And if those components cannot be seamlessly replaced, they must have replacement solutions whose cost is minor in relation to the alternative cost of replacing the entire system. An example would be the graphical user interface whose operating system has become obsolete. The personal computer (PC) has failed and the new PC operating system is not compatible with the original graphical user interface. A new graphical user interface (software and associated hardware) is installed with recreated graphics communicating to the existing controllers. 

- Availability of information. In order for the BAS to be sustainable, there must be availability of trained Controls technicians available to maintain the system. As such, training and supporting documentation needs to be available to all qualified parties. It is not just the manufacturer providing training on its legacy components, but more importantly, the standardization of communication languages and network management tools. This standardization helps insure that there are many sources of training and knowledge to maintain and expand the system. 

- Expansion of the BAS. The newer BAS components need to be compatible with the older system components, so that the system can be seamlessly expanded and or maintained. While this can be accomplished with gateways, they are not always a “best practices” solution, as they require specialized knowledge, involve proprietary software tools and generally offer limited support. The desired solution is a seamless integration of like components that allows the owner to expand the BAS as they add additional facilities.

- BAS enhancements. The BAS needs to allow for enhancement that capitalizes on the latest technology improvements. A good example of this is the replacement of the PC based graphics with a Web browser based graphical user interface.

 A Solution: Open Systems 

One viable solution to sustainable design of BAS is “Open Systems”. Not the open system hype that has worn out our ears (and wallets) over the years, but true Open Systems. Let’s look at some examples that address the above requirements of a sustainable BAS. 

[an error occurred while processing this directive] -  Continuous availability of the majority of system components Since one cannot reasonably expect to depend on any one manufacturer to continue to develop a product indefinitely, the next best solution is to have compatible products provided by multiple manufacturers. The only way to accomplish this is to have standards in communications, applications and software management tools along with an industry based association to support the creation and verification of compliance of the standards. This way there is a reasonable level of assurance that the resulting products produced will interoperate with each other. This is currently accomplished at the controller level through the LonTalk® protocol and certified by the LONMARK® International Association and by ASHRAE’s BACnet® protocol that is more recently certified by the BACnet Testing Laboratories.  At the network level, there are three de-facto standards helping to insure a continuous availability of network management tools, user interfaces and components. These are the LON® Network Services (LNS®) supported by Echelon, BACnet supported by ASHRAE and the Niagara Framework® supported by Tridium.  

-  Availability of information – All related information and associated training for the standards created for the BAS – protocols, network management tools, controller programming tools, documentation, etc. need to be available to all. This is currently available in varying degrees, depending on the manufacturer and standard. For the network management and graphical user interface tools based on LNS, BACnet and the Niagara Framework, training is available from many sources.  Students are given a standard training course and are tested to receive certification and ensure consistency of implementation.  For controller programming tools, more and more manufacturers are making their tools available as freeware on the public side of their website along with related audio visual tutorials for training and related supporting documentation. 

-  Expansion of the BAS – If the aforementioned practices are met, then expansion of the BAS becomes much easier for the Building Owner.  If the BAS is designed around open standards, then expansion is straight forward.  In such a scenario, the original network management and user interface are used to manage and communicate to the new components. This can be accomplished with either the LNS, BACnet or Niagara Framework based systems.

-  BAS enhancements – The BAS industry is rapidly implementing new features that enhance the user experience and improve the operation and efficiency of the building. At the field level controller, these enhancements can easily be incorporated on the existing network by using LONWORKS® and BACnet based devices.  At the user interface level, enhancements to graphics can be easily achieved through LNS, BACnet and Niagara Framework based systems. 

Taking into consideration all of these factors in the selection and design of a BAS can provide significant increases in the sustainability of the system. This increase in sustainability of the BAS, while not indefinite, can reasonably be expected to match the life of the mechanical systems that they control.  

Some recent examples substantiate that improved sustainability is a reality.  As an example, some of the earliest Circon Systems (whose assets were acquired by Distech Controls) installations of LONWORKS technology, that are over 12 years old, are being expanded using LNS or Niagara Framework based network management tools and graphical user interfaces and new LONWORKS controllers, thereby extending the life of the original building automation system.

In conclusion, a sustainable BAS is achievable with proper initial design considerations that include the use of open protocols, standardized network management tools and open access to product and training. These properly implemented sustainable design practices will allow for the implementation of technology enhancements, expansion and maintenance of the existing system without the need for a complete retrofit.

For more information on Open Systems as a solution to sustainability visit,,

LonTalk, LONMARK, LONWORKS, LNS are registered trademarks of Echelon Corporation, BACnet is a registered trademark of ASHRAE, Niagara Framework is a registered trademark of Tridium Inc. 

About the Author

Patrick Winkelman has over 20 years of extensive experience in the Building Automation Controls Industry, with fundamental training and experience working with the major control manufactures in the business development arena, providing HVAC controls and Mechanical Systems consulting, retrofit design, performance contracting, and new construction sales. For the past 10 years he has worked extensively pioneering the introduction of Open Systems Solutions based upon LonWorks, LNS and the Niagara Framework through the establishment of distribution channels and influencing the acceptance of owners, engineers and control contractors in the benefits and value of embracing an Open System path. For the past 6 years, Patrick has worked with Distech Controls, a manufacture of Open Building Automation Systems based out of Montreal where he currently serves as the Vice President of Sales for the Americas.