Wireless solutions for existing building efficiency

Wireless technology helps make advanced control feasible for more buildings
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
by James Kohl

In many existing commercial buildings, especially those where the age or historical significance restricts the changes that can be made to the structure, a building automation system (BAS) might never be considered. That’s because the requirements of wired building controls make a BAS too costly — and perhaps physically impossible — to install in many of these buildings.

Wireless technology is removing this obstacle by eliminating the communication wires between system controllers, unit controllers, zone sensors and service tools that were necessary components to a BAS until recently. This freedom from wires provides the option to consider automated building controls in more projects, including existing and historical buildings where the technology wasn’t feasible or was considered cost-prohibitive in the past.

Using wireless technology to connect automated building controls provides many advantages, including cost-effective installation and updates and improved building efficiency, performance and occupant comfort. A BAS with wireless technology also enables remote access, control, monitoring and troubleshooting of building systems.

Minimal Occupant Disruptions

Simplified installation and a smoother construction process allows for affordable upgrades with little or no disruption to tenants, making wireless technology for building controls and devices a good option in many types of buildings.

With no wires to maintain or fix, the technology offers reduced service and repair costs over the life of the system. Some wireless options also offer long-lasting or lifetime batteries, which saves time and money spent on changing batteries and contributes to ease of maintenance.

Reliability and Flexibility

Wireless solutions can be used in a BAS for many applications, including sensing, equipment, system communications, remote access and service tools. Past wireless technologies used in building automation were not developed specifically for these more demanding applications. This meant they often provided less-than-optimal performance and had high maintenance requirements, questionable reliability, short battery life and difficult system integration.

Technology advancements have made it possible for today’s wireless solutions to offer reliable and secure performance by taking advantage of new wireless standards, such as ZigBee Certified Building Automation. These standards offer better outcomes including reduced maintenance, longer battery life, and improved reliability through an extended signal range and self-repairing mesh network. Systems certified by ZigBee use AES-128 encryption, keys and device authentication to ensure network security and keep the isolated wireless network secure.

Building automation systems that use standard open protocols, such as BACnet, also offer flexibility for the future. The use of open standards allows for the easy integration of devices if there is a need to expand or change the spaces in a building, which keeps options open if and when building needs and technologies evolve. Open standards also allow multiple types of systems in a building — including HVAC, fire, elevators, lighting and security — to be integrated for simplified access and monitoring from one point of control.

Benefits Beyond Day One

Wireless technology puts building automation — and the improved performance, energy savings strategies and 24/7 monitoring that automation can bring — within reach for more buildings. By using wireless for a BAS, building owners, managers and engineers can access a wealth of building data, monitor building performance and adjust systems remotely, ensuring the building continues to run as it was designed.

In addition, building staff can easily see what is happening inside the building — from information about equipment to energy use. Studies show that 60 to 70 per cent of energy consumption in a commercial building is due to HVAC and lighting. Solutions that provide an easy-to-use, single point of control for these systems make it easier to optimize energy efficiency while balancing the energy consumption of a building with the comfort and control of the space. The result is consistent occupant comfort, reduced operational costs and an improved building environment.

Wireless technology built on open standards for building systems can result in many benefits over the life of the building. The latest wireless systems offer reliability and flexibility, and they enable many intelligent building solutions that can improve performance and efficiency. A wireless solution puts building automation and these benefits within reach for more commercial buildings.

James Kohl is senior product manager for Trane, a leading global provider of indoor comfort solutions and services and a brand of Ingersoll Rand. Learn more at www.trane.com/commercial.

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