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Building Automation System Basics For Large Offices & Facilities

A building automation system controls the heating, ventilation, cooling—and in some cases, the smart lighting and access—of an office or facility.

The majority of building automation systems began as wired systems, but for many companies, the sophisticated planning and cost behind a wired system was prohibitive. As new long-range wireless technologies became available, and far less expensive and easier to implement, more facilities began migrating that direction.

Below, we’ve outlined a number of building automation system basics to review before you begin designing a new smart building (or retrofitting a current one).

Wireless Considerations For Building Automation Systems

Mesh Vs. Star Topologies

Early in building automation, many systems were based on mesh topologies like ZigBee and Z-Wave. There were very few low-latency requirements at that time, so these initial systems simply collected data and sent it to a central temperature control system. These mesh network systems require a great deal of network planning and can be quite expensive.

But as new low-power, wide area (LPWA) star networks like Symphony Link became available, network planning became far simpler (as you no longer had to decide where all the nodes were going to be).

Repeaters make these systems far more forgiving post-deployment. Symphony Link’s Network Tester can also help you determine what kind of coverage you can get in your building retrofit (or help you determine what coverage in a similar building looks like).  

Additional Considerations For Large Offices & Facilities

To understand why building automation systems become more complex as they increase in size, consider your personal residence. If you have a two- or three-story house, you know your top floor can get a lot hotter in the summer than your lower level. So when you are trying to keep the top floor of a 100,000 square foot, 8-floor building at the same temperature as the first floor—while accounting for varying occupancy—this can become quite difficult.

Among other things, you need to consider:

  • How many zones there are.
  • How many pieces of equipment you’ll need for heating or cooling.
  • How humidity will be removed from the air.
  • How to transmit the air to and from the building.
  • How to purify and filter the air.
  • If each floor has an open floor plan or cubicles (and if so, the density of the cubicles).
  • The ratio of windows facing north, east, south, and west to compensate for solar heat gain.
  • The type and amount of bulbs you need for your smart lighting system.
  • Occupancy and workflow in different floors and zones, as humans give off a lot of body heat.

The larger an office or facility is, the more complex the system becomes. Not only do you have multiple heating and cooling systems involved, you also have more sophisticated equipment. For example, fresh air intake systems for larger offices may have a pre-cooler for the air that needs to be controlled as well.

Final Advice

As you design your wireless building automation system, be sure you choose a wireless technology that you understand the real-world implications of. If you’re building and can’t test the system where it will be deployed, try to deploy it in a similar environment beforehand. At the very least, be sure you understand the hardware, installation, and provisioning costs associated with your deployment.

And finally—don’t try this by yourself! Retrofitting or installing a wireless building automation system by yourself in a large facility won’t work out well. Instead, work with a reputable engineering firm so you can get your system right the first time around. Building Automation Overview

Written by Glenn Schatz

Glenn is the Vice President of Business Development at Link Labs. He is in charge of generating new business, interacting with distributors, sales reps, partners, and customers, and answering any technical questions that arise to ensure that the engineers can spend their time developing technology.

Before Link Labs, Glenn worked at the Department of Energy bringing energy efficiency to main street businesses, and was also a co-founder of ECORE Ventures, a cleantech project development company. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he eventually went back to teach Energy Policy as a military officer and civilian professor. Prior to his return to USNA, he was a submarine officer stationed in Virginia on a guided missile sub.


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