Building Management Systems (sometimes called Building Automation Systems) are pretty cool. They’re also pretty rare.
In the US, for instance, it’s estimated that of commercial buildings with less than 50,000 sq ft, only 11% have a Building Management System. And that segment of buildings makes up 94% of all commercial buildings, so it’s easy to see how few businesses are taking advantage of automation-driven benefits and smart systems.
Backing up momentarily, let’s take a look at what these systems do and why they’re so atypical. A simple way to think about a Building Management System is a computer program built which runs all of your critical systems, including HVAC, lighting and security. These are broad categories encompassing a number of products and processes, and the operating logic (automation) can be robust or as simple as setting a schedule for things to turn on and off. It seems obvious you’d want alarm systems to be activated automatically, or ventilation systems to activate when the temperature outside reaches a certain point, so why doesn’t every business have one?
For starters, the price tag can induce sticker shock. By one estimate, the average cost to deploy a basic system is at least $2.50 per square foot and can be as high as $7.00 per square foot, equivalent to at least $125,000 for a 50,000 sq ft building (on the low end). The installation costs can also be burdensome and result in downtime while the integrations are made. On top of all that, they usually need to be upgraded every 5-10 years. For a small- or medium-sized business, the ROI just isn’t always there.
Fortunately, scaled down solutions have been introduced to achieve many of the same benefits a Building Management System can deliver, but without the heavy cost or time burden. Let’s take a look at some of these alternatives.
A wide range of lighting control and automation systems exist independent of Building Management Systems. For starters, the humble occupancy sensor continues to serve its purpose, turning off lights automatically if a space is unoccupied (and vice versa, so you don’t walk directly into that forklift)! Timers, daylight sensors and other fancy control options exist as well, all designed to save time and money.
To see several popular options, check out this article from Architect Magazine:
Security can mean a lot of things. Access control. Fire/water monitoring. Alarm systems. Surveillance. These are just some of the considerations a business may have when researching or implementing security systems.
Thanks to a combination of reliable wireless technology and low-cost sensors, a lot of one’s security objectives can be achieved without a fully integrated Building Management System. Protecting what’s valuable is always a good investment, and you can even get insurance breaks for implementing some of this technology. Here’s a breakdown of current trends in the commercial/industrial security industry:
The category of heating, ventilation and air conditioning is inherently broad, so think about it as a thermal comfort system. There are numerous ways to achieve thermal comfort, with strategies ranging both in complexity and cost, but forced air heating systems are fairly common in commercial environments (and expensive to operate). Of course we’re biased, but one of the simplest ways to ensure comfort and efficiency is through a smart commercial or industrial Wifi thermostat. Use the smart thermostat’s scheduling feature and your heating and air system can run when you want it to and stop when you don’t.
Ventilation control systems can bring in fresh air at the optimal time of day, and circulator fans can be equipped with timers/schedules/occupancy sensors to help mix the hot air in the winter, or cool building occupants in the summer. All of this can be done without the help of a Building Management System, so you can stay cozy without breaking the bank.
While the thought of having all systems integrated on one platform sounds nice, this approach lacks the economy and flexibility smaller businesses value. Fortunately, thanks to a flood of innovation in the building control space, you can find siloed solutions that are affordable and easy to set up without a professional.
Love the idea of turning your space into a smart building? Think we’re out of our mind? Either way, let us know what you think! Our mission is to help small and medium businesses take control of their spaces.