“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” is an adage that may ring true for some things, but not when it comes to commercial real estate building control systems.
That’s the message from Joey Ponton, Controls Account Executive at Boland, who wants building owners — especially those of older properties — to start thinking about replacing their systems now, even if they are still functioning.
“Even if owners think their systems are running fine, there is a looming problem waiting if their controls are outdated. The truth is if something should stop functioning, a company may no longer have the raw materials to fix it,” he said. “This is why owners need to be proactive, not reactive, and replace their old systems before encountering a problem they can’t fix.”
He added that as more cities across the country put regulations into effect that require commercial buildings to reduce their carbon footprint, upgraded controls give owners a more accurate picture of their emissions.
Bisnow sat down with Ponton to learn more about the process of upgrading commercial systems, the challenges owners may face in the process, and how Boland can help.
Bisnow: Why is now the right time for building owners to upgrade older control systems?
Ponton: Roughly half of the commercial buildings in the U.S. are at least 40 years old and, as we know, systems degrade over time. It’s similar to a car — it’s more expensive to maintain and operate the longer you own it, and it also becomes less efficient over time. This is a key reason why owners, especially those of older buildings, should consider the value gained by a system upgrade.
Another thing owners need to keep in mind is that they will soon need to adhere to the new building energy performance standards and will be held liable for their energy usage. This is particularly true for owners in the D.C. area, where Boland is based. One easy way to increase the energy-efficiency of a building is through a modern automation system that can accurately schedule equipment operation, show important data relevant to energy usage trends, and provide secure connections that you can manage remotely.
Bisnow: What are some of the challenges that building owners may run into in the process of upgrading their systems?
Ponton: The main barrier for owners is cost, but I have found that an upgrade is often a planned capital budget expense. If owners are concerned with cost, we are able to work with them to secure financing options, grants and incentive money to help move the project forward. Aside from that, there are some technical challenges depending on the age of the system. There are legacy systems that were proprietary in nature, making it difficult to seamlessly upgrade to what is now the standard open protocol system.
But surprisingly enough, the technical details aren't usually the challenges I run across. Most centers are concerned with minimizing downtime during an upgrade, minimizing the cost and ensuring their tenants are comfortable throughout the process.
Bisnow: How can owners go about mitigating these challenges?
Ponton: At Boland, we’ve developed a migration plan with the goal of prioritizing ongoing maintenance instead of a single upgrade event. We begin by exploring the value and the budget: What is required versus what is desired? Are there any current operational issues or control issues? What's driving the upgrade? After assessing these factors, we identify any energy or productivity opportunities and work with local utilities and other third-party vendors to incentivize the project for the owner.
Next, we determine a plan with the best automation system for the client. Every building is different, so we take its unique factors into account: Who will be using the system? What is their level of technical expertise? What makes sense for a particular site, or even an entire portfolio? After that, we look at how the anticipated equipment works with the rest of the existing systems in the building, from replacing all the control systems to just selecting ones depending on a building’s needs.
Finally, we develop a support plan for the owner taking into account factors including: How can we simplify the number of tools that are going to be required to maintain the system? What's the training plan for the maintenance staff? How are we going to respond if there are controller failures?
Bisnow: What are some of the short- and long-term benefits of upgrading a system?
Ponton: The simplest way to explain this is to think of a phone. When your cellphone, no matter how well you’ve maintained it, eventually degrades and needs to be replaced, you end up with a new one with all the latest innovations, improvements and advantages. The same is true when you replace a building’s control systems — you will get all the new technology that will help increase productivity for building staff.
Additionally, an upgraded system will offer the latest in IT cybersecurity and integration technology, along with key performance features including improved page and data load times, improved touch device support and remote monitoring from any web-enabled device.
From a long-term standpoint, an upgraded system will offer up-to-date strategies for choosing more energy-efficient solutions, along with optional features that can give tenants more control of their system, something that is increasingly in demand.
Bisnow: Are there any steps that owners can take to future-proof their systems once they make these upgrades?
Ponton: When looking at potential vendors, they should go with a company not only with a proven track record, but one that uses a product that either meets or exceeds the current American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers — also known as ASHRAE — building standards.
In regard to controls, owners should look for a system that is BACnet Testing Laboratories listed, which supports compliant testing. This ensures that the controller can communicate to anything BACnet listed, including your HVAC equipment, local kitchen appliances and more. If an owner goes with a BTL-listed product, they will not be locked into a particular vendor.
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