Cover Image for What Makes a BAS Building a "Smart Building"?

What Makes a BAS Building a "Smart Building"?

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7 minutes
David Warner
David Warner

From cave dwellings and settlements to tenements and railroad apartments, we humans have had some time to evolve the adequate living environment: climate controlled rooms, running water, hot showers, electrical outlets, WiFi, etc. And yet, that still wasn’t enough to meet people’s residential expectations. 

Thus, the Building Automation System (BAS), was born. The Building Automation System in any given property is essentially its life force, it’s what makes the large inanimate structure resemble an organism.

For the past century or so, the evolution of Building Automation Systems have offered us an array of options—some serviceable, some insufficient, and some impressive—that have, at the very least, elevated the living conditions in multifamily communities. That being said, they haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what they’re capable of. 

The ABC’s of BAS

Let’s begin with a general overview of the BAS. What is it? What does it do? Why do I care? Simply put, a Building Automation System is a technological infrastructure that spans your entire property. This digital networking of electronic devices is designed to monitor and control the mechanical, security, fire, HVAC, and humidity and cooling systems in a building. 

The primary goal of any modern Building Automation System is to allow for complete autonomous control of an entire facility. The system is installed in structures like multifamily properties in order to improve building-wide efficiency, reduce operational costs, and increase tenant safety. 

The core functionality of a BAS is to keep common area and room climate within a specified range and lighting according to occupancy, monitor performance and device failures in all systems (e.g., dead batteries), and provide malfunction alarms (e.g., leaks or security breaches). Components like lighting, shading, and access control systems can also be managed automatically through machine learning or manually by property managers through a centralized in-house database. A building run by a BAS is commonly referred to as a ”smart building". 

The Core Four

Building Automation Systems can be implemented one of two ways: during initial construction or by retrofit (this is common when there’s a low-level legacy system in place). There are four main categorical components a BAS controls.

  • Smart Sensors

These devices are intentionally placed throughout the structure of a property to track, alert, and record operational activity. This information is used to identify inefficiencies and direct data-driven decisions in the interest of the buildings overall wellbeing. Essentially, sensors help to ensure the following: conditions are livable, conditions are comfortable, and something isn’t going horribly wrong that’s going to cost the building boatloads in repairs and lost supplies. 

  • Controllers

BAS Controllers are purpose-built computers with input and output capabilities. Inputs allow controllers to read occupancy, temperature, CO2 levels, humidity, pressure, current flow, air flow, and other essential factors, while outputs allow the controller to send command and control signals to HVAC units, lighting systems, security alarms and other connected parts. Put simply, the former collects data from the sensors and the latter sends data-driven messages to devices. Inputs and outputs can be either digital or analog.

  • Buses & Communication Protocols

Most BAS networks consist of a primary and secondary bus that connects high-level controllers with lower-level controllers, input/output devices and the terminal interface. The Building Automation System communicates through a specific language understood by the system's individual components, allowing devices to interoperate. BACnet and Modbus are the most commonly used open protocols with LonTalk also in the mix. 

  • Terminal Interface

A terminal interface presents information to its users so they can monitor the condition of the building, decide whether problems need troubleshooting, and discover areas of inefficiency to address. An intuitive interface is an important part of an effective building automation system. The design of the interface is particularly important because if organizations can’t access the information gathered by the sensors or accurately interpret the analysis, organizations won’t be able to fully comprehend an asset’s BAS performance levels. 

Modern visual data overlays display data and reveal insights in a user-friendly manner, allowing managers to react quickly to irregularities or inefficiencies since they’re tracking the ins and outs of the system with ease on an everyday basis. 

NO BAS = Lots of BS

Now that all of the boring, technical stuff is out of the way, and we’ve outlined the benefits of a serviceable Building Automation System, let’s touch on what could go wrong without one...

Gone undetected, a leak can cost up to $1,000 a day. That’s one day! And more than half a unit’s monthly rent. Let’s say a resident goes on a month-long trip and neglects to tell building staff about their running toilet because it’s not going to be their problem anytime soon. That’ll account for more than 21,000 gallons over the course of that month. With water issues alone, you’ll also end up having to stress over issues arising from irrigation systems, cooling towers, and water-based fire suppression systems. That’s a lot wasted water, a lot of wasted money, and a lot of wasted energy. 

And these money leaks don’t always come in the form of water leaks. Consider the time, funds, and resources that could be saved from knowing when equipment and devices will fail before you-know-what hits the fan. Imagine a building where the maintenance staff and specialized vendors aren’t constantly putting out fires, so to speak, but preventing them from happening in the first place. Think of how convenient it would be to be automatically and immediately notified of irregularities before they become complications and eventually become problems. These are all things building owners should expect from their BAS because, especially with advanced systems, this is all very real and most certainly at the stakeholder’s disposal. 

With a connected network of sensors, a robust machine learning platform, your building can evolve into an adaptive entity. Okay, okay...the word “entity” might be a little much, but the ability to monitor various systems and devices and capture data and information in real-time to be analyzed with pinpoint accuracy to streamline workflows and simultaneously improve living conditions is pretty darn close.  

All Together Now

As it stands, the systems involved in BAS are far more disparate than they should be, and are often the cause for despair among staff members in buildings with unimpressive BAS solutions. Vendors and suppliers are too focused on building closed ecosystems that benefit themselves rather than creating the most optimal and future-proof system for their clients (stakeholders and management) Therefore, sensors and controllers are not always connected, which as you might guess, is a problem. 

Speaking of problems, no matter the size of your property portfolio, there are probably one, two, or a handful of “problem” buildings burning a hole in your firm’s wallet. Implementing intelligent systems in all of your buildings will help them out a ton individually, but do you know what would be better? Being able to monitor the health of every single one of them from a single dashboard on your laptop or tablet. The Machine Learning we were talking about earlier can now pull data from your entire portfolio and draw inferences and make your cross-community operations that much more intelligent. 

Will it turn owners, developers and management into Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report—seeing the future before it enfolds? Probably not, and it’s been a while since any of us have seen that movie. But there’s a good reason why conversations about preventative maintenance and intelligent buildings draw that sort of comparison. After all, we’re talking about taking hold of an unrealized future that exists right here, right now, just waiting for its value to be recognized. 

Interested in investing in an advanced, fully integrated BAS for your multifamily community? Episense is a patented integration platform that grants owners, developers and management the smart technology to enhance the resident experience and unlock asset value. Schedule a demo today to learn more.

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