The Technology on Your Desk is Cutting Edge. Your building’s technology was too – in the 1950s.

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  • Sustainable Industries Monday, October 3rd

    Your building’s technology was too – in the 1950s.

    Most of us take for granted the amazing technology we work with everyday – tablet computers, smart phones and other high tech wonders that were science fiction just a few years ago. But the systems in place in the buildings where we work lag decades behind the marvels sitting on our desks. Lighting, HVAC and other parts of the built environment are typically analog, wired and, frankly, tired – the opposite of our high-tech gadgets.

    Why is there such a gap between the technology we use for work and the building systems that surround us at work? For the most part, it’s because the perceived costs of retrofitting buildings is considered prohibitively expensive and the payback for such retrofits seems excruciatingly long. But there is hope. The use of new technologies to retrofit existing buildings can not only save major renovation cost but also results in speedier paybacks than was possible even just a couple years ago.

    Whether you’re a business owner retrofitting your own building or a tenant about to move into a new suite of offices, it makes sense to include a building systems upgrade as part of any renovation or tenant improvement project. New wireless technologies mean updating building systems in a non-invasive way. No knocking through walls or cutting into a ceiling to rewire lighting controls or thermostats. Non-invasive retrofits can also be conducted without disrupting normal office functions. Installing wireless sensors in a light fixture is not much more disruptive than changing a light bulb – whereas you might not want to be in the room if someone is busting through drywall. Implementing a high-tech wireless retrofit also means that the initial investment is going to be considerably less because there aren’t the same kind of associated construction costs. And that is what speeds up the payback.

    Wireless technology also means no more crawling around dank basements to get a read on analog dials connected directly to things like steam traps. For building engineers and management, being able to get a read on real-time conditions any time they need without traipsing around equipment rooms means time and money saved.

    Another benefit to modern building controls is the ability to use sophisticated control strategies. Typically, if a building currently has lighting controls at all, they involve motion detectors. Most of us have had the experience of walking into a dark office and having all the lights in the place come on. This is, to put it mildly, a rather inefficient way of controlling. And if the “sweep” period is set at a half hour, the lights in your entire office might be on for that whole time because one person forgot their sweater. In that case, it would be more efficient to just use that 1950’s light switch.

    New smart controls mean that even motion detectors have a programmable “brain.” Light sensors can work together over a wireless mesh grid and “talk” to one another. If only 25 percent of the lights are needed, only 25 percent turn on. That kind of granular control is not a feature one finds in typical motion sensor controls and makes an office both more comfortable and safer for office occupants. Beyond improved occupancy sensing control, lights can be managed on a smart scheduling system, programming them to go to a lower power level after hours and on weekends. Companies save electricity by not having the lights in an entire office come on for one user and because the lights that are on at off-hours aren’t on full force.

    The above examples are just a few ways that modernizing retrofits of building systems can be accomplished with relatively low costs and minimal disturbance to occupants while saving electricity and money in the long run. For business owners who are also building owners and for tenant businesses looking to upgrade offices, retrofitting their workspaces can not only save electricity but can ensure greater comfort for their workers.

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