The 12-story Genzyme Center in Cambridge, Mass., features an integrated building automation system that monitors and controls approximately 40,000 automation points in the building. (Photo courtesy of Genzyme Corp.)

Commercial buildings are complex animals. Many contain a wide variety of microprocessor-based systems that control a number of different functions, including heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, power, life-safety systems, and security. It is the microprocessors that make these systems smart; that is, they communicate information, as well as adjust their operation based on sensing certain conditions in the space. While each system is intelligent in its own right, when they are part of an integrated building design, they make the building as a whole a lot smarter.

Integrated building design is basically a collaborative, integrated planning and design process that uses a project team to make decisions in all stages of a project’s design and construction. Members of the project team typically include people from different specialties of design, including general architecture, HVAC, lighting and electrical, interior design, and landscape design. This team integrates seemingly unrelated aspects of design in a manner that permits greater benefits to be realized. For example, systems and components that are designed to work well together include building orientation, heating and cooling systems, insulation, lighting, and windows.

Integrated building design is often an essential part of green building construction, which is one of the biggest trends in the commercial market today. As the Department of Energy notes, whenever one green design strategy can provide more than one benefit, there is a potential for design integration. And chances are, wherever integrated building design is implemented, a “smart” building will result, meaning lower energy use, better comfort, and less of an impact on the environment.


In the commercial market, there is increasing demand from building owners and developers for integrated, smarter buildings. One of the reasons for this trend is that tenants are becoming savvier, and the benefits of smart buildings (e.g., better comfort, lower energy bills) are very attractive to prospective lessees. Some new commercial building management firms are even using this “smart” aspect to market their space against older buildings that may not have the same attractive features.

There’s no question that rising energy costs have also created the need to incorporate integrated building design in commercial buildings. As Jerry Yudelson, PE, M.S., M.B.A., LEED AP, Principal, Yudelson Associates, Tucson, Ariz., stated, “Energy’s been cheap for 50 years, and we’ve gotten lazy. No matter how poorly the architect designed the building, you could always cool it by upsizing the cooling equipment. Even if wasn’t used 95 percent of the time, it was still there, so nobody got callbacks and nobody sued. That world is changing, though, because we really can’t afford it.”

Utilizing smart, automated systems to better control energy-consuming systems (e.g., heating and cooling equipment, lighting) is the cornerstone of proper integrated building design.

According to the U.S. Climate Change Technology Program, whole-building integration uses data from design (together with sensed data) to automatically configure controls and commission (i.e., startup and check out) and operate buildings. Control systems use advanced, robust techniques and are based on smaller, less expensive, and much more abundant sensors.

This data ensures optimal building performance by enabling control of building systems in an integrated manner and continuously recommissioning them using automated tools that detect and diagnose performance anomalies and degradation.

Michael C. Walker, product manager - commercial rooftop products, Lennox, said that system integration is one of the bigger trends he sees in the commercial market.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently completed a green, integrated building in Santa Monica. It is one of the first buildings in the United States to receive the highest possible level of sustainable design. (Photo courtesy of Tim Street-Porter.)

“Customers have started asking for systems that use open protocols and can easily integrate with other HVAC or non-HVAC products and control systems within the building. From a building owner’s perspective, the need for open protocols is obvious: These customers want the ability to purchase the best equipment in each product category regardless of manufacturer, and then tie them all together in one seamless system.”

An example of this is when a customer may want to choose a rooftop unit from one manufacturer, a fire alarm system from another, lighting and signs from a third, and then tie the equipment together with one building automation system from a fourth supplier.

In addition, Walker noted that building owners want the flexibility to changeout a part of their building’s existing mechanical or control systems without changing everything else.

“For example, there may be a financial incentive to replace the current rooftop units on the building with new higher-efficiency equipment from a new manufacturer. However, if this job also requires removing a propriety control system, the job often becomes economically unattractive. In this case, the building owner cannot take advantage of adding new high-efficiency rooftop units just because this equipment does not work with the existing control system.”

As the demand grows for smarter, integrated buildings, there will clearly be more opportunities for contractors. “Systems are going to become much more complex. The integration of HVAC systems and controls will cause the commercial delivery process to become even more critical. That presents an opportunity for the contractor who brings experience and integration knowledge to such projects,” said Eric Roberts, executive vice president, McQuay Americas.

Kelly Romano, president, building systems and services, Carrier, agreed that contractors are a critical part of the commercial construction market, and the move to green building techniques and integrated design is a definite opportunity. “I recommend that contractors become knowledgeable about what is required to build green. This includes getting involved early because the integrated design approach requires everyone’s involvement through the design and construction process.”

The need for integrated building design is definitely upon us, which means greater opportunities but also a need for contractors to change the way they look at commercial installations.

As Yudelson noted, “The mechanical contractor is going to have to learn a new ballgame. It’s not just going to be more efficient chillers and boilers, it’s going to be a whole lot of new systems put in that are going to be part of this world going forward. Contractors are finding that innovative approaches to building, space conditioning, and ventilation are going to be more and more at the forefront.”

Publication date:06/25/2007