Building controls are an important element of new-build and refurbishment projects. According to figures from bodies such as the Carbon Trust, good control can lead to huge savings of anywhere from between 15% and 30% on energy bills.
At the same time, building managers are increasingly required to collect information on energy use for legislated schemes such as the CRC, DECs and EPCs.
The temptation to install a high-end building management system that can supply detailed information about a building’s performance is therefore understandable.
Add to this a lack of specialist know-how within main contractors and consulting engineers, and sometimes we find that control systems are being installed that are not appropriate to occupant needs or requirements.
In an era of increasingly intelligent controls, it is still possible – and in many cases, preferable – to offer clients simple solutions that match their requirements.
By taking a user-focused approach, the controls are more likely to be used and to have an effect on energy use. It is all too easy, however, for engineers to overlook the point at which the end user will not understand a LCD display because it has too much visual clutter and will walk away from it.
The zonal controls strategy may be sophisticated at providing the necessary energy-efficient algorithms. But the point at which the user makes contact with the controls has to be user friendly, which is the only way to ensure that the system will be used properly. Why use an LCD display when a simple push-button override and traffic light indication of CO2 suffices, for example?
Giving users control over their space has been shown to be a very important element of occupant comfort. By using an automatic setting to return to the most energy-efficient levels for the building, nobody has to worry about switching things off.
The use of communications protocols such as BACnet and Modbus within room devices allows us to provide sophisticated control solutions, while at the same time retaining ease of use.
In the plant room, panel-mounted LCD screens can become very difficult to navigate if not clearly thought out. Engineers need to think through how such screens are used and make them logical for the end user. We need to bear in mind that a number of different people, who will have different levels of skill, may be using the screen.
An uncomplicated approach to controls will always offer the fastest route to better energy performance. The system may be sophisticated, but it can still be straightforward. It’s simple, when you put it like that.
Malcolm Anson is managing director of Clarkson Controls