Looking Ahead for Building Systems

Looking Ahead for Building Systems

This piece was originally published in the June 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Suzanne Alfano, CET, MBA, Industry Director, Building Systems, NEMA

A building system encompasses interconnected systems that function as a complex whole: the envelope, including the foundation, walls, windows, and roof; interior structural systems such as floors, walls, and elevators; and functional systems such as electrical power, heating, cooling, ventilation, plumbing, lighting, security, and telecommunications.

Building systems must be designed, installed, and operated seamlessly to provide shelter, safety, comfort, and convenience to occupants.

Living Smart

In America, the average person retires at the age of 62 and lives to be 78.7 years old. As of 2014, employed individuals spend an average of 47 hours per week working. If an employee works 47 hours per week from the age of 18 to 62, that person spends almost 110,000 hours at work. For most workers, much of this time is spent indoors.

According to various studies, we spend as much as 90 percent of our time inside buildings. Thus, designing and building great spaces that incorporate the latest technologies and last for many years should be the emphasis.

Residential, commercial, and industrial building designs are moving toward state-of-the-art environments that maximize functionality, convenience, and efficiency. Responsive and timely installation codes, product standards, and building systems design are prerequisites for facilitating and expediting market growth and employing new technologies in the intelligent and connected buildings space. Collaboration among all stakeholders—investors, developers, architects, designers, builders, engineers, contractors, building code officials, inspectors, and users—must take place during the early development planning stages.

Building Smart

Computer-based building management and building automation systems monitor and control mechanical and electrical equipment as well as a building’s internal functional systems. Automated building systems can control HVAC and announce emergency situations when they are interconnected with lighting, for example.

These systems can be connected to other technologies. Energy storage devices have the capacity to store energy generated from renewable sources, such as rooftop solar panels, that may be used at a later time to power smart buildings. Stored energy may also provide backup power during utility outages (eliminating the need for diesel generators), or may even be sold back to the utility.

Electric vehicles may also serve as energy storage systems. Electric vehicle charging stations, which are being installed in smart buildings and elsewhere, reflect the steep growth trajectory of the lithium-ion battery market.

Conserving Smart

Energy management includes planning and operating energy production and consumption in a building. Typical objectives include energy resource conservation, climate protection, and cost savings, allowing occupants permanent access to the energy they need. Energy management closely aligns with environmental management, production management, logistics, and other established business functions.

In response to energy conservation and the movement toward reduced dependence on fossil fuels, building designers are changing the way businesses, residences, and communities are planned, constructed, maintained, and operated. Some projects pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification that earns points and classification across several areas that address sustainability issues. Another schema is the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® for Buildings, a successful voluntary energy-efficiency program for new and existing buildings.

Others align themselves with ISO 9000 Quality management systems—Fundamentals and vocabulary and the ISO 14000 family of standards for environmental management systems. These are voluntary international standards that declare an organization’s commitment to quality and environmental management. Building operations play a key role meeting and maintaining compliance with these standards.

We are living in exciting times when innovation is moving more rapidly than ever before. In the following series of case studies, we look into exemplary building designs of NEMA members’ offices and factories, as well as projects for which members have supplied leading-edge system designs and products. NEMA members are meeting the challenge to adapt quickly so that our electrical products and systems are at the forefront of building systems design and construction.

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