Building Management

Learning the ABCs of Building Controls

Ever been working late at your office building and notice how the whole building’s atmosphere seems to change after 6 p.m.? Everything gets just a little bit darker and quieter—and sometimes cooler?

That’s because the internal environments of most industrial buildings today are managed by complex building control systems that automatically adjust to pre-designed and pre-programmed settings. But how do they work exactly?

A new course offered by Schneider Electric’s Energy University, called “Building Controls I: An Introduction to Building Controls,” aims to dispel the mystery. The course details the various types of control systems—from basic open control loops to more intricate closed and cascading control loops—as well as the different types of building control systems in use today. They range from the old pneumatic controllers common half a century ago to the digital direct and red-wire electrical controls in use in new building installations today.

It also explains in detail how certain control systems combine inputs from several sensors to ensure in-building environments are not only efficient but also set at the level most conducive to enhance employee productivity. (For more on building control system sensors, consider taking the Energy University’s follow-on companion course “Building Controls II: Control Sensors”).

For example, say an in-building heating and cooling system uses a closed control loop to modulate temperature. Sensors such as thermostats throughout the room or floor being controlled take in data, say the current temperature. The control system compares that data to the desired temperature range and if it’s too hot or too cold, sends input to the heating/cooling system to adjust the temperature.

While such a closed loop system works well when the in-building environment conforms to expected states (number of employees, etc.), many times the exact design conditions may only occur infrequently. In such cases, some building control systems take in a second type of input to achieve more efficient control. For example, they may take input from a sensor located outside the building that allows it to take into account the outside temperature when determining how much heat or cooling needs to be pumped through the system. The higher the outside temperature, the less heat required to keep the building at the optimal settings during the winter—and the less money spent on heating costs.

Not only will you learn the inner workings of building control systems with this course, but you’ll also get a primer on the systems that are most efficient to install and maintain, as well as the trade-offs inherent in each. For example, old-time pneumatic control systems were mostly mechanical in nature and required a great deal of physical manpower to maintain and adjust. Today’s electrical control systems do away with the need for on-site physical maintenance and can be controlled and changed up remotely in many cases. But, newer systems do have their downsides. They are far more complex, requiring a great deal of application engineering expertise to set properly and troubleshoot.

To learn more, spend a few minutes with the course, “Building Controls I: An Introduction to Building Controls.” You can find it, along with many others, in the college of Energy Efficiency on the Energy University site. To register for free, simply visit the Energy University site and click the “Join” link.


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