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New hope for the BAS

There are several reasons why it stalled in the beginning. The initial approach by many proponents was to propose larger up front costs, in exchange for "future" savings and ROI. Fortunately, initiatives such as TIA-862 and others are helping to right the ship.


May 1, 2006  


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Recent advances in the underlying technology and adoption of industry-wide standards have stimulated the efforts launched in the late 1980s and early 1990s to improve communications between the various low-voltage systems in commercial office buildings.

These efforts were initially called Smart Buildings, Intelligent Building Systems (IBS) or Building Automation Systems (BAS).

There are many approaches, interpretations and definitions of an intelligent building. We’ve also learned that “intelligence” can occur at much lower layers of the OSI model than the Network Layer.

The business case for completely converged building systems has sometimes not been strong enough to justify a completely Ethernet/IP communications network for all low voltage building systems.

While a strong business case for IBS may be an obstacle to a fully converged low-voltage infrastructure, it may not eliminate the financial and operational benefits of installing a generic cabling system described in TIA’s Building Automation Systems Cabling Standard for Commercial Buildings and serving the 15 low-voltage systems that are installed in the average commercial office space.

In spite of significant investments of financial and other resources by manufacturers and industry associations the BAS/IBS effort never really gained momentum with building owners, facility management professionals or the corporate decision-makers.

Showcase projects

There are several reasons why the Smart Building effort was not overly successful;

The initial approach by many IBS/BAS proponents was to propose larger up front costs, in exchange for “future” savings and ROI.

Current designs are providing significant cost savings up-front and increased savings during the management phase of a building.

Most intelligent building projects have been showcase projects without seriously quantifying the costs and the rewards. This makes it difficult to know whether the costs and efforts involved were justified.

The traditional construction process requires each of the specialized construction trades to complete their task independently of all others.

The IBS/BAS concept requires a level of interoperability and cooperation not generally seen in the construction process.

Addressing the shortcomings of previous IBS/BAS efforts is paramount to future success. One of the most significant obstacles to overcome is documenting the post construction financial and operational benefits of an IBS/BAS design for commercial office space. The ANSI/EIA/TIA-862-2002 Building Automations Systems Cabling Standard For Commercial Buildings is acting as a catalyst to trigger more interest in the design community about the benefits of a generic cabling system.

According to the TIA, “the purpose of this standard is to enable the planning and installation of a structured cabling system for BAS applications used in new or renovated construction of commercial buildings.”

Although most industry associations generally acknowledge that about 30% of the cost of every low-voltage building system is composed of physical infrastructure, cabling, owners, designers, and construction professionals have been slow to integrate the generic cabling system into the commercial office building design and construction process.

One reason may be the lack of utilization of zone-based distribution topologies (called consolidation points or CP’s in TIA-568) for horizontal cabling systems. Looking through the eyes of the electrical, mechanical or security engineer it might be difficult to imagine how to utilize the workstation area outlets located next to the electrical outlets a mere 14 or so inches above the finished floor.

It is only when the zone-based horizontal connection point (HCP) is reintroduced as an approved topology in TIA-862 that a common generic cabling system begins to make sense.

By using the TIA-862 zone-based BAS topology, providing a generic cabling system and consolidating the horizontal pathways for all the systems, the design team can reduce the initial construction costs of a commercial office space by 10-15%, and up to 30%, for the cabling infrastructure of a modern intelligent building.

The lifecycle savings from reduced management expenses may be attractive. The costs for cabling-related changes can typically be reduced by 25-40% for a new or renovated facility when using a total systems integration approach.

While there are many more benefits from the IBS/BAS approach, none have the impact of potentially millions of dollars of the up-front and lifecycle savings seen here. In spite of the financial benefits, adoption of the generic cabling system for BAS has been sluggish at best.

New BAS drivers

Two construction-related issues may be drivers for the adoption of zone-based generic cabling systems for BAS. The first issue surfaced with the release of NFPA’s 2002 National Electrical Code.

Within the pages of this electrical safety code was the new requirement that under certain conditions a wide variety of communications must be removed when no longer in use. Although the new abandoned cabling regulations address the low-voltage cabling for a variety of systems, voice/data section, or Article 800 became the common name.

The premise for the Article 800 requirements was fire safety. It is generally accepted that each 1,000 feet of riser or plenum-rated data cabling contain just over 13 pounds of combustible material.

Prior to the attention created by NEC 2002 and its more stringent successor, NEC 2005, many landlords and tenants weren’t all that concerned about the removal of old cabling when moving out or upgrading their network infrastructure. This has led to tightening up of lease language, forcing tenants to assume responsibility for any voice or data cabling they install in their leased space.

Unfortunately, many are ignorant about the NEC 2002/2005 requirements concerning other low-voltage systems, including fire alarm. The generic common cabling system described in TIA-862 offers one solution to the abandoned cabling problem.

The TIA BAS cabling standard allows for the construction of a common zone-based distribution system for both data and BAS systems.

Since TIA permits common rooms (closets), pathways and zone boxes, when the common cabling system has reached the end of its lifecycle, there is but a single pull path for each zone box, and the spider’s web created by 15 discreet low-voltage systems and their supporting cabling infrastructure can be avoided.

By utilizing a zone-based BAS cabling system, cost of removing abandoned cable, estimated by Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) to be $2.50 per square foot today, can be totally avoided.

The second construction-related issue which may drive the adoption of a more intelligent physical layer design has its roots in the health care industry. According to Andrew Streifel of the University of Minnesota’s Hospital Accreditation for Airborne Infection Control, “there are 2.5 million patients afflicted by nosocomial (hospital acquired) infections each year and 90,000 fatalities … an increasing number are due to failures in the conditions in the environment of care.”

Infection-control practice as part of building systems has become an important issue in health care, and day 2 construction practices have been identified as a potential contributing factor in infectious control risk assessment (ICRA) guidelines.

With increasing frequency, health care providers are implementing strict guidelines surrounding any moves, adds or changes for their building systems. The primary concern with communications and other low-voltage cabling installation is the necessity to remove ceiling tiles, thereby altering the positive air pressure and providing a path for infectious transfer to occur.

A significant factor adding to the problem in the health care environment is the number of low-voltage systems found there. While
the average commercial office building has 15 low-voltage systems, the average hospital will average 32 low-voltage systems and may have as many as 64.

With the increased number of systems, any day 2 moves, adds or changes could result in an unacceptable disruption and risk of nosocomial infection to patients.

Meanwhile, the TIA-862 standard, when combined with other advances in the IBS/BAS effort strike a dramatic parallel to the evolution of the Ethernet-based network. Since the passage in April 2002 of TIA-862, construction professionals have displayed a very similar reluctance to abandon the costly and unnecessary separation between various building systems. This continues to penalize building owners and other corporate end users, preventing them from enjoying the multiple benefits of the integration of building systems onto a common infrastructure.

Many changes and initiatives must occur for these technologies to become widespread; and there is a strong need for promotion and education at all levels and in all segments.

The adoption of ANSI/TIA/EIA-862 Building Automation Cabling Standard will encourage the use of a generic cabling system to support building services as well as voice/data systems.

Jerry L. Bowman, RCDD/NTS, CISSP, CPP is the Director of ACE & Advanced Technologies for CommScope. He is also the BICSI US North-Central Region Director and can be reached at 614-853-3812 or Jlbowman@commscope.com.