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Intelligent Buildings Require Smart Engineering

When creating intelligent buildings, the "smarts" are not in the cabling itself. The real intelligence lies in how the cabling is used to meet the building's operational objectives.

July 1, 2000  

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Intelligent buildings are created from the intelligent engineering of integrated building systems (IBS) and the intelligent operability of the facility.

While such buildings may include a consistent structured cabling system (SCS) to service data, voice and IBS, the cabling system itself is completely passive and adds no intelligence to the building; it is the smart utilization of the SCS that can contribute to the buildings “intelligence”.

Some manufacturers have been marketing intelligent building cabling systems as the central component necessary for these smart buildings. Building owners are being encouraged to pre-wire the entire building with a SCS that provides for data, voice and IBS cabling. The pre-wiring of physical space to accommodate maximum device density and device independence, a philosophy commonly used for data and voice SCS, is being promoted for IBS cabling.

Although this “device independence” pre-wiring approach may be applicable for some buildings, the IBS cabling must take into account the building systems and the level of integration between them, before decisions regarding the IBS SCS are made.


Smart or Intelligent buildings can be defined as buildings that:

use technology to regulate the building’s overall environment, and achieve an appropriate climate for its occupants with minimum energy and effort;

provide a flexible technology infrastructure, which facilitates efficient, inexpensive changes to the shifting needs of the building technologies.

These definitions do not mandate a common SCS supporting the IBS. A “systems integration” approach must be utilized to investigate the integration of the various building technologies including security, HVAC, lighting control, energy monitoring and other building systems.

Before a decision for a common SCS can be made, the integration and operability of the systems must be investigated. In a multi-tenant building configuration, the IBS cabling will be separate from the data and voice SCS — the former is a base building system and the latter is a tenant system. In single tenant or owner-occupied buildings, operational issues must be examined before a decision towards a common SCS platform is made. If the IBS SCS is to be terminated in a communications room with the data and voice SCS, you must investigate whether or not the room will be accessible to building service technicians. I have seen many cases where the IT security policy for the communications room does not allow for this.


In addition to policy-based decisions, the actual building technologies that will be utilized must be analysed. This involves two primary systems: the backbone IBS system and the horizontal device IBS system. When it comes to the backbone, if the IBS utilizes a standardized networking approach (such as Ethernet), it may be technically viable to operate over a common backbone cabling system or even over the backbone network as a separate VLAN. In the case of a horizontal system, the types of supported devices must be examined before a decision is made to pre-wire building zones with a multitude of SCS cables.

The need for many SCS cables per zone is based on supporting various building sensors and devices in a star wired bus type configuration. In this configuration, each device requires a dedicated SCS cable. However, modern components use distributed controllers that combine multiple sensor and device functions into a common intelligent controller. This provides functions such as lighting control, VAV control for HVAC systems, thermal and even security sensors from a single intelligent “black box” located in each zone. Instead of requiring individual SCS cables for each device in the zone, the devices are wired back to the “black box” with short runs of device cabling. The box connects to the SCS over a single cable running a network protocol, connecting each black box to a central monitoring control/station.


I have seen many building proposals for a new building call for an “intelligent building” and define little more than a requirement for “x” cables per “y” square feet. While this approach may result in the installation of more cabling, a thorough investigation of the building technologies, in addition to the function and operability of the technologies, must be made prior to any such quantification. As discussed, a building with far more “intelligence” may actually require significantly less IBS SCS cable than originally anticipated.

The intelligent building cabling system is a misnomer. There is no intelligence in the cabling — the intelligence lies in the overall systems design integration, implementation and operation. CS

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