Connections +

Smart Wiring for Intelligent Buildings

Intelligent Buildings will be the standard in this millennium. Proper structured cabling and building control systems are paramount to the success of these sophisticated structures.

March 1, 2000  

Print this page

W ith computers, telecommunications, the Internet and other information systems driving technological change at an ever-increasing rate, customers have come to expect new features and functions on a continuous basis.

This is particularly true of today’s building industry. In just the past few years, building owners, developers, tenants, and facilities and information systems managers have been demanding a higher degree of technological sophistication and service in their office buildings than ever before.

All parties involved want to learn how their buildings can provide safer, healthier, more productive environments, how they can differentiate and increase the value of their properties and how they can save on energy costs.

Intelligent Buildings that use building control and structured cabling systems can help them achieve these goals.


The term “Intelligent Building” has been around for a number of years, but its definition keeps changing as new requirements and technologies are introduced. It is difficult to find universally acceptable terminology, but the Intelligent Building Institute defines an Intelligent Building as: “one that provides a productive and cost-effective environment through optimization of its four basic elements — structure, systems, services and management — and the interrelationships between them.”

An Intelligent Building should be able to integrate building control systems, information systems and telecommunications systems, using a structured cabling infrastructure.

A building control system uses digital control (DDC) technology to provide heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), fire, security, lighting and energy management services. Intelligent Building functions are performed by the DDC systems, with appropriate sensors, and managed by a software-based facility management system for centralized control.

In an Intelligent Building, the building control subsystems are integrated and able to communicate with each other. Intelligent devices such as sensors will gather and transmit data to the controllers to ensure continuous optimal building performance, using automated tools that detect, diagnose performance, and then take appropriate corrective action. An integrated building control system will optimize operation across building control subsystems, optimize energy utilization, guide maintenance activities and report building performance, while meeting occupant needs for comfort, health, and safety at the lowest possible cost.

An integrated building control system can share information between subsystems. For example, a smoke detector senses smoke, sounds an alarm, and, in turn, the fire control subsystem sends a message to the HVAC subsystem to close the air vents and prevent the smoke from spreading. It then sends a message to the security system to open the door locks so people can get out of the building. Another example is a light sensor in a room that sends a message to the lighting controller to close the light in the room if there is no one there. It then sends a message to the HVAC system to lower the temperature based on room occupancy.


The increase in DDC computing power has encouraged the use of standard LANs, structured cabling and other information technologies. As high-speed data communications and effective information sharing become increasingly vital, information, communications and control networks need a structured cabling infrastructure that supports all applications — a mix of voice, data, video and control applications. Structured cabling is the engineering and installation of a voice/data cabling system according to standards published by such bodies as TIA/EIA and ISO/IEC. The aim of this process is:

application independence

multiple logical topologies

easy MACS (moves, adds and changes) to cabling

reduced administration costs

Control system cabling tends to be unstructured when compared to voice/data cabling, making it inflexible, less reliable and less cost-effective. The various control systems in a typical building use a different gauge of cabling, ranging from unshielded twisted pair to coax, installed without integration. Equally varied system designs use different installation and administration methods.

Appreciation of the Intelligent Building — using a single, structured cabling network for a simple, cost effective communication infrastructure — is growing. It integrates both telecommunications (voice, data and video) and control applications. The underlying common element is the cabling infrastructure. Each communication device, such as a voice, data terminal, sensor or camera, is connected to its own cable. However, a single structured cabling infrastructure integrates these applications. Integration of network and facility control management can be implemented on a single PC, or responsibilities can be divided between terminals.

Structured cabling can also introduce significant ‘future proofing’ — design and engineering decisions that aim to save money on future technology. During a building’s design life, its enabling technologies will change several times:

Office automation life cycle — one to three years

Telecommunications life cycle — three to five years

Building management life cycle — five to seven years

One beneficial outcome of creating such a structure is the maximized life cycle of technologies over the building’s life span. The importance of cabling to an information network can be overlooked, as it typically accounts for a small fraction of a network’s costs. Cabling is taken for granted when it works. Poor cabling can bring a network to its knees. With new applications such as multimedia and full motion video demanding ever-faster data transmission speeds, the benefits of structured cabling have never been greater.

The building control systems industry is adapting these new technologies and leveraging them in delivering new products and services. It also provides the opportunity for integrating the building control systems into the enterprise information network, using a structured cabling system to share the building’s communications infrastructure with other subsystems.


There are already many Intelligent Buildings installed globally. One good example is TS (cole de Technologie Suprieure), one of Quebec’s leading engineering schools. When the school opened a new campus in Montreal in 1996, TS took an existing building (the Molson-O’Keefe Brewery, built in 1912) and turned it into a state-of-the-art teaching facility — and one of the most advanced “Intelligent Buildings” in North America.

The building’s telecommunications (voice, data, video) and control subsystems (HVAC, fire, lighting and security) are integrated using the structured cabling system infrastructure to provide interoperability between these technologies. The cabling system supports low voltage control communication and consolidates this with the traditional communications/connectivity infrastructure for telecommunications (voice, data and video).

Another unique feature is in the system integration, which is found at the protocol level where all applications share the same ATM backbone terminated within each telecom closet. In addition, the facilities manager can manage all control services from a workstation in an office connected through the LAN, or remotely by dialing in.

Wider acceptance of Intelligent Buildings — and structured cabling for all applications within these buildings — is inevitable, as the benefits become increasingly apparent. Structured cabling, now common for voice/data systems, is becoming more commonplace for other building services applications.

As the trend continues for more energy-efficient and secure buildings with structured cabling for telecommunications and control applications, developers and building owners will find these buildings easier to lease. Existing buildings, without the advantages of their newer, more intelligent counterparts, may begin to lose tenants. Simi
larly, those responsible for cable installations will find that being familiar with structured cabling for all building applications will increase the demand for their services.

Intelligent Buildings will be the standard in this millennium. Developers should plan for them, and tenants should demand them.CS

Morris Stelcner is Product Manager for Intelligent Buildings and Smart Homes with NORDX/CDT, Pointe-Claire, PQ. He has over 20 years of engineering, marketing and product management experience within the computer, carrier and telecommunications service and manufacturing sectors. He is a published author and presenter in the areas of Intelligent Buildings, Smart Homes, network management, physical layer management and structured cabling.

Print this page