What’s a building cost? You’ll probably find someone who can tell you how much it cost to build, which is not only just part of the answer, but it’s not even the biggest part. In fact, studies have shown that the operating costs of a typical commercial building will, over its life, be many times more than the cost of construction.
Of course even that isn’t the final total. The cost of maintaining the building and restructuring it as the needs of its occupants change are likely to amount to double the construction costs. In other words, the total lifetime cost of a building will be around five times the capital cost of its construction. It’s not difficult to see that this is where the best opportunities for savings lie.
But what is the best way to capitalise on these opportunities? Careful planning of the building’s infrastructure – building controls, electrical power distribution systems, data and telecommunications networks and security systems – is the key.
Flexible infrastructure makes repurposing of accommodation easier and less costly. Well planned infrastructure that integrates with a BMS provides effective control over all building services, allowing energy usage to be minimised. Further, building infrastructure based on modern systems and components is reliable and easy to maintain, which means that intrinsic running costs are low.
Unfortunately, the type of planning needed to maximise these benefits is rarely undertaken. Everyone involved in the design of a new building – right up to boardroom level – needs to collaborate closely from the earliest stages of the project, and an organisation with proven expertise in integrated building solutions must be at the table.
Finally, all parties must be willing to consider as a whole many aspects of the project that are normally only considered in isolation. For example, it is quite usual for telecommunication systems to be dealt with entirely separately from building management installations, and both to be dealt with separately from the IT facilities. Moreover, the BMS is usually considered in complete isolation.
Yet, in reality, if these aspects are brought together, enormous benefits are possible. These systems can, for example, share a common network infrastructure. Not only does this mean big cost savings on the initial installation of a single network, but is also easier and more cost effective to modify when a building is restructured. It also means the BMS system can be better integrated to provide the total control of the building.
One of the main impediments to adopting this approach is the belief that full integration of disparate systems is, at least at present, impossible. While this might in practice be argued – full integration is not necessary to achieve benefits from convergence. It is by no means essential for the office IT systems to inter-operate with say, the heating controls, but this doesn’t stop them from sharing the same network cabling. Realistically, convergence, rather than integration, is the aim.
Even convergence, however, places some specific requirements on the installation. The most important of these is transparency – essentially the adoption of a common platform for the various services, which makes them easy to manage and control.
A practical example is provided by Schneider Electric and offers a system that is designed around cost-effective, proven and reliable Ethernet and web technologies. This allows the use of simple, readily understood user interface such as Microsoft’s familiar Internet Explorer web browser, as well as providing cabling which can be used for a wide variety of functions.
Capital costs for new buildings have already been squeezed almost to the limit, so the focus for cost savings is now shifting to lifetime operating costs. A transparent convergent building control infrastructure, combined with a flexible electrical installation can deliver the required savings, but only if all interested parties co-operate from the earliest planning stages, and also make full use of support from an expert supplier.