Creating Intelligent & Integrated Building Automation Systems: The Ultimate Guide


A 1984 New York Times article described “a new generation of buildings that almost think for themselves… called intelligent buildings.” The article lauded forward-thinking real estate developers trying to marry the concept of intelligent buildings with the provision of telecommunications services for their tenants. At this same time, the personal computer (PC) industry was in its infancy, while the 1983 breakup of AT&T allowed increased competition in the telecommunications industry.

The time seemed ripe for integrating automation into building management systems (BMS), as both burgeoning PC sales and innovative telecommunications products set the stage for intelligent building design. Yet property developers and owners found providing such services lacked sufficient profitability which, along with a dearth of technical skills and knowledge within the commercial property industry, delayed their widespread use.

Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) and technical skills have advanced to make integrated and intelligent building automation systems not only possible, but viable.

The Value of Intelligent Building Automation Systems

Integrating IoT sensors and analytics software into a BAS allows for easier monitoring of a building’s key systems, which generally include lighting, fire and safety, access control, security and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). But monitoring is only the first step. The true potential of intelligent building automation systems comes from the transformation of automation itself. By expanding your ability to control and automate, you can maximize your return on investment (ROI).

Commercial Building Energy Usage in the United States

Before diving into how to best develop or use intelligent automation systems, let’s take a quick look at how buildings use energy.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings consume 70% of electrical power and account for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. So where is this energy used? A typical breakdown looks like this:

  • Lighting: 17.05%
  • Refrigeration: 15.77%
  • Ventilation: 15.77%
  • Cooling: 15.69%
  • Computers: 9.57%
  • Office equipment: 4.02%
  • Cooking: 2.17%
  • Space heating: 2.01%
  • Water heating: .48%
  • All other: 18.10%

Much of this energy use is undeniably necessary for buildings to function and perform for occupants. But U.S. Department of Energy data suggests that approximately 30% is essentially wasted. Collectively, this waste costs approximately $100 billion a year, creating significant financial loss and unnecessarily inflating carbon emissions.

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Establishing Costs, Savings & Increased Value

Due to limited ROI with older building management technology, only the owners of the largest buildings—those with floor space of over 100,000 square feet—have typically invested in smart technology. And because of high costs, many building owners only applied the technology to highly trafficked areas and the most energy-intensive systems, which in most buildings is HVAC.

Now, that is changing.

IoT devices coupled with data analytics software can drive greater energy efficiency and comfort in built environments while also saving money. As technology advanced and more buildings integrated IoT devices, prices dropped significantly. These lower costs make it more economically feasible for building owners to install and integrate intelligent building automation systems.

A building’s square footage offers a good guideline for estimating installation costs. Basic intelligent building automation systems will generally cost at least $2.50 per square foot, though this can be as high as $7.50, depending on numerous factors, including the purpose that the built space serves.

The cost for integrated building automation systems must factor in whether they are:


Custom-designed for and built into buildings.


New systems installed into older buildings.


Upgraded from older or legacy BAS.

Recovering investment for all but the largest buildings is a challenge with a traditional BAS, which can take four years or longer to achieve ROI. IoT technology has been a game-changer, with smart devices offering economical means with which to gather incredible amounts of data to better control building operations.

Researchers have found that integrated building automation systems can save from $0.20 to $0.40 per square foot for most buildings, lowering operational costs by some 15% and potentially reducing energy use by lighting and HVAC systems by as much as 50%—or more. Even in an average office, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) estimates that you can expect to see significant cost reductions in several key areas:


18% in HVAC


28% of plug loads


33% for lighting systems

On top of the savings accrued is the revelation that installing intelligent building automation systems can improve property values. According to a European Commission report, smart buildings can command higher leases, with conservative estimates of an additional $0.10 per square foot. The report also states that smart buildings can yield rents of nearly 12% higher and result in sale values that are up to 35% more than similar properties.


Depending on the system installed, retrofitting older buildings with intelligent building automation systems can cost as little as $0.75 per square foot and result in savings of 10-25% on energy needs. This means a 75,000 square foot building with energy costs of $3.48 per square foot can save $22,500 to $75,000 yearly, and recouping the cost of IoT analytics, sensors and switches can take a mere 6-24 months.

The Full Impact

The direct effect on energy cost may be easy to calculate, but the benefits of intelligent building automation systems go much further.


Reducing carbon emissions


Simplifying operations management


Better fault detection and diagnosis


Streamlining maintenance and reducing reliance on manual intervention


Minimizing downtime


Easier tracking and invoicing of tenant energy use


Improved ability to offer outstanding customer service

Ultimately, an intelligent BAS can help attract and retain high-quality tenants and justify higher rents. With tenant needs constantly evolving, smart technologies offer a way for owners to quickly adapt while maximizing revenue.

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The Elements of an Intelligent BAS

There are five categories of components that make up intelligent building automated systems. These can be installed during construction, or retrofitted in existing structures.

  • Sensors track temperature, humidity, lighting levels, occupancy, and other conditions, then transmit information to controllers.
  • Controllers act as the brain for the automated system, collecting data from sensors and then instructing the various systems to change conditions to enhance comfort, reduce energy consumption, or correct malfunctions.
  • Output devices, such as actuators and relays, carry the instructions from the controller to the various systems, allowing them to change conditions automatically.
  • Communication protocols use specific language understood by system components to deliver messages from controllers out to connected devices.
  • Terminal interfaces allow users to interact directly with the system in order to monitor or change settings as needed.

Unifying building systems and IoT technologies through well-planned integration is necessary to realize the full benefits of a smart BAS. A key component of this integrated system is analytics. An advanced analytics platform turns the data gathered by IoT sensors into meaningful, actionable insights that are easily understood by building owners, facilities managers, and other stakeholders. Offering single-pane-of-glass control, custom reporting options, and machine learning capabilities, this platform is the heart of a fully integrated building automation system.

The guidance of a master system integrator (MSI) is invaluable to making this possible. An experienced MSI will collaborate with building owners to understand their building and their goals. With this information, they can architect a custom solution and develop the layers of software that allow for seamless communication between devices, along with aggregating them into clusters that work together. Analytics can then be added to provide deep visibility into building systems and conditions and open up new automation opportunities.

Once deployed, an intelligent and integrated BAS relies on smart, and in some cases automated decision-making through IP-enabled devices, providing building operators with a more complete view of how their systems are operating.


The Future of Integrated Building Automation Systems

As with other technology, automation systems for buildings will continue to evolve as the needs of building owners and occupants change. Unlike many technologies, however, a state-of-the-art BAS allows you to anticipate, prepare for, and even fuel those changes. The right system can:

  • Help you develop new ways for businesses and organizations to interact within retail, residential, office, and public spaces.
  • Offer innovative solutions that allow businesses to experiment, explore, validate, and test work environments.
  • Provide more options for users to interact with the built spaces.
  • Contribute to a low-carbon economy

There is a bright future for building automation. Already, cutting-edge technology is making built environments more intuitive and easier to control than ever before, benefitting building owners, facility managers, and tenants alike.

There is a bright future for building automation. Already, cutting-edge technology is making built environments more intuitive and easier to control than ever before, benefitting building owners, facility managers, and tenants alike.