All Systems Go: The Benefits of Integrated Building Systems
If the main air handling unit at Phoenix Children’s Hospital suddenly fails, another equally powerful chiller kicks in within seconds.
Simultaneously, the medical complex’s high-tech control system sends an alarm to the 24-hour-monitored security panel and an alert to a facility technician’s hand-held device — essentially a text messaged work order to fix the downed system ASAP.
While a hospital has unique issues — among them, immobile patients and pricey medical equipment with critical temperature limits — linking building maintenance operations to each other and to the human beings who can fix them is an escalating trend within all commercial real estate sectors.
Chris Hernandez, president of Phoenix-based Hernandez Cos., which has been providing general contracting and maintenance services for office and industrial properties for 37 years, said 75 percent of his customers have some level of automation that integrates the mechanical systems.
“We see it with HVAC, electrical systems, plumbing,” he said. “Everything we do has a technology component. It’s a natural progression.”
Far from a burden to those who have to install, repair and/or maintain those mechanical systems, the real-time problem detection, auto shutdown of expensive equipment if the temperature exceeds safe operating ranges, and immediate notification to a building engineer, are a boon to all parties involved, Hernandez said.
Even if it means getting a late-night gig.
“If you have an (HVAC) problem at 7 p.m., you can get somebody working on it and have it fixed by 8 a.m. when people get to work,” he said. “A building is a living, breathing place. It’s telling us when it needs attention.”
Property managers are on board, too.
At Gaedeke Group’s 2800 Tower, “You can turn up the heat from your smartphone while you are sitting at a concert,” said Laura Crosby, property manager for the 21-story Class-A office building in downtown Phoenix.
That’s a tenant perk, she said, but if the heat spikes because of a problem with the core cooling system, chief engineer Rod Harmon’s cell phone gets buzzed.
Harmon can check, via Wi-Fi, any of the building’s 400 heat pumps, diagnose the problem, press a virtual reset button and/or turn a faulty unit on or off.
“It’s the direction everything is headed,” he said.
All PCH’s critical building operations are integrated through technology that provides multiple levels of redundancy and ensures patient and employee safety and satisfaction aren’t compromised, said Farid Melki, facility management director.
If there is a fire detected anywhere on the 34-acre campus, for example, the system alerts the fire department, shuts down elevators, activates fire doors, and blasts notifications to impacted areas, the hospital safety officer, security, facilities technicians and hospital administrators.
PCH’s upgraded programmable building integration framework was installed three years ago when the hospital underwent a major expansion.
The payback was immediate, Melki said, in such quantifiable terms as energy savings, extending equipment life, keeping warranties valid, and eliminating the cost of redoing a procedure — say, if an MRI had to be shut down mid-scan because the room temperature topped 70 degrees.
Add to that unquantifiable measures such as keeping patients cool and comfy and a “crisis” invisible to all except those who need to resolve it, he said.
One category of commercial real estate contractors has watched job responsibilities expand with automation and integration, said Anderson Security CEO Kim Matich.
Since security may be an office or industrial property’s only 24/7 operation, it is often the primary recipient of building system alarms.
In the last decade, security operations have become more sophisticated to accommodate the trend, Matich said, and security personnel job descriptions have expanded to include making minor repairs to late-night malfunctions.
At the Galleria Corporate Centre in Scottsdale, for example, security as well as the on-call engineer get text alerts for building maintenance problems.
The problems can range from a wet sensor tripped to an exterior door opened to a chiller shutdown, Matich said.
The Anderson Security officer at Galleria is charged with making stop-gap measures, communicating with the on-call engineer, and, if requested by the engineer, taking instructions to fix the problem.