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Controlling energy: Design controls that work

Engineering building services is all about using energy to provide comfortable and productive indoor environments. While things like windmills and photocells will help, how we control energy use more efficiently while providing comfortable and productive environments is the greatest challenge for building engineers.

We start with design conditions, for example 32 deg C, 50 per cent humidity and -4 deg C, 100 per cent humidity for the UK. We size our plant to make sure we can maintain the target conditions of say 21 deg C, 40 to 60 per cent relative humidity in all circumstances. This means making sure the chillers, pumps and fans can deliver enough water and cool air to compensate for worst case heat gain from occupants, equipment and the sun. In winter the boilers, pumps and heating equipment must keep the occupants warm.

Rare occurrence

But these design conditions rarely occur. Normally the building exists in weather conditions somewhere in between these extreme states.

We must ensure sure that a building controls well at part load. That depends on good design, good installation and good operation and maintenance. Sadly, this is rarely achieved, but improvements can be made by starting the systems design with consideration of how the services will perform in part load conditions, keeping things simple wherever possible, specifying a building management system and insisting on good quality human interfaces and graphics for non-technical users.

Produce software and graphics early and test them as much as possible off site, pre-commission thoroughly then commission and test thoroughly too, crediting the validation checks to individuals. Provide good quality training and maintenance, tuning and re-tuning controls continuously with the building occupied, as you would any expensive high performance car.

After all, few cars cost as much as a building.

Peter McDermott is a building integration consultant at Buro Happold

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