BACnet and Total Environmental Control: Shining a Light on BAS Controls

With all the conversation about the 3-30-300 metrics and Ken Sinclair’s thoughts on the humanization of buildings and the new ways occupants and buildings will interact, it was interesting when I came across this article from the team at Blue Ridge Technologies (published in the recent edition of the BACnet International Journal). I think you will find the article gives testament to the theories Ken and the rest of the smart buildings control community have been discussing, and hopefully will give you ideas on how to capitalize on this emerging trend.

The following article is re published with the permission of Blue Ridge Technologies. For more great articles be sure to visit BACnet International.

Does your Building Automation System (BAS) provide your occupants with total environmental control? Traditionally BAS providers have focused on temperature, humidity, and indoor air quality to address comfort and environmental control. Unfortunately, that only accounts for a portion of the picture in today’s facilities. The overlooked element in environmental comfort and control (that has been surrounding us the whole time) is the impact of lighting intensity and color. As our buildings have evolved towards modern computer-based work and learning facilities, we have begun to realize the large impact that light quality, intensity, and color usage play when providing total environmental control and the need for the control of lighting.

It is interesting to note that due to the inverse relationship between cost and comfort in HVAC systems, very limited occupant input has conventionally been offered in BAS (i.e. very limited setpoint adjustment or placebo thermostats that have been installed to give the appearance of occupant control). Conversely, lighting in a computer-based facility tends to have a direct correlation to energy savings because most occupants will generally choose a lighting level that is less than full intensity. This desire to have local control is pushing BAS strategies to include everything from circadian rhythms to adaptable occupant centric strategies and the maximization of daylight. This combination of new requirements and a demand for more occupant choice presents both opportunities and challenges in BAS design and implementation moving forward.

Fortunately, BACnet-based open systems are helping take advantage of these opportunities by unifying once discrete building systems to provide greater comfort, productivity, and energy efficiency. This unified building control concept provides occupants with Total Environmental Control (TEC) by approaching each zone in a holistic manner. These intelligent systems, combined with the exponential growth of smart phone usage, and our growing preference to use the phone as the primary system interface, are creating an expectation of instantaneous personal control. Concurrently, the emerging dominance of LED lighting along with its inherent control capabilities (intensity and color) and the advancement of national energy codes have converged to expand the requirements of environmental control to include the lighting domain and more. To parody an old commercial, “BACnet, it’s not just for HVAC anymore.”

While the adoption of dimming capabilities to control light intensity is obvious, the need to control the color of light is much more subtle. Current studies show that we now spend upwards of 87% of our day indoors, and along with that comes the realization that a lack of natural light is affecting our health, productivity and happiness. Although we do not consciously think about it, our bodies are conditioned to respond to a set natural cycle. Each day our mornings start out with warm reddish light while the sun rises in the east. As the day progresses, light slowly transitions to a cooler more blueish color, and then begins to warm back up when the sun sets for the night. This natural progression contributes to our circadian rhythm, or twenty- four hour biological process, that controls our rest-activity cycle while also influencing our immune system. Warm (reddish) and longer wavelength light provides a calming effect and begins our night cycle, while cooler (blueish) and shorter wavelength light decreases melatonin and increases alertness.

Various studies are beginning to tackle this lack of natural light by not only mimicking the progression of natural light indoors but also using specific color spectrums of light to promote particular behaviors. Companies have always been looking for ways to ensure their employees are productive, but modern employment trends have shifted this thinking to include the requirement to promote happy and healthy employees. The growing demand for TEC systems is being driven less by energy savings and more so by the comfort and productivity of the occupants. Many companies are specifically using unified strategies (control of both HVAC and lighting in a single system) to create a differential advantage in recruiting and retention. Other companies are implementing sequences that enable more occupant-centric control. A few examples of these sequences or strategies can be found in the following vertical markets, but more are being researched, tested, and implemented.

K-12 Market

In the field of education, a number of case studies have focused on researching the benefits of color tuning or changing the color spectrum of light in a classroom. Specifically, providing a warmer color light promotes a sense of calm and comfort. Usage of this strategy has shown particular promise in special needs classes, as well as being beneficial to at risk students. In addition, sequences of operations have been designed around using various light colors throughout the day to maximize the amount of time students are in “learning mode.” Cool, blueish light in the morning increases alertness to get students quickly into a learning zone, while a warmer light in the afternoon can help to calm students down after recess to bring them back into focus.

Commercial Office Spaces

The modern commercial office space is also a great example of an environment that is begin- ning to focus on the quality and color of light  in various types of spaces when applying the BAS. The first zone that many people look at as an opportunity to apply TEC is the ubiquitous conference room. Conference rooms are a space that requires a high level of adaptability, and while that was traditionally resolved through simple switching, modern conference rooms are implementing sequences that combine temperature, audiovisual equipment, light level and color to maximize the usefulness of the entire zone. Specifically, a very balanced light color in the middle of color spectrum is utilized to create a welcoming environment while still promoting alertness. Conversely, other zones are looking to utilize the far end of the color spectrum, where colder more blueish light is used in brainstorming rooms to promote maxi- mum alertness and productivity. Finally, on the opposite side of the spectrum, warmer light that is used for break rooms and the modern relaxation room.

Correctional Facilities

How do you account for natural circadian rhythms when your occupants are allowed only a very limited amount of time outside and where natural light is overshadowed by security concerns? Sequences designed to mimic the natural progression of sun light have showed benefits to both physical and mental health in prison populations, while other studies look at the effect of both color and choice. In the same way color is used for its calming effects in education, correctional facilities can also benefit from this application. Studies show that light color can lower incidents of violence. In addition, simply allowing for occupant choice can produce beneficial outcomes in this industry. In a world where most, if not all, choices are made for you, the ability to have some control over your environment leads to healthier and happier occupants.

Healthcare Industry

The final vertical market that I wanted to high- light is the healthcare industry. Research has shown that healthy circadian rhythm cycles can increase recovery rates and immune system strength. Strategies designed to take advantage of this research include daylight harvesting to maximize natural light exposure, the implementation of daily circadian lighting scenes, and the reduction of harsh light during nighttime hours. All of these sequences are designed to promote the mental and physical comfort of both employees and patients, and will become even more critical as health care cost trends continue to trend upwards.

Moving Forward

As we continue to research the effects of decreased natural light, it will become increasingly important for the building automation system industry (design and implementation) to move beyond the traditional approach of focusing on only HVAC in each zone and adopt a TEC mindset. Occupant demand for buildings that are adaptable and holistic in approach is rapidly growing and is best served by a unified system. Unified systems are already being delivered through BACnet-based open control systems on an exception basis and need to become the standard. Moving forward, buildings with proprietary controls systems that inhibit interoperability, serviceability and choice will no longer be acceptable. Then, the true promise of the Building Automation System will be realized: A single automated system that maximizes the health and wellbeing of occupants in the most energy efficient way possible.


Dennis Swoboda is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Blue Ridge Technologies, a manufacturer of Native BACnet lighting control solutions designed for open communication with most Building Automation Systems. In his role, Dennis oversees global sales and marketing initiatives for the sale and installation of Blue Ridge Technolo- gies lighting control systems. In addition, he works with Engineers, End Users, Owners and Controls Contractors to help lower life cycle costs, increase energy savings, and reduce carbon emissions by taking control of the largest energy loads in a building. Dennis has over 20 years of lighting control experience, and gives frequent talks and presentations on energy codes, lighting, and BACnet. He has been a member of BACnet International for almost a decade, and has previously served as the BACnet International Marketing Committee Chair. Dennis currently serves as an active member of the BACnet International Board of Directors.


2 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay In The Know. Join The Control Trends Newsletter.

What Type of Content Would You Like to Receive?
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.