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A Modern HVAC Building Controls Solution for a Modern Workplace

Nov. 2, 2015
AWeber needed a controls system matching its modern thinking. The solution would provide precise measurement, seamless integration, and uninterrupted communication between the heating, cooling, air-handling, and electrical systems and data center.
Credit: Halkin Mason Photography

AWeber Communications, developer and provider of an opt-in e-mail marketing service used by small businesses, bloggers, and entrepreneurs around the world, prides itself on doing things “a little differently.” Among its six core values is: “Don’t take ourselves too seriously. Have fun.” That is evident upon entering the 17-year-old, 100-employee company’s office building in Chalfont, Pa., where two 14-ft slides provide an alternate means of getting from the second floor to the first, and video-game stations, pool and pingpong tables, movie-screening rooms, and more give workers ample opportunity to blow off steam.

In addition to having fun, AWeber is passionate about the environment. A giant biowall in the building’s atrium, in addition to providing color and beauty, serves as a natural air-purification system, while daylight-harvesting technology, low-flow and water-efficient toilets and faucets, and sunlight-detecting window shades minimize resource consumption.

Credit: Halkin Mason Photography

AWeber also is a proponent of healthy lifestyles, providing a yoga room, bicycle racks, and an all-natural cafeteria for employees.

When AWeber moved to the building in late 2012, it needed a controls system matching its modern thinking. The solution would involve the highest technology in networked controls, technology providing precise measurement, seamless integration, and uninterrupted communication between the building’s heating, cooling, air-handling, and electrical systems and data center.

The Right Fit

At the time AWeber took possession, the 71,000-sq-ft building was equipped with rooftop air-conditioning units, variable-air-volume units, and a controls system with plenty of service life left; this would be no “rip and replace” endeavor. The right controls system was needed to link the equipment and ensure it operated cooperatively and efficiently.

Project Needs

From electrical meters to lighting systems, the building had a variety of equipment in need of a single clear channel of communication for monitoring and control.

Tozour Energy Systems worked with AWeber founder Tom Kulzer to determine the best-case solutions for the job. Kulzer knew he wanted a network of controls allowing monitoring of all equipment from one easy-to-access location.

Open-Protocol Solutions

Kulzer had the technological savvy to know the job required an open-protocol system. In an open-protocol system, equipment with different protocol settings can communicate through a Web-based center. This differs from older propriety-protocol systems, in which all equipment needs to operate under the same protocol language and be vendor-specific to communicate effectively.

Credit: Halkin Mason Photography

The solution to linking old and new equipment was NiagaraAX from Tridium, an open, Java-based integration platform that eliminates multiple gateways and enables control of multiple protocols from a single source.

JACE-6E, a compact embedded controller/server platform combining integrated control, supervision, data logging, alarming, scheduling, and network-management functions with Internet connectivity and Web-serving capabilities, was installed to apply the NiagaraAX framework. JACE-6E supports a wide range of field buses for connection to remote input/output (I/O) and standalone controllers. It serves data and rich graphical displays to a standard Web browser remotely over the Internet. AX Supervisor, flexible server software, is used to aggregate information (real-time data, history, alarms) from a large number of control panels into a single unified application. Data-recovery service is included for batteryless operation.

More specific features of JACE-6E include:

  • An embedded 524-MHz PowerPC platform.
  • Open-protocols support.
  • A QNX real-time operating system.
  • A Web user interface.
  • The ability to run stand-alone control, energy-management, and integration applications.
  • Support for two optional communications boards.
  • Optional 16- and 34-point I/O modules.
  • Data-recovery services, which prevent data loss during power interruptions.
  • Optional battery for extended runtime.

JACE-6E allows all equipment to communicate in a common language to a single Web-based center. In this case, the existing controls system was integrated via the BACnet protocol. With the controls in place, the rest of the building’s equipment could be programmed into the same communication line. This allows AWeber to receive meter data for water, electricity, gas, and overall energy use and determine how each piece of equipment is operating.

Equipment and protocols linked through NiagaraAX include:

  • Trane Tracer Summit building automation system (BACnet/IP).
  • Lutron lighting (BACnet/IP).
  • Liebert uninterruptible power supply and power distribution unit (BACnet/IP).
  • E-Mon D-Mon submeters with Trane IntelliPak rooftop units (Modbus).
  • Cummins generator (LonTalk).
  • Gas and water meters (standard pulse-type interface).

The installation also includes EnergyLogiX software. Built on the NiagaraAX platform, EnergyLogiX provides a comprehensive suite of applications used to gather, analyze, and communicate data from all of AWeber’s systems. Key features of EnergyLogiX include:

  • Accessibility from anywhere via any standard Web browser.
  • The ability to determine the effects of various procurement strategies without switching rates or providers.
  • The ability to analyze the benefits of flattening loads by aggregating meters.
  • Templates that help users manipulate consumption levels and determine “what if” scenarios.
  • The ability to change peak demand levels and recompute costs.
  • The ability to implement load shedding and shifting.

A dashboard tracks, analyzes, and archives electrical, gas, and water use.

Wireless Capabilities

Not only did the controls need to be equipped to foster communication between all of the building’s electric, HVAC, and water equipment, they needed to be accessible from anywhere in the building via the AWeber internal wireless network.

Credit: Halkin Mason Photography

​AWeber relied on a Linux-based operating-software system, as opposed to more commonly found Windows systems. This begged the questions:

  • How would Linux differ from Windows in connecting each piece of equipment?
  • Would any of the existing equipment have difficulty connecting to the industrial-strength Linux network?
  • Would the wireless capabilities of Linux be compatible with JACE-6E?

Tozour was able to navigate the challenges of hooking up the Linux system so the owner could connect to and manipulate each piece of equipment directly from a tablet, desktop computer, or any other device hooked into AWeber’s wireless Internet. With the open-protocol system and EnergyLogiX suite, 3D monitoring and control now was accessible, even remotely.

LEED Performance

From introduction to completion, the project took approximately seven months. Before completing work in July 2013, Tozour and AWeber met with King of Prussia, Pa.-based Bala Consulting Engineers to ensure each of the building’s linked systems was communicating properly. Bala engineers and Tozour personnel tested each system individually, checking all monitoring channels and ensuring they were operating at maximum efficiency to provide AWeber with precise and up-to-date data. Once the operation of all systems was confirmed, AWeber was left with a networked controls system that provided the means of managing the building’s energy use with precision and ease.

One month following installation of the networked controls system, the AWeber building was awarded LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Tozour was able to provide a comprehensive solution for monitoring AWeber’s energy use without tearing out and replacing perfectly adequate equipment. In 2015, Tozour continues to monitor the system and provide upgrades as part of a controls service agreement.

The president of Tozour Energy Systems, a full-service HVAC and building-automation provider and the Trane commercial-equipment franchise for Philadelphia and South Jersey, Kevin Duffy, CEM, has more than 30 years of HVAC-industry experience. Since joining Tozour in 2004, he has worked with executive management to ensure sales growth, operational effectiveness, and profitability. He holds a degree in economics from Colgate University and a master’s degree in business administration from Rutgers. Under his leadership, Tozour has been named to Philadelphia Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” list for four consecutive years.

Did you find this article useful? Send comments and suggestions to Executive Editor Scott Arnold at [email protected].