When is Your Controls System Too Old?

A lot of things get better with age, a good wine, a nice dry rubbed steak, a collectible convertible. However, the one item we don’t associate with the age/quality relationship is a control system.

In thousands of buildings across the United States the one system that could impact a building’s total energy spend by upwards of 20-40% (per the DOE ) remains untouched. In most cases a glorified timeclock controls a set of solenoid valves providing regulated air to a pneumatics system. Leaks abound, thermostats that haven’t been calibrated since the time of Genghis Khan sit controlling rooms that house millions of dollars of critical equipment or entire floors of monthly revenue in the form of tenants. At the end of the day we all like to be in the field getting our hands dirty but like the picture above your field shouldn’t have to be a literal field.

Yet if you ask the building operator why their control system still consists of only a timeclock, a compressor, and/or a older control system that you can no longer procure parts for (short of shopping on ebay) you get a million, ok maybe just a few less, reasons why they cannot upgrade.

My System Runs Fine!

Really, does it run fine? Let’s define fine. Do you have to come in Sunday evening to set the timeclock in the electrical closet because your tenant is having an afterhours event this week. When your tenant in umpty skumpty , Oklahoma (no offense to the residents of OK) complains about the hot/cold space do you have to hire a pneumatics contractor to travel out to a site to verify proper control pressure, run leak tests, flush the poly for water?

What if your system fails, lets say (and this never ever happens…..) your wonderful xyz system that you installed the same year of the first lunar landing decides to fail. None of your air handlers work anymore you literally have to go to the 24 volt control board on each one and manually override the unit to provide air. Now in the midst of this chaos, with your tenants and bosses screaming, you frantically search Ebay hoping to find a replacement part. $6,000 dollars later the control board arrives just in time for you to realize you have no copy of the original programming or any way to program the control board. Alas, you give up pay a contractor to come install a cheap electro-mechanical thermostat and spend just enough to get your building to function at the same level as before.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way!

Old Controls System

An old controls system that has been put out to pasture and replaced by a newer Building Automation System.

I know control retrofits are expensive, I know that wonderful compressor and alligator clipped timeclock is super awesome! but level with me here for a second, really in the deep down part of your soul, wouldn’t it be nice to turn on and off a building from your PC? Couldn’t it just be a wee bit helpful if you could know something in your building isn’t right before your tenants arrive in the morning? Dontcha think that maybe, just maybe, it might save a little bit of energy if your building didn’t run 24/7 and could change the setpoints when people aren’t in the building???

Letting go of a control system is hard, it reminds me of the time my wife threw out my favorite T-shirt, sure it had more holes then Swiss Cheese but it had so many memories. At the end of the day that T-shirt was well, comfortable… I know that an older system is comfortable and that change is painful and sometimes costly. I mean how do you know which system to get? How do you know your not getting ripped off? How do you know that you really need a new system?

So How Do I Know?

Well I have a proprietary method that I have developed that works great at determining if you need a new BAS system. I call it the DOES MY BAS SUCK METHODOLOGY and it goes a bit like this:

  • Does your BAS suck money out of your wallet?
  • All things equal if you laid out your building against regional peers of a comparable square footage, usage type, and occupancy hours does your building consistently perform 10-20% (either BTU/SQFTKWH/SQFT, or $/SQFT, ) worse than your peers?

If so your Building Automation System might suck.

  • Does your BAS suck you away from home?
  • Are you having to go out to a building on Sunday night to verify the time-clock is set?
  • Do you need to spend a whole week at a building when a freeze comes through because your BAS might not work right if power cycles on and off at the building?
  • Do you miss your Monday night football or Dancing with The Stars because you need to spend the week tracing poly through a building to figure out why the boxes aren’t working?

If so your BAS might suck.

Dos your BAS suck up your contingency dollars? Look, I love Ebay, you can get some awesome stuff on Ebay for a pretty good steal sometimes. However, when you are having to bid on a circuit board that hasn’t been manufactured since the time of the Commodore PC you might want to re-think your strategy. I’m not saying your wrong, I’m just saying you might not be right… When you spend more on a single circuit board than an entire floor of new controls, your BAS might suck.


At the end of the day, there are a lot of reasons why you might want to replace a BAS system. I laid out a few of them today. Now I want to hear from you…


How did you know you needed to upgrade your system?
Or better yet, why are you still on the fence or choosing not to upgrade?

4 Responses to When is Your Controls System Too Old?

  1. Lin Alder July 16, 2013 at 13:13

    Good stuff yet again Abel. I like the humor too. Keep it up.

  2. Dave Wallis July 16, 2013 at 15:21

    Abel I love this one

    • Abel B Ramirez II July 16, 2013 at 22:59

      Yeah, Phil Zito has been writing some articles lately that are an easy read and easily understood. I hope to have him contribute some more articles in the future.

  3. George Burke October 12, 2014 at 11:17

    I have to disagree with you on some points. I taught pneumatic controls basics for 20 years to young adults. I even wrote a book on the subject. A properly designed pneumatic control system that is regularly maintained works as good as or better than the electronic systems that are used today to replace it. When an electronic controller goes bad you have to replace the whole unit or have it repaired for big bucks. A pneumatic control panel has many individual devices that if one fails it can be replaced for a lot less money than the all in one electronic control.


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