The Architect Tourist: The Basics of Building Automation Systems

So what exactly is a building automation system? We go over the basics to you can get a better idea of how a BAS functions on a daily basis. Building automation systems, otherwise abbreviated as BAS, are an important part of modern efficient building operation. By having a centralized BAS, a building will reduce energy consumption, maintenance costs, and overall downtime for repairs. If you are a building owner, or are just looking to learn more about the basics of building automation systems, keep reading to find out why building automation has become so remarkably effective in new, large scale construction projects and retrofits.

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The Architect Tourist: The Basics of Building Automation Systems

What Is a Building Automation System?

Building automation systems integrate several different aspects essential of building operations 

A BAS allows an individual to or team to automate the operations for a high tech building.

When it comes to defining building automation systems, the first question many have is — what parts of the building operations can be automated? The answer is, almost every system in the building can be automated thanks to BAS technology. The following are the most commonly integrated into a BAS:

  • Heating and cooling
  • Internal and external lighting
  • Ventilation
  • Air conditioning
  • Security alarms
  • Locks
  • Elevators 

BAS systems are typically installed either during initial construction or during a major retrofit of an older building. No matter the installation type, a BAS can streamline operations and make controlling different aspects of the building as easy and intuitive as possible.

Why Do We Use Building Automation Systems?

Building automation systems not only optimize a buildings operations, they can also easily detect any errors

A BAS can empower staff to make energy saving decisions.

As we mentioned above, BAS can automate many different building wide operations. However, more than just streamlining operability and improving efficiency, there are many other advantages implementing a BAS. The system has the power not only to automate functions like heating and cooling, but can also detect any problems with these systems. For example, if there is an error with the heating system, the BAS will detect a change in temperature and notify the building personnel that there is an issue with the heating system. The system works the same way for any lighting or water related issues that may occur. As any building manager knows, when it comes to issues involving heat, light, or water, the faster the situation is identified and fixed, the better. 

What Are the Different Components of a Building Automation System?

Let’s explore the different components so we can understand exactly how BAS systems work

An example of a controller for a large building.

When implementing a BAS, there are 5 components that make for a fully functional automated building. Let’s examine them individually to get a better understanding of how these components work together:


The sensors are the part of the system that gather information about the living and working areas of the buildings. These sensors have the capability to provide detailed information on average temperatures, humidity levels, lighting levels, and the number of people in a room at any given time. These sensors then report back to the central controller giving your management a greater understanding of the building operations as a whole.


Up next is the controller, which acts as the centralized information hub of the building. First, the controller receives the data from the sensors all around the building. Next, the controller sends out commands based on the information it just received from the sensors. This process helps to optimize building operations and prevent any energy from being wasted. 

Output devices:

After the commands are sent out by the controller, the output devices respond to the commands. For example, if there were lots of people in a conference room, the cooling system kicks on because of the sensor reading higher than normal temperatures. Then, after the meeting has concluded and as people leave the conference room, the cooling will turn off  lowering the temperature incrementally. In this case the output devices are the heating and cooling units, lights, security alarms and any other devices that are connected to the controller.

Communication protocols:

The communication protocols dictate the way that your BAS system will communicate with the output devices. There are generally two common languages used for this type of communication: BACnet and MODbus.

Terminal interface:

Last but certainly not least, we need to discuss the terminal interface. The interface allows crew members to monitor, alter, or override settings in the BAS system. Should there be any issues with the system automation, your team can identify problems and make alterations to the automations.

Important Things to Consider When Choosing a BAS

Thinking about a BAS for a new or renovated building? Explore how a BAS will work specifically within your property

Before choosing a specific BAS system, identify what will work best for your project.

Automating a large scale construction or renovation project is a big undertaking. To begin we should first start by differentiating between new construction and renovation projects.

For a renovation project, you are most likely going to have to completely replace any existing operating systems working independently of each other. For example, if you try to automate an out of date security system, the security system is still out of date and performance is unlikely to improve with automation. Though replacing older systems in large buildings is expensive, you will save on operating costs in the long run. For a new build, you don’t need to worry about any upgrades as you can build out your systems with the goal of automation in mind.

Another important point to consider is the user interface. The user interface for your BAS system. While a well designed user interface will make your building easy to manage, a poorly designed one prevents you from truly optimizing your property. A good user interface will allow building managers to easily check for updates on energy efficiency and comfort and manually make any adjustments. By providing up to date information about all building systems, your team will be able to make changes based on the most recent reports.

Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about building automation systems, you’re ready to explore some service providers that can optimize your next build or retrofit. More efficient and intuitive buildings aren’t part of the future, you can harness the power of BAS right now.

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