Using an App to control your home – How does that work and what’s the right app?

With apps for just about anything on anyone’s mind, available for most of today’s mobile platforms for phones and tablets(Android, iPhone, BB), many still wonder about how apps will influence home control and home automation.  When will it happen?  Will it make home automation easier?  Change it drastically?   Well, it’s already here, has been here for some time and works much better than you think (if you think about it)!  It makes home automation and control easier.    But it’s not as easy as the TV commercials purport it to be.    First off, if you download the app, that doesn’t automatically connect it to your devices or home systems.   We’ve had actual calls from folks who have downloaded a free app and then expect it to control the existing lights, thermostats and more  in their home.     There are underlying products or services you must purchase to make these apps work, you must have “connected” devices to control them.

What does a connected device mean?  Basically, it means that the device in question (a light switch, garage door opener, satellite receiver) must somehow connect to the internet so it can eventually communicate with the phone/tablet’s app.   This means different things for different devices.  A Satellite or cable box may be “connected” via their inherent connection, via the uplink to the phone line, or the network connection.  For other devices, say light switches, garage door openers, etc, they can either be connected to your homes wireless or hardwired network or to the manufacturers own control box, then your homes network and the internet.  There is some setup typically involved with this.  You will typically need to setup the device the app is supposed to communicate with, to your homes network.  Then you must setup the app to communicate with your home’s static IP or use a DNS service.   A DNS service will provide a static address for your house, whether your IP changes or not.    A static IP is an unchanging address for your homes network, on the internet, thus you can use it from anywhere in the world, to connect to your home.

How good are apps at controlling things?  There are a few things to consider and a few ways to look at this.   Your phone is a remote control, much like the old school button remotes for garage doors, lights, or even the TV.   Most of today’s smart phones are well equipped to handle an app that can control any connected device.   Most people have seen the TV commercials showing a phone controlling the garage door, another for the lights, or even a DirecTV or other app to control your A/V experience.   Now there are even apps for your A/V receivers and more.  Notice these are still “connected devices”.  Herein lies one of the major problems with this app based model.  If the device being controlled (garage door opener, door lock, lights, etc) aren’t designed to be “connected” somehow or controlled via an app, you cannot control those devices.   The manufacturers of those products, typically only make the app to control one product line or brand.   This is a problem, since for most people, it isn’t prudent to replace your garage door opener to get the benefit of using an app to check to see if it’s closed.   This holds true for many devices you want to control, lights, doorlocks, etc., unless you are doing a home automation system (more on that later).

Another issues with apps, already, is that there are thousands upon thousands of apps first to choose from, then to remember and find when you need them.   So, like the old remote control that came out in the 70′ s and 80′s,  you need a remote, err app, by each manufacturer, for each device you want to control.  So, simply imagine these scenario for A/V control.    You want to watch a TV show and now pull out your tablet.   You open up the app for your TV (Samsung has one) and turn the TV on.  We assume you have HD video source (satellite/cable), a surround sound receiver/system and a BluRay player in your system.  Then, you open another app, for your A/V receiver to turn it on and set the volume level.  Then you open up your DirecTV app to control the channel changing.  If you want to control the volume on the receiver or watch a BluRay, you’ll need to open up the other apps, waiting for each to load, then go back and forth between them, to work your A/V system.    This sounds awfully similar to having 4-6 remotes to control your AV system.

Lets consider a similar scenario for home control or automation.  This typically means controlling HVAC, lights, Audio/video, garage doors and more.   You have an app for checking and opening your garage door.  You have another app to arm and disarm your security system, yet another app to lock/unlock your front door, another for the lights, etc.   So, you purchase the garage door opener with the app that tells you it’s open or closed and allows you to close it.   Then you buy the app for a lighting system with light switches.   Apps can be cool and do a lot.   Think of the great looking thermostat and app to control that and measure your energy, from NEST products.  With it’s slick product design and app enabled device, it seems like a no brainer.

Finally, lets look at the results here.  Regardless of what you’ve spent,  you have 3-10, or more, apps to control the various items/systems in your house and they typically won’t/don’t work together, basically creating a multitude of remotes on your iPhone/iPad.  Is that what you want and expect from your interface.  It sounds cool on paper, but doesn’t really offer what most people are looking for.

If you have or are considering a home control or home automation system, this is the way to go.    Typically, most of the major manufacturers of home control systems (Crestron, HAI, Control4, Lutron and others) have had apps and internet control software for their systems for several years and have many added benefits over the above method.    From Crestron, HAI and others that have been in the industry for decades to some of the newer systems, such as Control4 and Savant, most all  have apps available now, even some of the Do It Yourself systems (think SmartHome.com, Insteon, etc.) on the market have apps for them.     Here are the important points.   First off,  one app to control everything is key.   This is what home automation and control has been about, lessening the number of remotes to control the various systems in the home.  It is highly inconvenient to open multiple apps to control all the different systems in your home.   Next, most of the manufacturers listed above, offer API’s that allow for 3rd party integration and to allow for customizations of screens and more.   Finally, having a unified system is much easier to add to and integrate more and more to your system.   It also saves money on the little things.  For example, having a home control system that is app capable, allows you to add anything to the system and it will show up on your one main control app.    Thus, if you start out with audio/video control on your app, you can add the lighting, garage door openers, thermostats and more, and they will all show up on your one single home control app.    This is a much more integrated method of app based controls for your home, 1 home, 1 app.
If you are looking for tablet or smart phone controlled home system, please give us a call to get a complete education on how these systems work, what is needed and what to look for in your system.



What to expect from CES 2012

January 9, 2012

2011 was a whirlwind year for technology.  Smart phones now abound,  smart TVs and app based devices are moving into the home with products such as Samsung’s Smart TVs and BluRay players, Roku, Sonos, AppleTV and more, with others some had never heard of just a year or two ago.  Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and others providing a good bit of video content that dips into our regular viewing content from our traditional cable and satellite providers.

Private content (internet only) is also making a big move, from personal music videos to small internet only TV shows to privately produced and distributed stand-up comedy routines by those who developed their own distribution models (think Louis C K – https://buy.louisck.net/).  This will have an effect on the television viewing market, and products, over the coming months and years, but we have yet to see how this will play out and whether the music and video industries will develop workable business models (this time) or sue everyone to stop the unstoppable, as they did before (think Napster and MPAA suits against movie distribution models.

Other technologies have not fared so well in 2011, such as 3DTV, which hasn’t quite had the impact some thought,  and although Andriod now has over 50% of the smart phone market, the iPad is still the king of tablets, with few Droid or other tablets doing much.  The Blackberry Playbook and HP Touchpad come to mind.  The Kindle Fire seems to have hit a sweet spot and is getting good reviews.   Computers and laptops are still struggling to find their place in the new tablet/smartphone/smart TV market, since everything is a computer now.

I don’t expect to see too much with respect to home automation at this years show (I’d love to be wrong here).  I haven’t read or seen anything about any new breakthroughs, myself.  Maybe some new Zwave and Zigbee products, more importantly I am hoping for more interoperability between these new products and existing systems.   That means I can take those new products and add them to any of my residential clients’ existing systems.   Otherwise, I think some newer systems that are decentralized (have no central processor, brains are in the devices themselves) will hit the market this year.     Other than that, we all hear about the intrusion into our industry of companies like Verizon and Comcast, who plan to begin offering home automation as a service (though most of us haven’t quite figured out how that will work, for them or their customers).

So what WILL CES 2012 have in store for us this year?  A plethora of new smart phones, multitude of new tablets, and new TVs to choose from, to start.   From there, well, new gadgets galore.  What will be life changing?  I can guess, but to know for sure, you’ll have to wait for the after show CES Blog.

I, personally, am most interested in what will amend, alter or change the smart home market.  With respect to home automation, not much has emerged over the past year.  New technologies such as HDMI and others will change some requirements for our head-end switching systems and our content management and storage (see my upcoming post on setting up an HDMI system).   Otherwise, I see the biggest advancement in apps allowing your smart phone or tablets/iPad to now control many of the systems that have been installed for a decade or more.   Any FulTech client can now upgrade any system we’ve installed going back to 1996, with an iPad/iPhone/Android device that can control all aspects of their existing systems.    Some emerging technologies, that are still a little difficult to fully integrate are zigbee and zwave devices such as doorlocks.   The ability to control and get feedback of the status of your doorlocks on your smart phone would be a huge boon.  This sounds easy, but over the past 2 decades, although it can be done, it was always quite expensive, ugly (typically using commercial access control systems) and a little kludgy.

TV’s continue to have a major presence at CES and will likely get larger, thinner, smarter and cheaper.   Today’s TVs are thinner than an inch and many thinner than 1/2 inch.  Many include “Smarts” or basically the ability to use Apps to view movies, listen to music or peruse the internet (Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Spotify and more).   They are also getting larger, where 55″-65″ was a large screen the last few years, 70″-90″ Plasmas and LCDs will be available this year, and at reasonable prices ($4000 for a 70″ TV).  Expect 3DTV to still get pushed on us, but with newer better glasses and “glasses free” 3D TVs.

Two interesting new television market developments.  Vizio has announced it is entering the PC market, most likely developing devices to serve as music and video distribution devices.   Since that was just announced, we’ll have to see how that develops.   The other big one is APPLE entering the TV market.  Since we already know about AppleTV (the little box that allows you to watch iTunes shows on your TV) not sure what to call this other than APPLE’S TV.   Apple is supposed to be developing a new revolutionary television device, which there is little information about.  Sure to be app based, smart and controllable using your iPhone and or iPad, not much else is known and though we can all speculate, that should be out later this year, though won’t be shown at CES (Apple typically shuns any non-Apple event).  Of Course we can’t count GoogleTV out, and will have to see what they have in store for us.   Finally, HDTVs with WiDi, wireless HDMI technology, built in, will be the next thing.   Though the wireless HDMI technology I saw 2  years ago, never took off.

Green, Sustainability and Energy Management are two emerging markets I’d like to see more in. Specifically energy monitoring devices that are interoperable (can work and integrate with 3rd party systems) and devices that produce the energy they need to operate.  There is a new Kindle cover that incorporates a solar panel in the cover that reportedly will power the unit for days.  That’s a small breakthrough. Consider something like that for smart phones, if you live in a sunny place.

Tablets and e-Readers will explode this year.  I am hearing $100 or less tablets will hit the market late this year, so we’ll see what that does not only to the tablet market, but to Apple.   Microsoft and Intel are releasing their new forays into the laptop world with Windows 8 and Ivy Bridge (a new chip), neither of which will be available during the show (still in development).   PCs will get smaller and more integrated with bigger screens and look for more all-in-one systems.

Some notable award events at this years CES show.  The CES Innovations Awards awards the newest and most innovative technologies and gadgets, a must see at the show.   The CEA’s Mark of Excellence Awards reception, it’s first year at CES,  rewards the industries best and brightest in design and installation of high-end integrated systems, will be on Tuesday night, on the show floor. The Leaders in Technology Dinner, a gathering of 500 of the most influential folks in the industry will be held on Wednesday night at the Wynn.  Finally, the Emmy Awards will be on Thursday night.  Of course, this is the Technology Emmy’s and it’s 6th year at CES, but still the Emmy’s nonetheless.    The awards require no invitation, but the other dinners and events are invitation only.  Though still cool that they are there.

I plan on attending several days this week, but as anyone who has ever been can tell you, you just can’t see everything at the show.  My focus will be on integration and control systems,  smart phones and tablet options and maybe just some good ole, over the top, gadgets.  See ya in a week.




Modern Mis-steps in Energy and Building Management Systems

Over the past 2 several years, we have seen more and more missteps taken by facilities managers and building owners, related to “green” or sustainability.   When planning parts and pieces of a total system, sometimes called a BMS, Building Management System or an Integrated Building System or BAS, Building Automation System, it’s important to consider the entire building and all systems.  Often BMS has simply meant more control over the HVAC/VAV system.  These have typically been both costly and ineffective in meeting their goals.   First off, the main focus being missed, seems to be a lack of an overall, global, holistic view of the building as a system of systems.   Each mechanical/electrical/electronic system and sensors should be considered and included in any sustainability plan.  Some of these systems are mechanical, electrical, or simply insulation and other sub-systems.    When a manager/owner should call in a professional (who this is, is also a murky area) to audit or analyze their building, they often rely on a few inaccurate sources.  In-house support in many cases, which means someone simply did some research in the internet and found something they thought was “cool” or looked like it would work for them. This is typically done without regard to technical shortcomings, functional issues and how it would really benefit the system.   I’ve seen folks hire other mechanical service providers, who are just now starting to gain insight into integrating system, typically via their manufacturers and which are typically proprietary and get a single, high-priced mechanical sub-system, with lots of bells and whistles, but little actual integration with other systems.    Even the local engineer or LEED Certified professional, typically lack the knowledge and experience with the various protocols, sub-systems and technologies available, that is required to design and implement an appropriate system for all building sub-systems.

The best professionals, in my opinion (a little biased), to deliver these services and products, is your Systems Integrator, usually certified or known as an ESC or CTS, in some fields. (A CTS is a Certified Technology Specialist, who is an expert basically in various technologies and integrating them into one system.)   Why, read on and see, but here are a few reasons;  they have been integrating disparate systems for more than 20 yrs (it is what we do),  the equipment they use is often designed to speak with devices using multiple protocols,  the equipment is designed specifically to offer a better, often custom,  user interface than typically comes with these various sub-systems/devices, and usually at additional cost.

Since many sustainability efforts involve electrical work, many hire their local electrician, who is typically not versed in any of the areas involved (I encourage them to become more-so, but clearly most are not), other than being licensed to connect them.   I saw one instance where an electrician was asked to install some LED lighting, replacing existing fixtures.  The electrician hadn’t done any LED work to date and did the old “cover their butt” method of way overcharging for the system, in case something didn’t work out.    This resulted in a price more than 5X what is should have been and the customer did nothing, which obviously didn’t lower any utility bills.   When someone does specify LEDs to replace an existing light, it seems they do the most minimal amount of research possible and purchase 1000 units of “not the best part” ,or worse, completely wrong part, before ever testing.  I suggest hiring a lighting professional who is at least familiar with LED, preferably with some experience in control system and dimming, as this also requires some special selecting of LED lights.


We worked with one customer, whose corporate HQ had spent over $500k developing a system that only provided electrical consumption data from 24 hours ago, and allowed no control.  So, now they can see what happened yesterday at noon, but still can’t do anything about it.   What good is a system that doesn’t report real time data, in today’s environment, not too mention, how can you manage and change things from the past, with an active system?  For way less than 1/2 what they spent, we could have custom designed a system to do much more.   Another customer had their local electrician come in an install $50,000 worth of occupancy sensors to save money.   What no one understood was how to best install and setup those occupancy sensors.  In this case, the electrician actually did the worse thing they could.  Cut the light switch out of the circuit and put an occ sensor inline with the light in each room/area/zone.   This resulted in several problems.  First off, no manual controls or over-rides.   So, no matter what, the lights now only worked with the occupancy sensor.  There is no way to turn it on manually, no way to turn it off manually (what if I am giving a slide show or projector presentation – whoops).     Another issue was placement of the occupancy sensors.  The sensor were not placed properly nor had much setup or adjustments available to them, which resulted in poor sensing, lights turning off when the room was occupied and vice versa.    One area was full of cubicles (probably not the best place for occupancy sensors in the first place) which resulted in a hilarious display of arms waiving around every 10 minutes or so.     In the end, that customer basically wasted $50,000 and not only realized no savings, but also ended up with more problems than they started with and will end up spending even more money to fix it.


The best way (meaning most bang for your buck, most effective, most integrated, most able to control anything)  to install and wire in any sensor or system is to centrally control all systems.   This can be simply running communications wires between sub-systems or between sub-systems and a main control unit.   Using the occupancy sensor mentioned above as an example, a better, more versatile occupancy sensor could/should have been chosen.   Occ sensors come in many flavors and various levels of quality, but generally fall in the $80-150 range.   Some have daylight harvesting, some don’t.  Daylight harvesting, a photo cell basically, allows the user to adjust each occupancy sensor so that if there is X amount of natural light in the room (from the sun we presume) then the lights will NOT turn on, even when occupied.  This saves a lot more than just occupancy sensor-ing.  Next, the occupancy sensors could be connected to a central control system, as opposed to directly in-line with lights.  This offers a plethora of new opportunities and cost little more (sometimes less due to less electrical work) than the method mentioned above.   If your occ sensor is connected to a controller, now you can use that sensor for any device in that room.  So, if this is a conference room, that same occupancy sensor could turn on the lights, HVAC and anything else located in the room, via programming.   For monitoring systems, it could tell a facilities manager, via remote software, that the room is or is not occupied, allowing them to control or maintain the room based on whether it is actually occupied or not.   The sensor could also be used to control any other features in the room, from drapes and shades to temperature, based on occupancy or natural lighting.  So, as you see, simply installing a sensor in a more integrated fashion can give a great deal more in functionality, for little or no more money.


Speaking of drapes and shades, we’ve seen many corporate board rooms that install electric shades/screens yet do not integrated those either.   Controlling shades and drapes can be a way to keep major amounts of heat out of an unused room.   These too, can be controlled automatically, based on various sensors, timers, etc.   So a photocell could be set to close the drapes whenever light is too bright in a room, or a timer could tell the drapes/shades to close between the hours of A and B (when the sun shines directly in a room).  This saves energy, time, wear and tear on furniture and flooring and more.
Several other sensors and systems are great examples of how to better use and install a system.   For instance, when doing a renovation or build-out, most businesses are already getting several components of the systems that can be integrated.    Most are getting a security system, HVAC system, even an access control system.   By simply specifying and purchasing systems that are able to communicate with each other  (typically little or no more cost), you get a much more effective and robust system.    So, your security,  HVAC and access control can now work in tandem to create benefits such as locking doors and turning off HVAC when the security is armed,  or locking the doors when only one person is in the office (secure the building).   By integrating more systems, lighting control, audio/video and adding more sensors to a central controller, you can have a super robust and completely effective and efficient energy management system that rivals what is seen as the standards on the market and save more money.


A photo cell attached to one light is OK (this is what your electrician will do, put one on each light, outside your building), but a photocell connected to a controller that talks to all the lights in the building, allows for almost unlimited uses and programming of various sub-systems in the building, and you buy ONE photo cell, not 100.    An occupancy sensor tied directly to one light can actually do more harm than good, but a occ sensor connected to a central controller, can be used to not only control lights, but HVAC, drapes, AV and more, for little or no extra financial outlay.
One thing we continually see in high-end, residential homes and some commercial establishments, is folks being talked into high-efficiency HVAC systems that are often oversized,  instead of looking at better ways of reducing their cooling needs.   So, instead of getting the highest SEER rated HVAC system, focus on how to make the buildings envelope more efficient and leak less, thus in turn, requiring a smaller HVAC system and saving money in both areas.   The so called low hanging fruit are usually simpler, cheaper and easier to accomplish than replacing entire systems.   It is not always about technology either, but in getting that holistic approach down, so you know precisely where to direct your efforts and dollars and can determine a real ROI and measurable rewards.   Also, it is not necessary to use BACNet, Modbus, or Metasys or other industry communications standards.  These have all been around for some time and work well, but often mean additional communications equipment such as Field Servers that convert one protocol to another.  These all claim to be open protocols, but rarely are, often having their own flavors and designed in a proprietary way.    Most system can communicate via RS232/485/422, TCP/IP, I/O, or a number of other means, any of which can be mixed and matched in the same system.  So you do NOT need all BACNet equipment or 100% Modbus system to fully inegtrate, in fact, most of the system we’ve done, require a multitude of protocols or languages as we are talking to new and old equipment.  The key here is a controller that can talk multiple languages.


Energy monitoring or usage monitoring can be done in many facilities with existing metering equipment.  Eaton and many other manufacturers also offer multiple communications methods to “talk” with their products,  which in many cases, are already installed in the electrical rooms of many facilities.  With a little research, one can simply “plug-into” these units and get detailed data on electrical usage and consumption, negating the need to purchase a new metering system.  This brings up one last point,  energy monitoring.   Energy Monitoring is a nice, neat, cool feature, but in the end, it is little more than a novelty after 30 days or so, as people will stop watching it and will neglect to adjust things.   Thus, in our opinion, any energy monitoring device, must be integrated with a main control system.   This allows for full control and management of consumption, so now a system can react, automatically, to adjust various things based on usage.   For instance, if a manager wants to set a maximum electrical usage stop, then once the building approaches a set number of KW hours, the system can do several things; set back HVAC in unused areas (based on occ sensors), adjust lighting in same unused areas, etc.  If you go to generator power or use solar power with inverters, you can set various metrix that allow the system to make adjustments based on energy produced, used, run-times, and more.    It simply leads to a more integrated and robust system.


HVAC is another major area with issues of interoperability.   HVAC installers typically have little or no working knowledge of anything related to a buildings other systems, thus a traditional BMS/Building Management System basically only controls the HVAC system and are proprietary and don’t share parts, sensors and communicate well.    Another recent example is an HVAC system designed and installed, supposedly, with integration in mind, by engineers, but everyone on the HVAC side neglected to see if it could actually be integrated with anything, except their own $5000 DOS looking software, that did give remote connectivity, but otherwise didn’t integrate with anything.   This was done before the integration firm was hired or consulted with (another reason to work with a holistic view point from the start and work early with your Systems Integration firm).  Furthermore, after much investigation, it was found the entire system could have been designed with BACNet, for nearly the same cost, but now was a $30k+ upgrade, to a system that cost a little more than that.   BACNet, the “new” buzz word of HVAC has been around since 1996 and was immediately adopted by many HVAC manufacturers, Alerton being one of the first to offer a complete system.   However, it is mainly used to make the various components of a manufacturers system talk “within” that system (offering more individual control) and less focus has been given, and in many cases deterred, from outside/external communications to 3rd party products/systems.

Many of the “newer” systems claim to use and be BACNet compatible, but in fact, have tweaked their systems to only talk with their systems and components.  You can still get converters, known as Field Servers to help these communicate with standard controllers on the market, but they are rather expensive.   So BACNet does not guarantee that you can integrate something, if the manufacturer is preventing outside parties from doing exactly that.  I suggest choosing a different HVAC system, not more expensive, but one that is more interoperable (more on this in the next Blog).  Manufacturers should start to open their products up to more interoperability.   Certainly integrating any product with more and different products and systems, isn’t going to diminish the quality of that product.  I argue the opposite in fact, integrating products properly, gives what I call the BASF effect – “we don’t make the things, we make them better.”


These are just a few examples of mis-steps, omissions and mistakes we see many making in today’s jump into “going green“.     If one would do a little more to analyze the main systems and get a good overview of your building’s sub-systems, it would go a long way to help identify problem areas?  Once you do this, it, or a professional, can assist in identifying the low hanging fruit for your buildings energy optimization plan.    Planning is the key, hiring someone who is versed in all of these areas (not necessarily a pro in each area, but knowledgeable in each area that may be integrated, so they can help you envision these unrealized benefits and needs and get the most out of the “green” or sustainable products or systems that you purchase.   This is not rocket science, nor is any of this new.  This is technology, companies like Fultech, have been using for nearly 2 decades.    We have 100′s of  using similar systems now, that have been operational for 15+ yrs and many buildings.    The difference is simply a new, holistic way, of looking at energy efficiency.  Instead of doing things in a sub-system by sub-system fashion, look at the entire building as one system and how to make the entire system more efficient.  This also means one important key thing.  A system designed in this fashion, is also almost completely scalable.    Simply adding more of anything is a simple upgrade or add-on.   You can do each sub-system at different times, choosing which nets the most savings within your budget at any time.   Start with insulation, then HVAC control, then integrate your security and access control, then add lighting control, etc.   The bottom line is a good analysis of your building systems, and the building as a system, could provide many more and less expensive methods of improving a buildings energy performance.   FulTech has been offering our open IBS/Integrated Building System since 2009 and has had excellent success in both energy savings and functionality with the system.  It has proven to be reliable (over 5 years in service with no problems or call backs),  easy to use (no one has to do anything but swipe their keycard to gain access to a building and all other aspects – HVAC, lights, etc- are handled automatically), and saves real money and energy (our offices have received an Energy Star score of 93 and we have shaved roughly 30% off our electric bills).   As we like to say, the proof is in the pudding.

If interested in seeing this system operate first hand (see electric bills, Energy Star Score, monthly savings) and or discuss more about building integration in general,  feel free to schedule an appt to visit our fully operational and sustainable showroom and see our system functioning in real time. 

To read our past Blog on what a BMS Should be, click here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and good luck with your project.   I appreciate any comments and feedback.

October 4, 2011  (Updated 1/2014)

What a BMS/IBS Should be. Building Management System vs Integrated Building Solution

January 10, 2011

Here at FulTech, we feel there are 5 main areas to an integrated building system:

  • HVAC control – One of the largest energy suckers, total control and management is key
  • Lighting control – Having control over lights from occupancy sensors to dimming and scheduling.
  • Daylight harvesting – Keeping lights off when enough ambient light is present and using daylight for lighting. This also includes controlling ambient light via shades and shutters to control light and heat gain/loss.
  • Overall efficiencies – Using efficient products and systems, Energy Star, etc., plugging leaks, and improving waste loss.
  • Systems Integration – Bringing it all together with all systems in the building, from security/access control, lighting, hvac, audio/video and more. Tie them all together to create a complete and integrated system.

We, at FulTech, have taken a holistic approach to energy management. BMS is an often mis-used word these days, often applying exclusively to HVAC control systems. To me BMS should control and monitor ALL of the BUILDINGS functions and features. I feel this term has been ruined by overuse when applying exclusively to HVAC. We design and install systems that control and integrate all aspects of a buildings functions. Maybe they should call it an IBS- Integrated Building System/Solution. Or Energy Management System, but really a BMS should provide both energy management and controls and conveniences as well.

Utilizing a system that integrates and controls HVAC, lighting, shade controls, occupancy sensors, daylight harvesting, audio/video even security and access control. This gives complete monitoring, management and control of your space. We find most businesses are spending money on most of these areas already; it is a matter of getting systems that integrate together, for around the same cost.

For instance, we received an EPA Energy Star rating of 90, after 12 months of records. Our electric bills dropped nearly 40% and we see real, empirically backed savings and ROI. We gutted our space and redid everything 18 months ago, adding LEDs to all fixtures, using an integrated access control and security system, put in a control system for lights, hvac, audio/video and integrated all of that. The HVAC turns on 30 minutes before arrival on weekdays. Otherwise, the system is passively activated. Simply swiping your access control keycard unlocks the door (during weekdays, once disarmed before 9am, the doors stay unlocked until 4:30pm at which time they lock again), disarms security, turns on the main hall lights (all offices are on occupancy sensors) and turns on any digital signage or music we may want on (BTW- this also clocks in all employees as well).

When in the office, all rooms have occupancy sensor with built in daylight sensors preventing the lights from turning on when enough outside light comes in. In other rooms, the system is tied to our Outlook and when you schedule a meeting for the boardroom, for instance, the HVAC will turn that room on when the meeting is scheduled. When leaving the office, a final swipe of the keycard, locks the doors, arms security, turns off all lights and any other devices we may have left on.

The system also offers convenience, safety and security, as we can control any aspect from a PC screen, iPod/iPad, remotely via the internet and even monitor multiple locations. In addition, we added simple programming, with no product cost, to produce some additional unforeseen benefits such as the ability to remote lock doors. So, when everyone leaves for lunch, except the secretary, on their PC screen control, they press a “closed for business” button and the doors lock, until they press it again, unlocking the doors until 4pm again.

The system is totally passive, works flawlessly and really makes it so employees cannot foul it up. It clocks them in and out. Insures nothing is left on. Insure the doors aren’t left unlocked. You have complete control to override any feature or function using the thermostats, keypads, remotes or PC controls, so it really is the ultimate in energy management systems. It also allows real-time/actual and historical storage of energy use and consumption on multiple levels, subsystems (lights, hvac, etc), type of fuel (gas, elec, solar, etc) and a few other metrics.

Our showroom is open for tours and we have some information on our website as well. Let me know if you would like more info.

Evolutions in the CE World

WOW! This past year and the recent CES 2011 Show in Las Vegas has left my mind blown.

  • Analog is dead (by mandate now), twilight period is in full flow now. Those little yellow, green, red and blue RCA connections will be useless soon enough.
  • HDMI is going to be coming on strong now, or is it??? (What does the cloud to do video distribution?)
  • Tablets are set to explode on the market. Mobile devices are becoming ubiquitous and will serve multiple purposes, driven by software in the form of “apps”.
  • CE (consumer electronics) are becoming more co-mingled than ever, working towards convergence, but still somewhat fragmented. Manufacturers agree there should be standards, but then create their own flavor.
  • The “Cloud” (that means keeping stuff on the internet) is becoming the norm for storing data and content
  • Autos are finally becoming more convergent with our personal technologies and homes, Auto Apps are here now.
  • Even TVs are becoming a “Smart” now, they have built in Ethernet connections, whole computers and even touchscreens, in some cases. They will run Apps similar to smart phones.

There are so many new devices and ways to use the new devices it is almost mind boggling. First there were iPhone’s, then iPads, now Androids and tablets abound, which can do just about anything a home PC or laptop could do (sometimes more), and in some cases with a faster connection. The fundamental way in which we connect to our world is changing, and fast.

We are moving from an “install software on your PC and look for almost anything on the internet (you had to search – pull the data)” to an “everything is on the internet (cloud) and Apps (mini software) automatically pulls down the information you want/need (you don’t have to search – data is pushed, you just grab it)”.

Almost everything, any product you can now buy, can now be connected via WiFi,RS232, ethernet, Zigbee/Zwave, Blutooth, etc. Hardware and software are becoming more and more integrated and convergent. You can talk to your phone, tell it to take you somewhere, and it pulls up a map, ask if you want to navigate to it, then it pulls up another app, turns on your GPS and starts telling you how to get there. Like it should have been all along, right? But it actually really works now, and pretty good too. These little mobile devices/computers/life capsules/entertainment systems can do just about anything. Just about…

These new handy “phones” can serve as your media device (storage and distribution), security control, home control system and more, and made to work relatively seamlessly if parts and software are thoughtfully designed and integrated. They can assist in taking your controls, media, etc from your home, to your car, to your office and to meetings when needed. You can even use your Android phone as a “HotSpot”, or remote WiFi connection now, meaning when you check into that expensive hotel, you don’t need to pay them the $10/night internet fee, just connect to your super fast phones 3G or 4G network and get your work done.

We’ve all seen the commercials showing that you can use your smartphone to control your homes various systems. Of course, many overlook the fact that you still need those controllable systems, HVAC, lighting, Audio/video, etc, installed in your home for those handy little apps to actually work. So don’t get too excited to run out and get that app they keep showing on TV. We’ve actually had calls asking why an app someone purchased doesn’t turn on their lights. We ask if they had any lighting controls installed and were told, “a switch is there”. Well, it won’t just control any device. That device, light switch, thermostat, TV, etc, needs to be controllable in one form or another and be able to communicate (IP, IR, RS232, etc) so that the App can “talk” to it. Consider this when getting new apps and products. Be sure to do your research, or purchase these systems with advice from your local integrator, and see that the electronics you are purchasing are easily integrate-able with these new mobile devices and apps. Most things are, but some are harder to manage and get working, than others.

They key to all of these new tools, is to get everything working well and working together, converging your technologies. A good systems integrator should already be embracing these technologies (Android, iPhone, remote control of homes/businesses). Many of us have been designing in remote controlling of homes since the late 1990′s. Most of those systems, still function great. They key to making these systems work, is designing the system with components that are able to communicate with each other through some middle-ware (control system, etc).

There is some setup to getting the Android and iPhone, in some cases, to do all that you want, when you want, without having to dig through the 9000 apps you’ve downloaded. This is key to getting the value out of your phone, rather than having it be a time wasting “tool” that now takes more to figure out, then it relieves you of. Hiring a knowledgeable integrator to assist in creating a plan for your connected lifestyle, can go a long way in enabling many of the features you want and getting the best system in place for your needs. Insuring that you are getting the right products, that not only can be controlled by one of these apps, but also connect to and work with the other devices in your home (energy monitoring, home control, lighting, your car, etc). A knowledgeable systems integrator can also assist in designing a system that allows you to control your office or even your car, with the same device(s).

Things are changing, and changing fast. Some are afraid of this change. Whether we like it or not, these changes are here and most likely will revolutionize the way we live, work, play and even think. I say embrace it and see where it take us. But… do your research and get the right toys, eh, tools for the job.

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Fultech Solutions is performing the services as an independent contractor for JEA, and the performance of these services shall not be deemed to constitute a partnership, joint venture, agency, or fiduciary relationship between JEA and Fultech Solutions. Neither Fultech Solutions nor JEA will be or become liable or bound by any representation, act, or omission of the other.