While constantly evaluating a facility’s building automation system (BAS) may not seem like a top priority for facility and property managers, it can prevent a number of costly, frustrating conversations down the line. Like most vendors, your BAS vendor relationship may be very transactional with little communication outside of product updates or service requests. However, opening the lines of communication and asking the right questions can save money, time, and headaches. Here are a few questions your current BAS vendor likely doesn’t want you to ask:
What type of warranty do you offer on your controllers?
Hopefully, this information was presented to you prior to choosing your BAS provider, but your warranty could have multiple layers. Make sure you know how long the controllers are guaranteed for, as well as the ancillary end devices. Do the controllers carry the same warranty as the sensors, relays, wire, and installation labor? Also be sure to know what type of damage is covered under your warranty. There can be a lot of grey area between what’s covered under warranty and what would require a separate service contract, so be sure to know what’s what.
Do you provide all the software tools and components necessary to operate the system as one cost, or are there different levels of access?
Finding user-friendly BAS software is key to successfully operating your facility, but what if you don’t have all the tools at your fingertips? Often, BAS companies will offer different levels of software access in order to maintain control of the relationship. You may receive read or monitor-only access to your system, but what happens if you need to adjust a setpoint or configure a device? In many cases, you will have to pay for additional access or call your provider for a maintenance visit. This ensures recurring revenue for the BAS provider. Knowing whether you have full or limited access to your BAS software gives you a much better understanding of the system’s limitations and your ability to operate it successfully.
How much control do I have in operating the system autonomously? Do I need a maintenance contract?
Maintenance contracts are not always considered when choosing a BAS. Although these systems are intelligent, a BAS often needs preventative and regular maintenance to ensure its optimal functionality. However, maintenance hours should vary based on the needs of the customer and operability of the system. If your property is equipped with an intuitive BAS and a sufficient number engineers that want to be self performers, then maintenance hours may not be a necessity. On the other hand, an under-staffed facility may need maintenance hours initially or in perpetuity. If you have a better idea of the maintenance hours your BAS provider would suggest, as well as the hourly rate, you can get a better sense of the system’s true cost. If you are vetting new BAS vendors, comparing their suggested maintenance hours can go a long way in determining your ultimate decision.
What preventative maintenance tasks can I do to maintain our system in-house?
Speaking of preventative maintenance, these types of tasks can reduce the amount of scheduled, regular maintenance hours. Again, this will depend on the capability and bandwidth of your facility engineers, but even the greenest of facility managers can take ownership of some preventative maintenance tasks, so be sure to ask your BAS provider what you can do to keep the system running optimally. This can potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars annually while increasing your facility staff’s knowledge of the system.
How long will it take for the system to pay for itself?
A BAS is an investment in your facility’s energy efficiency. Like most investments, you are probably curious when you’ll recoup your money and reap the benefits of your newfound energy savings. Knowing how long it will take your system to start carrying its weight on the balance sheet can be incredibly valuable when budgeting for BAS-related projects. Be sure to factor in maintenance hours when inquiring about the payback period.
How often will we need to upgrade our controllers and software? What are the benefits of upgrading?
Will your BAS company constantly require you to upgrade your controllers and software, or is your system set to run for the foreseeable future? This is perhaps the most critical information you need as a decision maker. Many BAS companies will obsolete their existing product lines and require you to upgrade to their latest technology. While this new technology undoubtedly has useful features, these features may not be necessary to keep your facility running. What are the benefits of upgrading? Are these new features necessary to operate my facility efficiently? Do not accept upgrades without understanding what is included. Knowing when to expect upgrades, as well as the estimated cost of upgrading, is critical for proper budgeting.
When evaluating your facility’s BAS needs, asking the right questions can be the difference between a smart buy and an expensive mistake. While many BAS solutions seem similar, the proposals you receive may not be an apples-to-apples comparison. Knowing what to ask about the hardware and software, service and costs will ensure you are making an informed decision that saves you money for years to come.