What Is A Building Automation System & How Does it Work?

Most people think of commercial buildings as static objects, but as technology advances, modern facilities are starting to have more in common with computers than bricks and mortar. As buildings have become more technologically advanced, so has the need to manage those tools and systems more efficiently.

To address these growing needs, many building owners have begun investing in building automation systems to help streamline their daily operations and improve the overall efficiency of their buildings. Keep reading to learn more about building automation systems, how they work, and if your property might benefit from one.

Automation of machine tools in factory

What Is a Building Automation System (BAS)?

Building automation is using technology to create easily repeatable processes that can be executed without the need for human intervention. For example, you can use automation with heating and cooling systems to automatically adjust the HVAC based on the current air temperature in the room.

Building Automation Systems (BAS), also referred to as Building Management Systems or Building Control Systems, use monitoring and control applications to automate various electric, electronic and mechanical systems throughout a property.

Building automation systems control a building from a central hub. Many modern BAS can even be controlled remotely.

Any average building will have various daily processes that must be controlled and monitored. In addition, most commercial buildings have many safety features that need to function automatically in case of emergencies.

Automating these systems is hugely beneficial for many reasons, including:

  • Adding predictability to the operation of systems
  • Monitoring the usage of energy and resources
  • Reducing the chances of human error
  • Creating efficiency and sustainability in systems
  • Reducing costs, not only of utility usage but also operations and maintenance.

Most commercial buildings have at least some degree of automation, especially regarding utilities, emergency safety functions, and security features. In recent years, the introduction of data networks, which monitor and control these functions from a central hub, has created smart buildings.

These systems converge in smart buildings into a single IT-managed network infrastructure. BAS monitors and directs a range of electronic and mechanical systems. It provides a means for these disparate systems to communicate across platforms & software. Smart buildings often use Power over Ethernet (PoE) to power and connect all devices and sensors.

Core Functions of a BAS

Building automation systems are intended to manage various systems that function in a given building. Common examples of what can be controlled by a BAS include:

  • HVAC systems
  • Lighting and other electrical systems
  • Fire alarms, sprinklers, and other emergency systems
  • Mechanical systems such as elevators, security and surveillance systems
  • Plumbing systems

Parameters are programmed for all automated systems. Then the BAS monitors and controls activity across the systems, ensuring all parameters are maintained and all system functions occur at the right times.

How Does a Building Automation System Work?

We know that a building automation system monitors and controls the vital systems inside a building. We know that these parameters and processes can be controlled and managed via a central informational hub. But how does it know what to do and when to do it?

Most building automation systems have input and output devices connecting to a controller and a user interface. These components work together to gather and process information and adjust systems according to the pre-set parameters.

Most automated systems have five main components, which include:

  • Input devices, also known as sensors
  • Controllers
  • Output devices, also known as actuators
  • Communications protocols
  • Terminal interface, also known as the user interface.

Input Devices (Sensors)

Sensors are input devices that measure data within the building and report it back to the system. Input sensor data include anything from temperature monitoring, CO2 levels in the air, humidity, lighting, and so on. Sensors are the eyes and ears of a BAS, and they make sure the system is aware of what’s happening at all times.


Controllers interpret the data received by the sensors and send out directives, much the way the brain interprets one’s environment and sends signals to control the body’s various systems in response.

For example, if a sensor reports a fire, the controller will send a signal to turn on alarms and sprinklers in response.

Output Devices (Actuators)

An output device, or actuator, is the tool that carries out the controller’s programmed responses. The control system controls the output signal, and the actuator responds to the commands through the control system. This includes the lights and alarms, heating, cooling, air filtration systems, etc.

Communication Protocols

Every building automation system needs a specific language to connect the BAS to the various systems. This communication protocol creates a language for the system’s separate parts to communicate with one another and share data.

Some manufacturers are futureproofing their systems by replacing the singular language with an open protocol language so all connected systems can fit into an open BAS.

Terminal Interfaces

The terminal, or user interface, is how users can program processes, review building data reports, and monitor the separate components of the automated system. User interfaces usually come in the form of screens and dashboards.

These interfaces help users understand the information being transferred between all components within the system, allowing for adjustments to be made if necessary.

What Systems Are Controlled By a Building Automation System?

Almost any electrical system functioning in a building can be automated, and they often are in most commercial and industrial spaces. Building automation systems create ease and efficiency in managing various essential tasks that keep areas functional, safe, and comfortable.

Common systems controlled by a BAS include HVAC systems, heating and cooling systems, lighting and electrical systems, fire alarms, CO2 monitors and other emergency systems, security and surveillance systems, plumbing systems, and more.

HVAC Systems

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, encompassing the systems that regulate and move heated and cooled air throughout residential and commercial buildings. HVAC Systems are the most commonly automated building system because HVACS are integrated through the mechanical and electrical systems of every building.

Smart Building Navigation

Building automation systems are often used with smart metering or energy management software, but having a BAS doesn’t equate to a building being smart. A BAS acts as a tool to control a building, but it doesn’t record information, provide data reports, or create algorithm responses based on system usage.

For a building to be smart, there needs to be a central data network that sends information to an energy management software. An Energy Management System, or EMS, provides in-depth analytics about building processes, real-time alerts and reports, in-software collaboration tools, and advanced customization options.

With this information, it’s possible to set your building automation system for optimal efficiency.

To get the most out of a BAS, it is important to invest in the proper smart meters and sensors to understand resource use and other relevant data in real time. When a smart BAS has real-time access to a building’s data, it’s capable of fine-tuning energy and resource usage for maximum efficiency.

Energy Management

Building automation systems are proven to lead to higher energy efficiency, ultimately reducing CO2 emissions. An Energy Management System, or EMS, allows you to understand your building’s energy usage, identify improvement avenues, and implement measures to minimize energy usage.

Reducing your company’s energy consumption can drastically reduce your building’s carbon footprint, leading to a more sustainable company.

Remote Control Solutions

In most cases, building automation systems can offer remote control over your building’s processes and functions. This makes it possible to monitor your building’s processes, adjust settings and controls, and respond to emergencies in real time from anywhere in the world.

Smart Lighting

Smart lighting solutions make it easy to control your building’s lighting using a phone or a web application. Most come with motion detection features that automatically turn lights on or off based on a space’s occupancy. This is yet another way that automation reduces the overall energy usage of a building.

How Can a BAS Improve My Building?

Implementing a building automation system is the first step to lowering your building’s operating costs and reducing your carbon footprint. However, lower energy bills aren’t the only ways a BAS can improve your building. Some of the other benefits of incorporating a building automation system provide include:

Lower Energy Bills

Automating energy systems in your building means that resources are utilized efficiently and are not wasted when they’re not needed. This, of course, can lead to a dramatic reduction in energy usage and, as a result, much lower energy bills.

Security Threats and Emergencies

A BAS can automatically alert authorities and engage safety features in emergency cases. These can include security systems like cameras, lights, alarms, and systems that protect people and assets like fire sprinklers and CO2 monitors.

Because they are automated, these systems engage even when there is nobody in the building or if the occupants of the building are hurt and unable to respond.

Automating security and safety features is one of the easiest ways to improve the  protection of your employees, tenants, visitors, and their property.

Improve Indoor Air Quality

An automated system constantly monitors and filters the air, ensuring safe quality. It can also inform building managers preemptively when a filter needs to be replaced or when the machinery will require maintenance. Automating these systems means that fresher, cleaner air will be circulating in the building at all times, improving the quality of life and safety for everyone breathing it.

Increase Occupant Comfort

While it’s difficult to measure directly, the impact of increased occupant comfort is a massive appeal of modern building automation systems. Building engineers know that a correctly configured BAS makes for comfortable, content tenants and workers.

In contrast, a building that is either too hot or too cold, too dark or too bright, can make for tired or uncomfortable occupants, potentially creating a myriad of complaints.

Environment Impact

Perhaps most importantly of all, building automation systems can lead to a significant reduction in a building’s environmental impact. By streamlining all building processes and ensuring that all energy and resources are only used as needed, most facilities will use much less energy and a lot fewer resources. This reduces CO2 emissions and lessens the environmental impact.

The Future of Building Automation Systems

While we haven’t yet seen fully automated buildings, that future may not be too far off. Technology has been advancing rapidly in regards to retrofitting older buildings with a BAS, and it’s easier and cheaper than ever before.

With growing concerns about the environment and energy usage, the future is angled toward optimizing buildings for energy efficiency across all industries.

Contact Us Today To Learn More About Building Automation Systems

If you want to increase operational efficiency, reduce energy costs, and increase a building’s comfort level, you would likely benefit from installing a building automation system.

Suncoast Power is a locally-owned and operated commercial electrical contractor specializing in a wide range of commercial and industrial electrical solutions, including designing and installing building automation systems.

Call us at 754-200-5872 to speak with one of our representatives about your requirements and schedule an initial site inspection.