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Building automation systems (BAS) are integrated electronic systems that deal with every aspect of plumbing, electrical, and mechanical building operation using specialized software.
BAS are gaining popularity in all buildings, but they are integral to structures with high efficiency designed to meet LEED energy efficiency standards.
Electricians work on BAS routinely, and some are experts in the installation and maintenance of BAS.
The building-wide control systems emerged when HVAC systems became common in commercial buildings.
The challenges of managing different zones in a large building (e.g. a skyscraper) and balancing airflow required centralized control systems to operate valves, fans, and duct baffles.
The initial control systems were designed pneumatically and exclusively devoted to HVAC.
But as the prices for solid-state controllers and electrical switches reduced, and they became more reliable, most HVAC control systems became electrical.
Today, low-voltage control wiring skeins run through every building.
With the advances in the electronics industry, those controllers advanced as well.
With cheaper and more capable chips, the control systems of buildings started using the Internet of Things (IoT).
Through this, building systems acquire resilience and data offering flexibility and new capabilities.
Bas Installation, a Specialty for Low-Voltage Wiremen
Originally, because of the association with HVAC, HVAC technicians handled the BAS installation.
But with the systems becoming more comprehensive and capable, the work became related to low-voltage wiring installation.
In some states, only licensed electricians can perform this type of wiring work.
Their laws regulate who can work on cabling between 0 and 49 volts, so most BAS installations fall into the regulated area.
Electricians perform the following duties:
- Installing routers, boosters, and other network devices
- Routing and pulling wire, either through conduit or within building walls
- Inserting power taps into the lines where necessary to provide power to remote devices
- Terminating and installing jacks and faceplates at wire ends
Many BAS systems, such as LON or BACnet-based, have their own physical layer network topologies that stretch through the building.
Since the internet widely replaced point-to-point data connections, BAS networks are gradually replacing other low-voltage data networks.
However, BAS networks are widely being built on standard Ethernet networks.
With special adaptors, even LON can be tunneled over Ethernet, standardizing and minimizing the low-voltage wiring in the buildings.
With Power Over Ethernet (POE) standards, Ethernet can be also used to supply power devices with low-voltage, such as networking equipment or cameras with no need for a separate wire.
The network can run data traffic from the BAS network and LAN at the same time.
With this flexibility, Ethernet quickly becomes a standard choice for BAS wiring.
Since the equipment is rather common and affordable, BAS is also becoming popular for residential use as Home Automation System (HAS).
Electricians performing works on HAS systems use off-the-shelf wiring and hardware such as August Smartlocks and NEST thermostats.
BAS Technicians Developing Information Technology Skills
Maintenance of these advanced systems requires new skills for many electricians working with low voltage.
The basics of testing voltage on wire pairs and checking for open circuits are no longer sufficient for tracking every problem on the data bus.
They have to comprehend data networks and basic building blocks.
They may have to handle deciphering Internet Protocol packet headers or analyzing line interference with an oscilloscope.
Some work requires both software and old-fashioned tools such as wire cutters and strippers.
When the wiring system is installed, most troubleshooting and configuration can be done with data analysis tools and computers.
With the integrations, security issues that aren’t typical for traditional low-voltage systems also arise.
Since most LANs are Internet-connected, the possibility of hacking and malicious intrusion appears.
BAS electricians are also handling basic security precautions and putting in firewalls.
Building Automation Taking Over Traditional Low-Voltage Roles
BAS technicians may work closely with security system technicians, with security systems and fire alarms being integrated into the main BAS.
With this integration, BAS controllers can tell how many people are in the building and where they are.
As a result, it helps regulate electrical and HVAC services more efficiently.
With this combination, code compliance can become difficult in some jurisdictions, which may prohibit the fire alarm systems to be integrated.
However, it is expressly allowed by NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.
Still, the code implemented locally wasn’t adjusted to permit it in many locations.
Even where it is allowed, installers have to ensure that the systems…
- Meets fire alarm actuation standards of initiating all alarm functions within 10 seconds of a sensor device activating
- Have both primary and secondary power sources and integrity monitoring systems
- Meets performance requirements under established voltage, temperature, and humidity variations
- Meets bandwidth and error reporting standards to report failures within 200 seconds
But in general, there are multiple advantages to the connection of alarm systems with the BAS:
- Building natural gas intakes can be shut off automatically
- More efficient wiring runs and simplified troubleshooting
- Security systems can be temporarily disabled to allow rapid evacuation from the building
- Alarms can easily override HVAC controls to manage airflow to snuff out oxygen to fire floors
- Backup power sources can be brought online to power emergency systems
Becoming a BAS Installation Technician
With the use of BAS becoming more common, it is easier for BAS technicians to find work.
The reason lies in many major commercial constructions using BAS to some extent.
They always search for installers and maintenance technicians, so the demand for them remains constant.
Similar to most electricians, BAS specialists need an associate’s degree or higher to enter the field.
Some states may require you to have a license to ensure you can safely work on low-voltage systems.
There are multiple certification options to improve your credentials in the BAS field.
The Certified Control System Technician certificate offered by the International Society for Automation covers…
- Calibration, maintenance, and troubleshooting
- Administration and management
- Project start-up, commissioning, and planning
The certifications from the Electronics Technicians Association are available to:
- Alarm system technician
- Data cabling installer
- Electronic security networking technician
- Fiber optics installer/technician
- Residential electronics systems integrators
Most manufacturers of BAS devices also offer some specialized training and certifications for specific devices.
The rising popularity of BAS installation technicians equates to increasing pay rate offers from employers.
According to ZipRecruiter, here’s the average salary information as of November 2022:
- National average
- Annual pay – $67,180
- Hourly pay – $32.30
- 25th percentile
- Annual pay – $57,000
- Hourly pay – $27
- Top earners
- Annual pay – $93,500
- Hourly pay -$45
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