HPAC Magazine

Enhancing facility safety with integrated HVAC controls

October 23, 2019 | By Michael Hugh

HVAC systems are one example of a foundational building component business owners and facility directors recognize as a critical part of an overall connected safety strategy.

The rise of IoT means more opportunities to innovate buildings beyond minimum required standards. c/o Adobe

Facility owners and directors have always made the safety of their occupants a priority. Today, with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), there are more opportunities to innovate buildings beyond the minimum standards required by Building Codes by interconnecting systems for smarter, more efficient operations. Enhancing HVAC systems to increase building safety is one area where the impact of building integration is more evident.

HVAC capabilities have advanced far beyond typical temperature control and air circulation. By integrating HVAC systems with security and life safety systems, facilities can gain the ability to transform their environment and create a safer space – one that automates itself. Connecting these different building systems can improve security, fire and life safety strategies, energy efficiency and overall occupant comfort.

No matter the industry or building type, there are extensive benefits and opportunities to an integrated systems approach to designing, constructing and maintaining facilities. Your HVAC system can play a significant role in a more intelligent and safer environment.


Traditional fire and life safety systems, which receive information from remote fire detectors and carbon monoxide sensors, can be upgraded and connected with HVAC controls to automatically respond to smoke, heat and carbon monoxide levels.

Steam and cooking by-products are two common triggers for setting off these sensors. With advanced technology, intelligent sensors can leverage algorithms to compare measurements of different environmental conditions before triggering building wide alarms.

For instance, if there is no carbon monoxide in the air when a smoke detector begins to sense smoke, then a likely cause is something other than smoke, such as steam or dust. As a result, the interconnectivity between the CO sensor and the smoke sensor helps avoid an unwanted nuisance alarm.
In the event of a real fire, integration with HVAC systems can help contain a fire and stop it from spreading. From the moment sensors confirm the presence of smoke, connected HVAC controls can immediately shut down all air-handling units in the affected areas. Halting the airflow can help improve containment of the fire and can potentially save lives by limiting exposure to smoke inhalation.


With enhanced integration between fire alarm systems and HVAC systems used for smoke control, annual testing of these systems can also be executed much easier and faster. Modern smoke control dampers are equipped with damper position monitors and damper motor controls. Through the use of self-test software programs, each and every smoke control damper can be exercised with the touch of a button. Dampers rotate between fully open to fully closed to confirm proper operation – any failures are reported to the fire alarm control system.


The idea of various life-safety oriented building systems working together is not new; what is new is a requirement to test their integrated operation. The National Building Code of Canada now refers to CAN/ULC-S1001 Integrated Systems Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems to confirm building systems that provide fire protection and life safety functions are properly integrated.

This is a significant change. In the past, individual systems may have just provided inputs or outputs, which were never tested to confirm they acted in unison. The new requirement demands that a test be conducted to ensure all integrated systems which contribute to life-safety functions will work together.


No matter what the building occupancy, safety measures can be improved when different building systems can share data with one another. Many business owners and facility directors understand the advantages of a connected building, but some do not realize the improvements can be made without removing and replacing existing technology.

A systems integrator can help pinpoint current infrastructure – such as HVAC, fire and life safety systems – to enhance and produce a greater return on their equipment investments.

A systems integrator can also help discover unrealized inefficiencies within a facility. Through extensive analysis and diagnostics, they can provide insight into what applications need to be upgraded and connected. Findings are presented to owners to then decide which improvements will address their end objectives.

The integrator takes the facility’s goals to build a technology suite that can help maximize productivity and phase out any equipment that is slowing down operations, all within budget. In addition, an integrator takes on planned and predictive maintenance to make certain that all building systems are properly serviced to operate most efficiently throughout their life cycles.

Processes that were once manual and cumbersome are now automated and streamlined, reducing the possibility for human error. This automation not only helps increase safety, but it also gives employees valuable time back, allowing them to focus on work that can help an organization be more successful in the future.

As the building and life safety industries continue to grow and evolve, so will the conversation around systems integration. From sensors that alert HVAC systems of a fire to HVAC systems assisting with more immediate responses, these cases only showcase a small percentage of how systems integration can lead to safer, smarter and more efficient environments.

Michael Hugh is a field sales engineer with Johnson Controls.



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