Let's Build.

Building for Performance with Low Voltage Systems

Posted by Patrick McAlpin on Thu, May 18, 2017 @ 14:05 PM
Patrick McAlpin
Find me on:

Connectivity is a vital part of our daily lives, particularly in structures where we work. As a result, building powerloads are increasing, mostly from wireless accesspoints, in-building wireless antennas, Internet Protocol (IP), LED lighting and environmental controllers. The ability to effectively and efficiently power these devices is a growing challenge.   This post discusses the critical role of low voltage systems to optimize building performance.


Photography By Douglas Sterling

What are Low Voltage Systems?

“Low voltage systems” are the various systems that fall into a sub-category of the electrical specifications. Electrical specifications are divided into three categories:

  • High Voltage – 1000 Volts AC and above. And, 1500 Volts DC and above.
  • Low Voltage – 50 – 999 Volts AC and 120 – 1499 Volts DC.
  • Extra-Low Voltage – less than 50 Volts AC and less than 120 Volts DC.

In construction, “low voltage systems” fall into the extra-low voltage category, commonly referred to as low voltage. Systems include: telecom/IT network infrastructure, security systems, audio-visual systems, dynamic signage, and other systems associated with the IT network, such as the building management system (BMS) and lighting control system. With governments requiring the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from buildings, there is more focused attention placed on creating efficiencies through a low voltage power distribution network.

Low Voltage Integration Requires a Team of Service Providers

The Internet of Things ( IoT) is a very real consideration for commercial buildings.  It is not hard to find hundreds of connected devices within any one given structure.  This does not happen magically.  As IoT continues to proliferate our lives, more challenges arise. Integrating low voltage systems requires an experienced team of Telecom, security system, audio-visual system, and dynamic signage providers. Each of these providers play an important role.

  • Telecom: The telecom provider installs the network cabling and the racks, cabinets, and hardware associated with supporting the cabling and network equipment. The network provides connectivity for computers and phones with wired connections and wireless service to communicate within an organization and to the outside world via the Internet.

Network cabling is comprised of fiber optic cabling and copper cable infrastructure (CAT-6). Network routers and switches are connected via the cabling infrastructure and direct computer communications traffic.

  • Security Systems: The security system provider installs the wiring and hardware components of the security systems. Typically, a security system consists of surveillance cameras and a building access control system. The cameras provide visual coverage of the property and capture video, which is recorded and stored on video servers. The access control and monitoring system (ACAMS) consists of card readers at entries and doors and ID badges that are programmed to grant access to areas of a building. As a badge is used at card readers, a person’s movement can be tracked and the information is stored on servers.


Photography By Douglas Sterling
  • Audio-Visual Systems: The audio-visual (AV) provider installs the cabling and equipment of the AV systems. AV refers to audio components such as microphones, digital signal processing audio mixers (DSP), amplifiers, speakers and audio recording systems. Additionally, video components include monitors, projectors, projection screens, and video teleconferencing systems.

The audio system utilizes both wired microphone and wireless microphones to capture speech in the room and amplify the audio and send it to the speakers so a person speaking in a room can be heard by all persons throughout the room. Additionally, the speech can be routed to a recording device so the proceedings are saved for the record. The DSP unit is the equipment that provides the means to take audio input from multiple microphones and computers and route the audio to the speakers and recording devices.

The video system consists of input sources for computers, blu-ray players, etc. which are connected to a video switcher which in turn routes the sources to the output devices such as monitors and projectors.

  • Dynamic Signage: The dynamic signage integrator installs a system that consists of a video server and display monitors with content players located at the signage monitors. One group of monitors in the lobby area will display building information and calendar activities, and monitors at the security screening area and will display messages to inform persons of the procedures to pass through the security area.


Photography By Douglas Sterling

Connecting the Systems

With the range of connectivity occuring within a structure, you may ask "how do all the systems connect?" The telecom copper cable and fiber optic cable provides the backbone for all other systems to connect and communicate. The security cameras utilize the telecom backbone to connect to servers for control of the camera and storage of the captured video. The AV devices utilize the telecom backbone for interconnection and control.


The building management system [BMS] provides the means to automate the process to control the heating and air conditioning in a building to ensure a comfortable environment for the customer and also cut costs by operating efficiently.

The lighting control system monitors the light levels throughout the building and utilizes technology to monitor incoming daylight at windows and automatically adjust the brightness of light levels to save energy while maintaining a comfortable viewing level.

Buildings are more important to us than ever before. A building's connectivity affects not only how we work but also how we live. A building's performance lays in the hands of knowledgable facility staff and service providers familiar with network device integration to ensure the smooth implementation of low voltage systems and make the network along with all the interconnected systems invisible to the end user. Moving forward it will be important to make good use of the building's data to support better decision-making with regard to creating efficiencies that will improve the building and the people located within it.


Topics: Building Performance, Low Voltage Systems