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Green Install: A True Test of Green AV

If you installed AV systems in a group's new headquarters and those headquarters subsequently received a Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, does it mean those AV systems were green? What if the group whose headquarters you worked on actually was the U.S. Green Building Council?

CHALLENGE: Employ green AV systems for the greenest client of all, but don't lose sight of simplicity.

SOLUTION: Spec Energy Star where possible, but then design the systems to consume less energy and fit in with other green building measures.

If you installed av systems in a group's new headquarters and those headquarters subsequently received a Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, does it mean those AV systems were green? What if the group whose headquarters you worked on actually was the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)?

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In the USGBC's large conference room, the new Christie projector is aimed at a wall of windows. The lighting control system lowers a shade.

Credit: Courtesy Audio Video Systems

In the USGBC's large conference room, the new Christie projector is aimed at a wall of windows. The lighting control system lowers a shade.

Chantilly, Va.-based Audio Video Systems (AVS) faced those questions when it won the chance to outfit the USGBC's new offices in Washington, D.C. The AV integrator recently launched its own green initiative and plans to move into a new LEED-rated headquarters. (See PRO AV's new blog "Being Green" to read about AVS' experiences, proavmagazine.com/BeingGreen.) But from day one, the USGBC made clear to AVS it wasn't as focused on the sustainability of its AV systems as it was on another important factor: usability.

"They wanted to make sure first of all that it was easy to use," says Mark Morrison, assistant engineering manager at AVS. "They didn't want people to have to go to wall panels and not be familiar with the space."

Joe Diianni, vice president of technology at USGBC, put the challenge this way: "Keep our energy goals in mind, but keep it simple."

A GREEN AV BALANCING ACT

USGBC technology officials would be the first to admit that LEED ratings barely take into account the energy-efficient properties–or lack thereof–of a building's AV systems when grading its overall sustainability. There are provisions for using Energy Star-rated electronics, but until recently, most professional-grade AV products weren't certified. So AVS was left largely to its own devices in designing systems that met the vaguely defined criteria of being green. That's not to say very specific sustainability measures wouldn't factor into AVS' work, but the integrator's first goal had to be meeting the USGBC's simplicity mandate.

"Our intention was to put in a very easy-to-use AV system for projection, display, and audio throughout our conference rooms and some breakout rooms," says Diianni. AVS also was tasked with integrating three basic digital signage locations.

The drive for simplicity arose from the USGBC's experience with other full-functionality controls. According to Diianni, the lighting controls that another contractor had provided used robust Crestron touch panels to interface with the USGBC's Crestron commercial lighting control processors. What he discovered quickly, though, was that end users became confused navigating the panels' various features and buttons. "For the AV, I wanted something that was Apple-simple–push a button and it works," Diianni explains.

AVS' solution was to automate the AV systems to the point where even a button might not be necessary. While the integrator still installed pushbutton controls near the doors of conference rooms, they also made it so that when a user plugged a source such as a laptop into a floor plate, the system sensed it, powered on, and sent the proper source to either the flat-panel display or overhead projector, depending on which room they were in. "If you disconnect from the system and walk out of the room and the occupancy sensor doesn't sense anybody after a predetermined amount of time, the system turns itself off," Morrison says. (AVS also programmed several wireless Crestron TPMC-8X touch panels to handle a select few AV functions not supported elsewhere, like navigating a full menu of TV signals and setting up conference rooms in divided or combined modes.)

In the end, the USGBC chose not to fully integrate its Crestron lighting control system with the AV systems, though one day it would like to modify the system so that it could, for example, automatically adjust the lighting and shades when the Christie LW600 LCD projector in the large conference room fires up. For now, AVS merely tapped into the system's motion sensors to help conserve energy. Diianni says he expects to revisit the USGBC's lighting and AV control systems in the coming months, but put off full integration based on programming costs. "We had no idea what the cost of programming the base AV automation would be, let alone tying in everything else," he says.

Throughout the space, AVS deployed Energy Star-certified Sharp Aquos LCD displays (52- and 65-inch) with built-in ATSC tuners. "We used Energy Star-compliant devices wherever we could," says Morrison. "If certain feature sets aren't being used, the Energy Star capabilities kick in and turn off those features to reduce the amount of power drawn." But because most pro AV gear is not yet Energy Star certified, AVS did its best to find the most energy-efficient products and design the systems to maximize savings.

For the USGBC's power amplifiers, Crestron QuickMedia AMP3X80MM amps, AVS tried to build in green through systems design. "The amplifiers we specified were mapped to what the actual loads would be to make sure we're not drawing more power than we need," Morrison says. The integrator also set up Crestron RoomView management software to give the USGBC finer control over when systems should power on and off.

The decision to go with QuickMedia for signal distribution was also a green-conscious one. As part of its LEED program, the USGBC needed to minimize the use of materials as much as possible. Running the AV over a single Cat-5 cable using QuickMedia helped meet that requirement and allowed for the level of automation the USGBC required.

UNANTICIPATED GREEN-NESS

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The USGBC's lighting control touch panels (top) were considered harder to use than the AV button controls (bottom, on the wall) that AVS installed.

Credit: Courtesy Audio Video Systems

Other sustainability measures were unanticipated but still required the AV integrator to modify its installation. For instance, as part of the effort to reduce materials, USGBC's builders employed nontraditional steel studs behind the walls.

"A normal stud is 4 inches; these were 3 inches," says Patrick DeZess, AVS' engineering manager. "It reduced the total amount of steel used on the interior dividing walls by probably 25 percent." But it meant some of the back boxes AVS planned to use were too deep. The integrator instead used smaller standard electrical boxes and staggered them behind the wall to reach certain electronics, such as the many displays. And because there wasn't any conduit, AVS asked the contractor to add back a few small single-purpose studs to act as raceways that installers could run cables along, from the ceiling to the electronics, and down under the floor to the AV floor plates.

And the green design didn't end there. Reducing building materials extended to furniture. "Where there were built-in credenzas, we had a perception of a normal credenza depth," explains DeZees. "The architects designed them slightly smaller to reduce material usage, so we had to make modifications to [the] standard racks we were using."

For instance, while the equipment fit the credenzas, the racks' built-in cable management systems didn't. "We were using slide-out, swiveling racks so instead of using the cable management that makes up part of the base, we removed that and mounted the slide arms directly to the furniture itself to gain back that extra inch or so that's normally used for cable management," DeZees says. "Usually we find this out before credenzas go in, but because working in a green space was new to us, these weren't issues we covered as early in the process as we would have liked."

Still, many aspects of the USGBC install would be familiar in any integrator. AVS' Morrison says many of the company's clients are steering it toward Cat-5-based signal distribution solutions like QuickMedia. "The only things we're running across are all the HDCP and EDID issues that come with distributing some digital content," he says. (At the time AVS designed the systems, Crestron's DigitalMedia and similar systems for managing digital content issues weren't yet available.)

For its game and café rooms, the USGBC wanted to be able to connect Xbox or PlayStation 3 systems and periodically run protected content. AVS' workaround was to install HDMI wall plates next to displays in those areas and connect directly to the LCDs.

And near the end of the project, AVS had to perform an emergency loudspeaker face-lift when it became clear that what the interior designers specified wasn't what the USGBC preferred.

"The speakers were a bit of a nightmare," says Diianni. "AVS worked intently with our design company, which picked out the original NHT Two loudspeakers. AVS did exactly what the designers wanted and they looked atrocious. In a week, AVS turned around and swapped them all out for Boston Acoustics, which matched better with the walls and were very smooth and slick."

As for the role AV systems play in the USGBC's LEED Platinum offices, DeZees sees more potential.

"Currently we're not doing any monitoring of how much power is being utilized," he says. "But it's something that as technology changes and as more devices become Energy Star-certified it'll become more and more important to qualify pro AV systems for LEED points."

 


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