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Alps Control Freak: news bits from around the web, 10.16.09

2009 October 16

control freaks of the world, uniteLet’s hurdle downhill toward the weekend today as we breeze through my RSS reader and check out some news items from across the Wild Wonderful Web. Got an interesting piece of news, new technologies or gadgets you’ve come across? Or do you simply really, REALLY love building controls and you’re anxious to share? Send me an email with news and ideas, or feel free to leave your comments below.

Here’s today’s Control Freak news:

The University of Louisville has plans to save about $2.3 million annually by implementing a massive facility improvements project including HVAC system upgrades, building automation and lighting control retrofits, and even water conservation strategies. Siemens will be tackling the year-long, $21.7 million project. (via

It’s obvious that energy efficiency saves money on energy bills down the line, right? But what you might not know is that your local utility company could be offering first-cost financial incentives for owners and design teams involved in new construction of green buildings. (via

When you think of how to control a building’s energy usage, your first consideration is probably not “how cold do my cans of soda pop need to be?” Still, if a building has a large quantity of beverage vending machines and it was possible to reduce their energy usage – say, via a plug load controller of some type – then you might find yourself on the positive side of ASHRAE’s new standards for uniform testing of refrigerated vending machines to determine energy consumption. Maybe not top-of-mind today, but such things will be easy to control soon enough.

And this pair of items from the always-intriguing Make: Online may be only minor controls projects, but they’re also both majorly cool:

Full disclosure: I really just posted that last item so that I could include the highly-detailed stick figure drawing that accompanies the story. What can I say? I enjoy the simple things in life.

The shocking truth: impassioned customer service leads to flagrant law-breakery.

2009 October 15

alps can't drive 55It was a sunny October afternoon, a brisk and clear autumn day on I-70 en route to Dulles, Virginia. Alps Controls president Dave Meyers was tooling along the highway, anxious to reach his destination where he’d be able to once again engage our website’s customers on how they could use even more of our e-commerce tools to improve their business processes.

Minutes behind him, zipping along in his 2005 Ford Escape, Sales Rep Jim Kalafatis eagerly entertained the exact same thoughts. Because he had other appointments to make, Jim had decided to drive separately on this trip, so he’d been following Dave on the highway for about the last 180 miles.

It was a fateful choice. On a fateful afternoon. Because they were about to be met…by fate.

Dave crested a long hill, cranking along at a breezy 77 miles per hour when he saw the state trooper’s vehicle cleverly parked where it would be nearly impossible to see in time, which in fact was what Dave completely failed to do. Minutes later, Dave found himself the recipient of a $121 speeding ticket, courtesy of the state of Pennsylvania.

Pulling back onto the freeway, smarting from the kind of indignant irritation that such inconveniences cause, it took Dave just a few extra minutes before he picked up his phone to call Jim in the car somewhere behind him in the hopes of alerting him to the trooper’s trap.

Jim’s phone rang. Rang again. And went unanswered. Dave was left to wonder, worry, and – within about two minutes – not-so-quietly laugh to himself.

Because Jim was destined to suffer Dave’s fate. Also at 77 MPH, also to the tune of $121.
jim kalafatis and dave meyers proudly display their dedication to customer service
Is there a moral to this tragic tale? A lesson to be learned for future generations? An important truth about the universe and our humanity?

Not so much. But if there was, it would be something like this: Don’t drive 22 miles over the speed limit, especially when you’re approaching the blind side of a hill.

But maybe the bigger message – or at the very least the most important one that fulfills my mission here – is more like this: When it comes to our customers, each and every one of us at Alps is willing to go that extra mile.

And as fast as we possibly can.

Lighting controls save energy and large amounts of cash: a video case study from The New York Times Company.

2009 October 13

Trolling about the internet for news of building automation controls innovations – an endeavor I find myself increasingly involved in – I came across a terrific pair of videos on, an online video outlet sponsored by the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). In the two-part video series, ElectricTV Reporter Dominic Giarratano visits The New York Times Company building, newly constructed to take advantage of some cutting-edge automated lighting controls devices that have helped the company realize significant savings of energy and money.

new york times company building occupancy sensorIn Part One of the video, Giarratano takes a tour of some of the new building’s innovative lighting control features. This piece wraps up with a reminder that such controls are not limited to only new building construction:

“One of the many things to remember about this story is total light management systems are viable solutions for any space, whether it be new or a retrofit building.”

new york times company building lighting controls cost savingsIn Part Two of the video, Giarratano discusses additional features of the building’s lighting controls, and wraps up with some impressive details about the financial benefits that the The New York Times Company will realize as a result of the controls that they’ve implemented:

“When you add natural light into peoples’ space, you create a better work environment, which leads to better health, more creativity, more productivity. And if we can accept that we get 1% of productivity improvement in our space, the system paid itself back in a matter of months.”

It’s a great pair of videos that well illustrate the impact that effective and well-planned building controls can have – not just from a financial standpoint, but on the lives of the building occupants as well.

Ruskin creates new Energy Star partnership.

2009 October 8
by admin; 2,437 views

It's getting so that you can barely open up a news page online (note: I didn't write "open up a newspaper", and you can take that updated phrase as a positive or negative) anymore without frequent notices of the phrase "Energy Star". The goal of this joint program – begun in 1992 – of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy is essentially to help save money and protect the environment through the creation of energy-efficient products and practices.

Energy Star is everywhere. Manufacturing plants can be rated as Energy Star-efficient; individual products or stores can earn the label as well. And beleaguered U.S. taxpayers can find themselves some relief through tax rebates when they purchase new Energy Star-labeled appliances and use them to replace their older, clunkier, energy-unfriendly models.

Ruskin dampers So it's always good news here around Alps Controls when we learn that one of our valued manufacturers has formed a new partnership with Energy Star. Ruskin Air & Sound Control manufacturers dampers, ventilators and other products for the HVAC market. In its new Energy Star partnership, the company will measure and track the energy performance of its facilities, and develop and implement a plan consistent with the Energy Star energy-management guidelines to achieve energy savings, and help spread the word about the importance of energy efficiency to its staff and community.

To Ruskin: nicely done. To our customers: buy Energy Star products and help protect the environment!

(via SNIPS Magazine)

Can lighting controls REALLY save you money? Watt Stopper has your answer.

2009 September 29
by admin; 2,506 views

watt stopper WN-100-120Now I know that I’m The New Guy around here, and as such I’ve still got a lot to learn about building controls and what kind of value and advantages they can bring to engineers, designers and other like-minded customers of our website

But it seems obvious even to me that outfitting a building with occupancy sensors and other kinds of lighting controls would ultimately have the effect of cutting down on energy usage. A sensor determines that no one is inside a given room and then shuts off the lights; the lights getting shut off saves money – it’s a no-brainer, right? It’s the same kind of lesson that we all had drummed into our heads as kids by parents who would seek any means necessary – and however futile – to get us to turn off the darn lights when we left a room.

But still, when one is considering a large-scale building construction or utilities retrofit, it’s important to be sure. So Watt Stopper – the California-based manufacturer of lighting controls for more energy-efficient homes and businesses – has created an online Lighting Energy Calculator to help determine what kind of an impact that lighting controls could make on your bottom line. This comprehensive and user-friendly online tool can create both Quick Assessments and Full Lighting Assessments, the latter of which provides “complete documentation that includes anticipated savings using lighting controls and updated lighting, anticipated energy usage and ROI for an entire building.” Additionally, the reports generated through the online calculator can be easily printed, emailed, personalized for use in proposals, or stored for future use.

You’d be, no doubt, unsurprised to learn that Alps Controls features Watt Stopper products on our website; you can find them by clicking the “Manufacturers” tab at the top of our homepage. But even if we didn’t, I think that their new online energy calculator displays a terrific understanding of their customers’ needs – and a quick, simple and free way to transform those needs into the action of stopping energy waste.


Alps Control Freak: news bits from around the web, 9.28.09

2009 September 28

it's okay to be a control freakFigured we'd kick off the week today with a look at a handful of news items that crossed my RSS reader late last week and this morning. Got an interesting piece of news, new technologies or gadgets you've come across? Or do you simply really, REALLY love building controls and you're anxious to share? Send me an email with news and ideas, or feel free to leave your comments below.

Here's today's Control Freak news:

According to data from the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, the National Lighting Bureau estimates that only 17% of U.S. buildings built before 1980 have upgraded their lighting systems to more efficient technologies. That leaves a little over two million to go. (via

Hey, remember how Alps Controls products can help your building projects meet the requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009? Well, now the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering a new – and free – online training program designed to help businesses "understand and engage in the government's contracting process." Find out more about Recovery Act Opportunities: How to Win Federal Contracts here (via The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration NEWS)

WPL Publishing is hosting a 90-minute webinar in October to help construction professionals gain a better understanding of green building construction and how to write contracts with LEED certification in mind.

And this one from the "so cool everyone should try it" category, WidgetNinja built his own fan controller – with custom fan speed detector! – to protect and cool off his home theater equipment when it's heating up from excessive use. I get the same results when my DVD player simply shuts down and dies upon detection of an awful Adam Sandler movie, but that's an admittedly more low-tech solution. (via Make: Online)

Monitoring swine flu vaccine storage temperatures is as close as the WiFi network you’re already using.

2009 September 22
by admin; 10,639 views

vaccinationWithin the next month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to begin overseeing the distribution of millions of doses of H1N1 (or "swine flu") vaccine for schools, clinics, hospitals and other facilities across the country. The CDC website is jam packed full of information regarding H1N1, and provides planners such as this one in which school-located vaccination planners can get assistance in handling the complex and varied logistics that will be involved in this important undertaking.

One critical element facing vaccination planners will be in the storage and handling of the vaccine, and the specific cold chain management for those responsible for transporting, storing and handling the vaccines. Proper storage procedures will need to be planned in advance so that vaccines will not lose potency because of fluctuations or inconsistencies with regard to temperature monitoring when the vaccine is in cold storage. Temperature monitoring can be an expensive and time-consuming process, especially if a facility seeks to install hard-wired temperature sensors into refrigeration units and interface them with other existing building controls.

PointSix WiFi Temperature Sensor 3008-18-V3PointSix Wireless has created a temperature sensor that transmits data automatically by utilizing a building's existing WiFi network. The sensor, along with a configurable web-based interface, provides a constant stream of temperature data and can be customized to issue emails or phone calls when the temperature falls outside of defined parameters.

But the real beauty of the PointSix WiFi sensor is that it doesn't have to be installed, wired, mounted or anything. Simply adjust some configurations and drop the sensor – which is about the size of a deck of cards – into a refrigeration or freezer unit, and it immediately begins transmitting data. It's simple to set up, inexpensive to maintain and provides reliable and consistent information for cold chain management in a modern world.

For more details about the PointSix WiFi temperature sensor, visit and search for product identification number 3008-18-V3.

Setra Systems products exceed ARRA requirements, also approved by President Hoover.

2009 September 18
by admin; 9,137 views

Right now across the United States, funds for new, energy-friendly construction projects are available through the economic stimulus package, or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). What's more, the Act's "Buy American" clause – in which projects are to be funded as long as "iron, steel, and manufactured goods used in the project are produced in the United States" (read the entire ARRA here) – is designed to maximize the impact of stimulus dollars on domestic companies and their building projects.

Located in Boxborough, MA, Setra Systems is a leading designer and manufacturer of pressure, acceleration, and weight sensing devices. Setra's Sales and Marketing Director Tiago Anes recently visited us at Alps Controls and explained to Dave Meyers that the company's products available through do meet the requirements set forth in the Stimulus package:

US President Herbert HooverAs Tiago mentions in the video, Setra Systems has even gone the extra route of traveling back in time to President Herbert Hoover's Buy American Act. The company analyzed the manufacturing of their products against that 1933 Act's requirements, in which 51% of manufactured products need to have originated from content created in the U.S – and as it turns out, Setra products meet that standard as well.

Somewhere right now, our 31st President must be smiling.

University of Mississippi to monitor building automation and energy usage via social media.

2009 September 18

If you haven't established an account on Twitter or Facebook yet, consider yourself seriously behind the times – because pretty soon even buildings are going to have their own online lists of friends, followers, subscribers and tweeters.

university of mississippi logoThe University of Mississippi, working together with SmartSynch, is developing the ability to monitor energy usage and lower campus power consumption by linking its building automation tools with its social media networks. According to SmartSynch News, the university will be able to monitor, analyze and report on energy utilization among its campus buildings in real time via social networking websites. Using Facebook, Twitter and RSS, UM will establish separate social media profiles for specific buildings on its campus, and then provide anyone linked to those profiles with regular updates on the buildings' energy usage.

That's a pretty nifty marriage of building automation tools and the innovations of online communities – but hopefully there will be some human interaction involved as well so that we can prevent the internet's first instance of a Facebook friend getting Rickrolled by a building.

(via Diversified Automation)

The new guy and the NEW

2009 September 15
by admin; 2,168 views

This is a busy day here online at Alps Controls. We’ve launched our new website and we’ve got a new website guy who you’ll hopefully get to know more through this blog in the days to come.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about the important stuff first.

visit the NEW todayMake sure you visit the brand spanking new today. We’ve relaunched the site with new application content, robust project tools, social media interaction and much more – all of which has been created to help you browse, purchase products, and manage your building controls projects.

Here’s just a hint of what you can expect from the new site:

  • Manage your company’s account easily and efficiently – not only will you be able to quickly find products the moment you visit our new site, but you’ll also be able to manage your account’s current activity, historical data and purchasing history by visiting the My Alps section.
  • Find video project tips, technical information and more – in our new resources section, we’ll give you everything you need to know about new products, our manufacturers, how to follow up on your orders, and much more.
  • Browse the product catalog without logging in – now you’ll be able to see all of the products and content on without needing to log in first. If you need to review your company’s information or when you’re ready to make a purchase, simply click the “Login” link at the top of the page.
  • Easier search capabilities, blog content, YouTube videos and more!

Everyone at Alps Controls is excited to hear what you think of the new site – so go ahead and let us know. Click through to some of the site’s new features and see what you think. We plan for our site’s content to continually evolve, update and grow, and we look forward to serving your online purchasing needs exactly how you want them to be.

the new web guyAnd as for me, I’m the Alps Controls New Guy. I’ll be creating product and blogging content both on as well as here on our blog. I look forward to getting to know all of our readers here, and to encouraging more conversation about the HVAC and controls industry, our products, your applications and more.

If you want to know more, ask. If I don’t know, I’ll find out. That’s what the new guy does.