A Closer Look at Smart Buildings

What if the building you are working on already knew your unique preferences for lighting and temperature?

For most people, this would be such a favorable convenience. What if this convenience also came with the benefits of saving costs and energy? For those who occupy smart buildings, this is quite possible.

What is a smart building?

You can think of a smart building as one using automated processes to control the various systems in the building. Think of a smart building as a living organism to create a better mental picture. This would mean that the building has a brain, in this case, the building management system (BMS), that essentially controls the body, which forms other parts of the building such as the lighting, HVAC systems, processing equipment, plumbing, access control systems, digital signage, wayfinding, and the various security systems.

Smart buildings essentially use automation to make the business grid healthy, flexible, productive, as well as cost and energy-efficient.

What kinds of technology make a smart building “smart”?

Smart buildings typically rely on the following technologies:

Building management systems: as mentioned earlier, BMS is a computer-based system that essentially controls and integrates the different systems in a building. It’s the central hub or the brain of a smart building that tells various equipment what to do. This way, it ensures the operations are running efficiently and securely.

Internet of Things: IoT is simply a network created by connected electronics and devices that exchange data to communicate with each other. The IoT technology is used to connect different technologies in a smart building. Some of the IoT devices used in smart buildings include lights, sensors, and meters that collect and analyze data.

Sensors: Thermal, infrared, electronic, and proximity sensors ideally collect electronic signals that can be then interpreted by humans or AI applications. Sensors installed in smart buildings can be used to monitor power consumption, occupancy, lighting, temperature, etc.

Actuators: these are devices that use power to convert a control signal into a mechanical motion. When installed in a smart building, actuators are used in blinds, locks, security camera positioning, solar panels, and other motion systems or objects.

Artificial intelligence (AI): AI is the simulation of machines and it’s designed to mimic human decision-making. For instance, AI can be taught what is normal energy usage for equipment such as HVAC systems or refrigerators. In case it detects abnormal energy output, it can suggest maintenance or even point out the source of the issue. AI can also learn about occupant preferences, and adjust the temperature and lighting based on a specific occupant.

Augmented reality (AR): AR lets you see the real-world environment with a digital augmentation over it. AR technology, like Aircada, can be used to enhance smart buildings in several ways including outages and emergencies. For example, AR-enabled glasses can be helpful to maintenance professionals, as they show equipment warnings, instructions, installation dates, as well as troubleshooting tips that hover on top of the equipment.

Benefits of Smart Buildings

Memoori, a firm specializing in smart building research, predicts that the number of installed connected devices in commercial buildings will grow to just under 3 billion by 2025. Devices and sensors that track occupancy and analytics will see some of the highest growth rates. It’s easy to understand this expected increase considering the benefits smart buildings provide.

According to Albany Business Review, buildings that enable smart technologies can significantly lower costs by an average of 15% and create an environment that reduces wastage of energy while promoting employee productivity. Below are some smart building benefits:

Increased energy efficiency: a smart building essentially allows greater visibility of the equipment and systems that are inefficient, and lets you make real-time adjustments to lower energy consumption. For instance, a smart building can easily control HVAC and light settings, turning them on and off or adjusting them based on factors like the amount of natural light in the room and occupancy. Buildings with large refrigerators will also be able to run them at off-peak times to lower energy usage and utility costs.

Reduced maintenance and operating costs: a smart building will regularly perform automatic checks for equipment failure and gun notify the personnel whenever replacement or preventative maintenance is required. This goes a long way in cutting down the number of manual service checks, as well as expensive downtime that might be required with reactive maintenance.

Better occupant health and comfort: Have you ever heard of sick building syndrome? Smart buildings integrate advanced lighting and climate controls which helps to improve the indoor air quality as well as lighting levels. These technologies can record particulates and carbon dioxide levels in the air and alert operators of dangerous levels. Based on a study by the World Green Building Council, enhancing indoor air quality and ventilation can improve worker productivity by 8% to 11%, while enhancing the lighting conditions can boost productivity by 23%. Occupancy sensors in smart buildings can locate the occupants, which can be useful to identify and maintain social distancing.

Visualized insights and analytics: one key benefit of smart buildings is the ability to collect huge amounts of data that can be analyzed to make better decisions. The building owners or managers can see in real-time how much energy is being used and how much it costs. This can lead to better data-driven decisions. In many cases, it’s a challenge for organizations to invest in systems or equipment whose impact they can’t see. Smart building solves this by providing real-time, accurate data that shows impact. This helps the organizations to make better investment decisions on similar improvements across buildings.