As awareness of the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow, so too does the prevalence of smart buildings. Many building owners, operators or managers are turning to smart building solutions to make their commercial spaces more comfortable, profitable and efficient, leveraging the powerful data insights afforded by smart building solutions.
Whether it’s to respond to changing temperatures to optimise the comfort level of occupants, reduce their energy costs by adjusting real-time energy consumption, assist building management with key decisions, or predict equipment failures to prevent downtime and maintenance, businesses are increasingly integrating smart building solutions to aid in their decision making.
So what are the smart building solutions necessary to experience these benefits? Let’s take a look at some examples.
Smart building solutions
There are a number of components that make up a smart building ecosystem – businesses may choose to use solutions in isolation, while others draw from a range of smart devices and components to form an interconnected network. The former suits some middling organisations, but it’s the latter that really makes an impact and drives change.
Nevertheless, through one or many of these smart building solutions, businesses can monitor, automate or respond to a whole host of things, from temperature to air quality and occupancy to noise levels, all in the pursuit of maintaining optimal conditions for occupants, staff, systems, equipment, and the environment.
1. IoT sensors
One crucial component and arguably the cornerstone of any smart building solution is IoT sensors, without which collecting the data necessary to make a building “smart” would simply not be achievable. They come in many forms and can do many things, but they are relatively simple to integrate with the correct guidance.
The use cases for smart building sensors are wide-ranging, and the devices themselves come in many forms, but smart sensors are, for all intents and purposes, small devices that can be attached to surfaces in any given space.
Sensors are easy to install, low maintenance and unobtrusive, but they offer considerable gains, sending information directly to cloud-based systems, giving an overview of a range of indicators, like the following.
Temperature sensors can be used to detect changes in temperature and measure heat in rooms, offices or buildings. Some temperature sensors can even measure heat down to the square foot.
When a temperature sensor is integrated into a building automation system (BAS) or IoT network, temperatures can easily be monitored and controlled. This is very important in sectors like manufacturing or IT, which rely on carefully controlled climates to maintain the integrity of the equipment.
Take servers for example. High-spec server rooms in buildings that depend on IT infrastructure are sensitive to change – a significant change in temperature could irreparably damage the equipment. Once installed, smart temperature sensors can relay crucial information about temperature. This makes locating the source and rectifying the issue much easier to manage.
Temperature control is also important when it comes to people’s comfort. Rising temperatures in an office, for example, can prove dangerous if not carefully controlled. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that workplaces should aim to be no cooler than 16C, but there is no guidance, or indeed a law, for the maximum temperature, just that the temperature in any workplace must be “reasonable”, as per Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
Smart building technology affords a more efficient and equitable approach to occupant comfort, using sensors to monitor temperature at the individual desk level, on a per room basis, or for the entire building. Through connected devices, it’s now easier than ever to cultivate a comfortable environment for employees, visitors and occupants.
Although motion detection has been used in some capacity or another for decades, the technology has become more sophisticated in recent years.
Occupancy sensors are now being deployed to measure occupancy levels in commercial buildings. But this goes far beyond simple observation – occupancy sensors enable us to understand not just when a space is used, but how it is used.
By detecting the presence of people in real-time, occupancy sensors can help businesses identify which spaces see the most use, whether that’s communal areas, meeting rooms, or individual desks, and why.
For example, when an office is being planned, instead of fitting out 5 meeting rooms, each with a capacity of 10 people, some of that space could be provisioned for other uses if the occupancy data shows that only half of those rooms are being used by half of the maximum occupants.
For larger and smaller organisations alike, this can lead to significant cost savings, especially in locations where commercial space is at a premium.
Another way to measure workspace usage with occupancy sensors is through Seat Hours. This pioneering metric developed by Beringar gives asset managers the ability to benchmark building and space usage, optimising workplace efficiency and driving cost savings. Seat Hours affords a deeper understanding of desk utilisation and space consumption through compelling data, empowering real estate decision-makers with tangible evidence.
Tracking space, energy and carbon per seat hour also helps building owners minimise energy waste through unoccupied spaces.
Air quality sensors
Air quality sensors, sometimes called indoor air quality (IAQ) sensors, have really come to the fore in the last two years. The Covid-19 pandemic put increasing pressure on commercial building operators to improve air quality so that return to work initiatives were as safe as they could possibly be.
With many dubious about a return to cramped, stuffy offices, they sought reassurances that the air they were breathing on a daily basis wouldn’t lead to illness or outbreaks. Some organisations took to this with aplomb, installing smart solutions that measured a range of indicators pertinent to occupants’ safety.
Because air quality sensors are unobtrusive and easily deployed, a handful of leading organisations were able to respond to the concerns of occupants, harnessing the data provided by air quality sensors in league with other environmental metrics to make decisions that ensured a measured and safe reopening.
Aside from the concerns brought about by the pandemic, air quality sensors can monitor a range of indicators, such as oxygen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Although poor air quality doesn’t always lead to severe health complications, it can ultimately affect the comfort and wellbeing of building occupants, leading to a productivity dip, increased absences, and general fatigue.
Measuring air quality alongside other key metrics like temperature and occupancy can mitigate these risks, affording the data insights required to make positive and impactful changes to the environment of a given room, office or building. The upshot is fewer absences, increased productivity, and safer, healthier spaces.
2. Analytics software
With all the data generated by smart sensors, one crucial part of the process of understanding and analysing that information lies in the analytics software.
The information gathered by sensor technology is typically sent to and stored on a cloud-based server where it is processed, before being displayed through a user dashboard. However, not all dashboards are created equal – some require a working knowledge of data analytics while others visualise that data in an intuitive, user-friendly way.
What it boils down to is this – analytics software should help you determine how to turn insights into action. For some users, that’s data visualisations that can be understood at a glance, automated reporting sent periodically or real-time monitoring and alerts.
Data visualisations, which can include things like heat maps, graphs and charts, empower decision-makers with readily accessible information, conveying actionable insights quickly and effectively.
Automated reporting, which can be scheduled daily, weekly, monthly, or whenever the user deems it necessary, can regularly show which areas need managing or improving. For example, if occupancy is consistently high in a meeting room, the automated report could highlight this, prompting the building operator to take action.
Real-time data monitoring is valuable as it gives the user instantaneous oversight. When integrated with other data points or information, this can offer a 360-degree view of the operational efficiency of a building. Coupling building data with external insights such as weather or energy rates can further assist in decision making, saving costs and mitigating risk.
3. Building Automation Systems (BAS)
Building Automation Systems (BAS) bring the component parts of smart building solutions together with a view to automating the entire process. Operating any space involves a number of expenses, and one of the primary benefits of building automation is reducing energy consumption to save costs.
As we’ve already discussed, the environmental factors that can be captured by smart sensors and the way in which that data is stored and displayed are crucial to business decision making. In commercial buildings, this directly impacts employee wellbeing. In some cases, the faster insights are retrieved and processed, the better.
So, when it comes to making changes without user input, smart building automation can lead to a more efficient operation, with artificial intelligence and machine learning trained specifically to do just that.
In some industries this kind of predictive maintenance is vital. Automated changes to temperature in a manufacturing setting, for example, could be the difference between sub-par and optimal operational effectiveness. Machines used in manufacturing rely on carefully controlled climates to operate at the highest level – if this balance is upset then it could lead to systems failure or machine malfunction.
4. Secure connectivity
While smart building solutions enable commercial real estate managers, operators or owners to harness data-driven benefits, it’s not without risk. Among them is the matter of secure connectivity, ensuring that a centralised network can act as the linchpin for the technology infrastructure and hardware while remaining watertight in the face of digital or physical threats.
Instead of fragmented networks, a centralised network serves as a single digital foundation for all technology and hardware. The key here is implementing an agile, scalable and cost-effective network that delivers on the needs of the building operator while granting the ability to monitor all systems, either building-wide or across a portfolio.
Any emerging cybersecurity threats, or indeed physical threats to the network’s integrity, can be monitored and neutralised quickly and efficiently with the correct security architecture in place.
The best cloud platforms, like Amazon AWS, include industry-leading software, device and data security methods. To this end, a connected and secure network platform is flexible and secure, with the potential to scale to meet the needs of the organisation, delivering on a complete lifecycle using over-the-air updates to remotely manage a fast-to-deploy, future-proof solution.
So, what constitutes a smart building? Well, there are a number of solutions in play currently, though disengaged and fragmented smart technologies barely amount to a smart building.
In truth, a smart building is the sum of all its parts. It’s in the coordination of each smart building solution that a building truly becomes intelligent.
Thanks in part to automated, networked smart technology, modern intelligent buildings are able to dynamically adapt to the environment, both internally and externally, and the people that use the spaces therein. Ultimately, this leads to a safer, more secure and more efficient building.
It goes without saying that the very best smart building solutions are end-to-end, incorporating everything from the sensor hardware, installation, and operational guidance to data storage, retrieval and, in some cases, automation.
Only when the right balance is struck can building tenants, owners, operators and managers feel the benefits, ultimately saving on unnecessary costs by optimising a building’s environment, usage and occupancy.