The Rise of Smart Buildings

November 20, 2017

In an economy where smart technology has rapidly transitioned from a trend to a standard, it has increasingly become an integral part of numerous commercial and residential buildings around the world. A ‘smart building’ is a building equipped with technology that enables occupants to remotely control, program, and analyze data from an array of electronic devices using building analytics software (BAS), often executed via the internet. Using this type of system results in a more energy-efficient building while maintaining building operation at the lowest possible cost and the least environmental impact. In the case of a larger building, such as a hotel or office tower, even a small percentage difference per year in operating costs and energy expenditure can result in substantial savings.

It is not just the work alone of BAS that constitutes a certifiable smart building; it is the integration of BAS with the BMS (building management system). This technology can be applied to new or existing buildings; however, its capabilities are limited by the data available through the BMS. Control systems may need to be upgraded to provide the data that requires analysis. Most modern commercial structures are already equipped with BMS, which allows the programming of the building operations. A smart building’s advanced analytical systems adapt to usage patterns, constantly monitor status data, and alert operations teams when the building experiences conditions outside its normal operating parameters. Smart building services may include things such as thermal comfort, illumination, air quality, and physical security.

Experiencing exponential growth since approximately 2010, the adaptation of smart technology for both residential and commercial building operations has proven to be effective. Numerous residential homes have been taking advantage of this technology through devices such as ‘smart thermostats’, which can be programmed to control room temperature and heat expenditure throughout different times of the day when usage requirements vary. For example, a room has a desired temperature set-point, as well as a reading of the actual temperature. In an ideal scenario, these are the same.

On a larger scale, commercial hotel rooms take the concept of things like ‘smart thermostats’ to an even more technologically advanced level. BAS continuously monitors the devices connected to the control system, extracts data directly from a BMS, analyzes the energy use, then provides information on the building’s performance.

For example, should a control valve fail, resulting in the space overheating, the analytics would identify the space temperature as rising outside of its normal range—while also identifying that the heating valve is commanded as closed, even though the supply air temperature is exceeding the set-point. An alert is sent to the building operator indicating the problem and narrowing down the focus to the failed valve. The operator is now made aware of the issue before a complaint from a tenant is received and the problem area is defined, resulting in less investigation to determine the source of the problem, saving both energy and labour costs. Essentially, the data generated by the BMS (and extracted by the BAS) is used to tell operations staff what is wrong and where the problem is so that it can be corrected before any major impact occurs on the building’s energy use. Both the owner and occupants benefit from this use of modern technology. The owner saves on energy and labour costs, while the occupant benefits from a comfortable environment. Further, conserving more energy and resources promotes sustainability, which benefits everyone.

With constant technological advancements and the adoption of analytics as the industry standard, it is expected that the smart building trend will continue to evolve into the future. BAS will eventually be produced as a prefabricated component of the BMS instead of being an ‘add-on’ service. As with all forms of technology, the overall advancement of smart buildings will likely continue to undergo rapid transformation into the future to meet the constantly emerging demands of the economy, building owners, and tenants.