By Nicholas Catrone
Technology, data, analytics, internet-of-things (IOT), efficiency, sustainability, integration, customization, personalization, optimization, innovation, flexibility, mobility, adaptability, connectivity, digitization… These are all terms you hear get thrown around when discussing the future of smart buildings. For most of us scratching the surface on learning about smart buildings, these “buzzwords” are constantly thrown in our direction, leading to ambiguity in how smart buildings are defined and why they are important.
Regardless of the endless capabilities of building technology and fancy terms we hear when discussing them, the overarching question that we need to ask ourselves is: “What makes a smart building desirable to a building owner?”
In order to answer this question, we need to define what makes a building a smart building. As Nora Swanson of my firm, AKF, has referenced in her article: “Defining A Smart Building”, a smart building can be defined as such: “A Smart Building uses internet- and transmission-based protocols to facilitate the analysis of aggregated data from multiple building systems, optimizing operational decision making as guided by the goals of the facility.”
The aforementioned article helps define what a smart building is and what it could be. Now we shall think about why the capabilities and implications of a smart building make them desirable. The marketability potential, energy savings potential, and exponential growth of technology and pace of change, are the reasons why smart buildings are desirable to a building owner.
One of the biggest reasons why a building owner would want a smart building is due to the potential of increasing the building’s value and marketability. As building technological capabilities continue to grow, building owners can transform their building such that their occupants can experience a more customized work space. A smart building that could tell you when your conference room is ready, adjusts your zone temperature based on data input from your smart phone, and shows you which elevator or parking space to use, is a building that becomes very attractive to prospective tenants or businesses looking to rent out the space. For businesses, employees’ salaries are a number one operational expense. Losing one employee is the equivalent of losing 1.5x their salary because of the lag times associated with hiring and training. Because of this, many businesses emphasize employee retention, engagement, and satisfaction. A smart building that offers customization and personalized decision making at the fingertips of its occupants, is a building that is more likely to attract and retain its tenants or businesses.
A building owner would benefit from owning a smart building because, at least in the near term, they can create a competitive advantage in the ever-so-fast moving real estate market, while potentially charging more $/square foot. This competitive advantage is likely to lessen over time as technology integration and smart features become ubiquitous. With the increase of digitization in the workplace and hot-desking companies such as WeWork and Convene, building owners need to be able to market their building as a smart building that more-so utilizes occupant engagement, employs a level of personalization, and promotes increased productivity for businesses.
Beyond Building Management Systems
Having a smart building is desirable because it could increase energy savings more than a standard building management system (BMS). A standard BMS provides automation of the HVAC systems and implements control strategies that can reduce energy costs. Most of these control strategies include temperature resets, pressure resets, time schedules, utilizing outside air conditions to adjust standard operating setpoints, etc.
With a smart building, data can be constantly collected and utilized to ensure the baseline programming of the BMS is actually saving as much energy as it could be. There are control system vendors that are able to install analytic platforms to determine deficiencies in the system due to constant trending and comparisons. For example, a building operator may be getting a complaint and manually override something within the system and forget to reset it back to automatic control. The analytics platform will be able to detect and report issues such as that or performance based issues such as a diminished delta T across a chiller over time.
These type of analytics can help building owners be sure they are getting the most energy savings out of their BMS and can also provide measures of preventative maintenance to mitigate potential system failures. A smart building that is able to utilize key card access or live polling to determine an occupant’s presence and temperature satisfaction to control the HVAC, is a building that could save energy by dimming lights, increasing or decreasing temperature setpoints, etc. Implementing control strategies via smart buildings is an option for a building owner to potentially save money due to energy savings and preventive maintenance.
Lastly, the growth of technology and the increase in the pace of change is going to be a driving force for why a building owner will want to upgrade to a smart building. The rate of which technology has changed has grown rapidly.
As a reference, it has taken 62 years to get to 50 million car users, 28 years to get to 50 million credit card users, seven years to get to 50 million internet users, and two years to get to 50 million Twitter users. Knowing that technological adoption has increased so rapidly, it makes less sense to utilize yesterday’s technology as opposed to tomorrow’s technology when considering new construction or building retrofit projects. Technology advancements such as cell phones to smart phones and “MapQuest” to live GPS tracking over the past 15-20 years are an indication of what’s possible in the future of intelligent buildings.
As of 2019, approximately 2.5 billion people own a smart phone that is personally customized and tailored to that specific individual. On each smart phone, specific apps such as Uber and Lyft, Grubhub and Seamless, Instagram and Snapchat, constantly provide users with a multitude of choices. Before the development of smart phones and mobile apps, people didn’t have the same amount of information, options, and entertainment constantly at their fingertips. If we compare smart phones to the future of smart buildings, we can expect smart buildings to provide its occupants with customization, information, and options the same way their personalized smart phones do. With the smart buildings movement upon us and the rapid pace at which technology is changing, buildings are going to need to adapt from being static to dynamic.
In this industry, it seems like change takes a long time. I believe that the competitiveness of the real estate market and growth of technologies will drive building owners to be more conscious of how their building can be more attractive to prospective tenants, save energy, and be “future-proofed”. When thinking about smart buildings, it is important to know what they are, why they are desirable, and how they operate.
As a mechanical controls engineer at AKF, Catrone has a high-level understanding of control sequences and converged network systems integration that have been instrumental in developing AKF’s Start to Smart service. Start to Smart roadmaps a pathway for clients to achieve Smart Building technology. Catrone’s knowledge of Division 25 Integrated Automation Specifications makes him a valuable asset to smart building design and consultation. He coordinates with other MEP engineers, controls contractors, and owners to understand the design intent, the project’s unique needs, and ultimately, to design a control system that increases building operating efficiency.