TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS IN SMART BUILDING DESIGN

Most commercial, industrial, and retail buildings today use some level of intelligent system, most commonly in lighting, HVAC, or security. Because the technology is advancing so rap- idly, it’s now possible to collect more data and use it to accomplish many more tasks. 

Previously, building owners often installed building management systems piecemeal, usually starting with light- ing or HVAC. With multiple automated systems, data must be collected from multiple places. Overcoming the limitations of individual systems, some owners and managers switched to partially integrated systems that combine networks and automation of specific functions. The more integrated systems generally require less manual intervention, thus enabling faster decision-making.

Over the past several years, the building industry has recognized the importance of modernizing building HVAC and lighting system designs to enable interconnection, data collection, and analysis, increasingly turning to fully inte- grated building manage- ment systems. Using one infrastructure to manage all the building’s systems minimizes manual inter- vention, increases produc- tivity, and produces even more data.

Integrative process design is not new, states Gina Elliott, business devel- opment for emerging mar- kets, Viconics Electronics, but now it’s adopted more for operational efficiencies because it is less compart- mentalized and can work across trades: mechanical, electrical, and IT.

For years, it’s been accepted in large commercial facilities such as standalone retail stores like Costco and Home Depot, says Jamie Daubenspeck, director of facility technology at Ecova, but now there’s also a lot of adoption in medium and small commercial facilities—those that are less than 10,000 square feet in size, like convenience stores.

Elliott believes it’s more readily adopted now because of the ability for multiple systems to operate in tandem. “You can’t have different teams working independently.” She says that’s a change in the design itself.

It’s not that we’re missing much technology now, argues Tom Shircliff, co-founder and principal at Intelligent Buildings. “There’s no lack of algorithms, but the industry is frag- mented so we’re a decade behind in adopting the technology.”

There’s plenty of technology and systems to make anything happen, agrees his colleague and co-founder, Rob Murchison. “The conversation has changed from systems to use-cases. We talk about scenarios and what it takes to make them happen.”

Data, Data, Data

The conversation is not the only thing that has changed. Shircliff says that he no longer considers Intelligent Buildings a sustainability company. “We’re an energy efficiency company.” Of course, smart building systems are about more than just efficiency. They’re also about health and productivity, as well as sustainability. “It’s a balance, and it’s all driven by data.”

“Granular analysis is helping to revolutionize how we think about smart building design, from occupancy usage patterns to how controls systems respond to changing con- ditions,” says Don Kasper, vice president of operations at Ecorithm. “This deep understanding of building science and operation will help us form a basis for technologies like AI,

blockchain, and cloud- based services to automate building operations and allow buildings to become a much more interactive environment.”

Energy efficiency impacts occupant comfort. As Elliott explains, smart technology does two things. Firstly, by tagging energy transactions, the building management system allows facility managers to segment devices to collect more and better data. “You see more points and have more access

with edge devices, enabling you to determine the cause [of issues] faster. Tagging lets you know all the building so you can focus on improving the occupant experience.”

Tagging also provides more information on points within a device. By identifying additional devices and points, tagging allows facility managers to acquire more data. Understanding the relationships between rooms and devices and how things function can reduce false detection diagnostics. It affords build- ing managers the ability to perform proactive maintenance. However, it also requires changes in policy regarding the amount of bandwidth needed, as well as security practices.

Previously, Elliott explains, there was no interface with IT systems, but now, most are IT-enabled. “You can access directly to the device with an IP address. That way, the manufacturer can monitor its own equipment through device-to-cloud con- nectivity.” IP-enabled devices can facilitate intelligent decision- making by automating point decisions and enhancing strategic insights. She says it offers more data performance, but there is a downside: when giving out IP addresses, you need to incor- porate best practices regarding security and bandwidth.

The latest design trends are aimed at data-driven deci- sion-making and are setting the stage for “some really cool technology” in the near future, Kasper foresees. “In 2018, there is a strong emphasis on open protocols, open-source software, edge analytics, and cloud-based services to begin collecting data from devices, networking disparate systems together, and creating a path forward for data-driven decision-making.”

It’s all about big data and the cloud, Murchison concurs. “If a building can capture data and make decisions, that’s a smart building.”

Now that there is new data being collected, Daubenspeck ponders, what to do with the data? So much data is now being collected, used, and accessed in different ways, it can be overwhelming.

What do we do with data? “Put it in a bucket in the basement,” says Shircliff, only half in jest. “It will be useful when you figure things out.” More realistically, he advises those new to data overload to limit themselves in the begin- ning. “Start with one or two things. Ask it business questions. Look at engines like a Magic 8-Ball and ask high-level busi- ness questions.”

The end-user, building owner, building manager, and manufacturer have different perspectives and different needs, Elliott points out, so they will use different data. For example, contractors are concerned with perfecting installa- tion efficiency: audit loss, centralized programming, and con- figuration. “They want faster and easier installation.” From a manufacturing perspective, she says the focus is on “less time, less money.” Building managers are interested in efficiencies, productivity, and occupant experience.

Ultimately, data enables flexibility; therefore, you need a flexible design, Elliott continues. The Internet of Things (IoT) enables operational systems that deliver more accurate and useful data for improving operations and providing the best experience for occupants. “It enhances convenience when you know a user’s preferences and can set it to them. You then have happier, more productive employees.”

The Internet of Things

The IoT is a term to identify various technologies and appli- cations that allow devices and locations to generate and share data with each other and with other information technology systems via the internet, which provides data to indicate how well they’re working, their position, and other information.

According to market research firm IHS, in 2015 more than 15.4 billion gadgets fell into this category. That number is expected to double by the end of 2020, and double again by the end of 2025.

“The Internet of Things exists and is a tremendous driver

for interaction with architectural and engineering aspects of buildings,” believes Shircliff. “Even if we put aside all of the consumer and mobile technologies for a moment, the Build- ing Internet of Things is enough for a very long list, including building controls systems, meters/sub meters, sensors, renew- ables, generators, and storage.”

Those Building Internet of Things (BIoT) aspects can drive a comprehensive, automated experience that supports productivity, experience, comfort, and operational efficiency. Shircliff believes that consumer and mobile IoT items such as wearables, smart phones and tablets, computers, and other electronics will increasingly join with the BIoT to create a more seamless human-to-building interaction.

The IoT is creating a shift in human interaction with the built environment, Kasper adds. “At one point, buildings were valued only for the protection from the environment and for creating an orderliness for how occupants, furniture, and even business functions were organized within a physical structure. Today, there is a shift in focus to creating a symbiotic relation- ship between human function, business function, and addi- tional benefits that a building can provide.”

IoT-enabled building management systems can reduce energy usage, alert to needed maintenance and repairs, and lower administrative costs through continuous monitoring and predictive capabilities. Being able to address repairs and mainte- nance issues before occupants are aware that anything is wrong has been a game changer, but now data is able to do even more.

Data can track space usage patterns, identify consumer demands and occupant behavior, and enhance occupant experience, thanks to sensors that track motion, pressure, light, temperature, and flow, and can communicate through a network in real time.

As more devices are connected to each other, such as HVAC, lighting, and security, there is a more seamless user expe- rience. “Data collected from these once disparate systems can now be used to cater comfort on an individual occupant basis or reduce energy use based on work schedules and occupant den- sity,” elaborates Kasper. Rather than a control system tasked with creating a base level of comfort for all occupants, control sys- tems and networked devices can deliver more precise comfort to individual tenants while reducing energy consumption.

Comfort and convenience are going to cost you—but they’re going to cost you less because the cost of sensors, data storage, and connectivity is falling. And, as the technology becomes more affordable, adoption is increasing.

While commercial buildings have been the highest adopt- ers and users of the IoT, industry insiders forecast that smart homes will surge past them in 2018 with more than 1 billion connected technologies. “The technology used in building control systems spills over into the residential realm,” explains Daubenspeck, who observes “a lot of innovation like cloud- based technology” moving in that direction as both standalone and distributed devices begin leveraging algorithms.

A study by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services pre- dicts that sensor deployment in the real estate sector will grow at a compounded annual rate of 78.8% from 2015 to 2020, reaching nearly 1.3 billion.