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What Is A Smart Building? (The Ultimate Guide)

Posted by: IotaComm

As a building owner or facilities manager, you’ve no doubt heard the term “smart building” more than once. Like lots of other things that have gotten smart in recent years, smart buildings are all about giving you more control—in this case, control over the building’s environment and operations. The benefits of having more control are numerous—imagine being able to move occupants out of a space if the level of particulates increases, or cutting thousands of dollars from your electricity bill simply by operating your HVAC more strategically. The results produced by these actions are tangible, and incredibly beneficial for your occupants, your profitability, and the Earth’s environment. It’s no wonder that 70% of organizations intend to increase their investment in smart building technology in the near future.

Wondering what it would take to turn your building into a smart building? Schedule a call with us at IotaComm and let’s talk!

If you’re looking to learn more about smart buildings, you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll cover the basics, starting with an answer to the question “What is a smart building?” We’ll also explain in detail why so many building owners are implementing smart building technology (and why you should join them!), and steps you can take to get started.

Let’s dig in.

What is a smart building?

Smart buildings use Internet of Things (IoT) devices—sensors, software, online connectivity—to monitor various building characteristics, analyze the data, and generate insights around usage patterns and trends that can be used to optimize the building’s environment and operations. While smart technology gives you greater control over your building, smart building technology is much more than just advanced “command and control” mechanisms (like your building management system, or BMS).

To get a clear picture of what smart building technology is, here’s an example comparing it to a traditional BMS:

  • A BMS can be programmed to turn on and off the building’s HVAC system at specific times daily based on predefined temperature levels.
  • Smart building technology gives you more control over how you operate your HVAC. For instance, it can direct your BMS to turn the HVAC on and off as needed throughout the day, by measuring CO2 levels in real time. If CO2 levels are in line with building guidelines, the system automatically reduces the outside air intake. If CO2 levels are approaching the limit, it brings in additional outside air. Smart building analytics platforms can also factor in data from utility companies and weather data along with your building’s HVAC operating data to help you strategize about ways to reduce operating costs on a hot day. Having this degree of control over your HVAC system means you save energy and money, while still maintaining a comfortable environment for occupants.

Potential customers commonly ask if smart building technology will replace their BMS (which we know was a hefty investment); the answer is NO. Smart building systems work in conjunction with a BMS, allowing you to understand your building by monitoring building functions in real time, analyzing building data, and automating operations more strategically so you can fully optimize your operations. (You can check out some famous examples of smart buildings here.)

The Analytics Advantage

Two things set smart buildings apart from traditional command and control solutions: granular data monitoring and advanced analytics.

The IoT allows you to collect data about any aspect of your building’s operation. For example, you can attach IoT sensors to all your building’s equipment (not just the major operational components) for the purpose of power-quality monitoring, predictive maintenance, occupancy sensing, or energy measurements. They can be placed on walls, water pipes, machinery, refrigeration units, ceilings, doors, windows, desks, appliances, air ducts, or any other relevant location depending on what you want to measure. The more detailed data you have about your building, the more opportunities you have to make targeted improvements—and meaningful changes.

Advanced analytics is another differentiator of smart building systems. Analytics tools usually involve statistical algorithms, and, more recently, machine-learning capabilities. These sophisticated technologies can drill into the details of your building’s characteristics and energy use, and even integrate various data streams (from both inside and outside your building, like the weather and utility information mentioned above) to formulate the best approach to achieving your goals. With time, you’ll be able to see the impact of the steps you’re taking, which measures are working well, and which may need to be adjusted to achieve the desired performance.

Smart Building Technology Examples

Smart building technology has a variety of applications within a building, depending on your goals. No matter which one of the objectives below you’re striving for, the overall premise is the same: your smart building system will monitor the relevant area of operation, collect data, analyze it, and provide actionable insights you can use to improve.

  • If you’re striving to meet sustainability requirements, IoT platforms can be used to monitor your current energy consumption patterns, and analyze the data to produce targeted recommendations for reducing your energy use. The same can be done to achieve water-use reduction goals and improve indoor air quality. (Some IoT partners, like IotaComm, can also help reduce your building’s environmental impact by incorporating solar and other renewable energy technologies into your energy system.)
  • If you want to reduce your energy bills, sensors that monitor your facility 24/7 can give you insight into how and when your facility uses energy. You can use smart building data to increase efficiency, strategically reduce your overall consumption for optimal building operations and even equipment usage.
  • If you want to ensure continuous functioning of your critical equipment, you can use sensors to measure various aspects of their operation—humidity level, compressor vibrations, the temperature of the refrigerant coming in and out of evaporators and condensers, the temperature inside a refrigeration unit, etc.—to detect imminent failure. When incoming data shows that one aspect of operation has deviated from the norm, it’s a good indication that something is about to fail. Often, a breakdown can be prevented before it even occurs.
  • If you want to ensure healthy indoor air and minimize the risk of disease transmission (a common goal in the midst of the current pandemic), you can deploy low-cost sensors everywhere in your building to monitor particulate levels and ensure optimal functioning of HVAC equipment.
  • If you’re working toward LEED or WELL certification, IoT platforms help you gather and analyze building data so you can take the necessary actions to meet the required standards for water use, energy efficiency, and the indoor environment (air quality). Smart building systems are also an excellent tool you can use to report, inspect, and review performance over the lifetime of a building, to maintain certification for the long-term.

Getting Started With Smart Building Technology

The best (and simplest) way to turn your facility—new or old—into a smart building is to partner with an IoT technology company that specializes in commercial buildings. Any provider you work with should, first and foremost, be concerned with your goals as the building owner or facility manager. Whether you want to start small—perhaps solve a single operational challenge—or implement a broader solution that integrates all your building systems, the partner you choose should focus on achieving your objectives—not sell you more than you need.

As you’re evaluating providers, consider the following:

  1. Does their offering include an advanced analytics platform? Some companies provide you with sensors and a dashboard, and that’s it. That means you can collect building data, and even see it visually in an easy-to-understand format on your computer. But a key piece of the puzzle—the analytics piece—is missing. The lack of an analytics component means the job of data analysis falls on you. Conducting such an analysis takes time and expertise—things most facilities teams simply don’t have. Therefore, much of the data will go to waste. Make sure your chosen IoT partner offers an analytics and machine learning service that will not only give you access to a dashboard of relevant data, but also perform the analysis that helps turn your data into actionable insight.
  2. Do they have subject matter expertise in the smart building technology you need? If you’re trying to solve a challenge related to excessive water consumption, your partner should have experience in that IoT application. The same goes for any other area of operation. An experienced partner will not only have a variety of subject-matter experts on hand, they’ll also have the benefit of having more operational models built into their analytics platform. More data improves the machine’s learning capabilities—something you’ll benefit from.
  3. Are they knowledgeable about connectivity? Connectivity is no small piece of the puzzle when it comes to smart buildings. Most IoT systems link networks of sensors via radio waves, which transmit data from one place to another. So if you’re looking to deploy an IoT solution, it’s essential that you have a basic understanding of the network that will support your devices, as it heavily impacts reliability and performance. Ask any potential partner about the network options they offer, and how they guarantee success.

Looking for an IoT partner you can trust?

Talk to us at IotaComm. Our mission is to help businesses like yours gain more control over building operations with the IoT for the purpose of reducing costs, increasing efficiency, or advancing sustainability goals. Or, if you’re struggling with a particular operational challenge, let us know—we’ll strive to help you collect data intelligently to solve the problem at hand.

When you partner with us, you’ll get access to our line of IoT sensors, which enable you to remotely monitor energy and environmental conditions 24/7. Our sensors rely on IotaComm’s dedicated carrier-grade network, built specifically for IoT devices to ensure maximum reliability and performance. You’ll also benefit from our advanced building analytics software, Bright AI. Bright AI is an analytics and machine learning service that helps turn data into actionable intelligence, so you can reach your goals quickly.

Our team has experience with all the smart building applications mentioned in this article; get in touch with us and let us know what you’re hoping to achieve. We’d love to help you with your smart building transformation today!

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