When you think about a smart building, what comes to mind? Here are the two typical answers:

  1. Energy efficiency and conservation methods, like LEED or Living Buildings.
  2. Niche “smart” products, like connected smoke detectors or Nest Thermostats

While those are both part of the equation, they don’t fully describe what smart building solutions are truly capable of.

Instead of thinking of a smart building as bricks and mortar, think of it as a dynamic, “living” organism that houses more “living” organisms. Buildings have evolved from basic, unintelligent shelters to technologically-advanced structures, and thus should be viewed by organizations in a new light.

When buildings are thought of in this way, it becomes easier to understand how smart building technology goes beyond light dimmers and thermostats; it extends into every part of the building plan, from modeling to move-in. In a well-designed buildings (both commercial and residential), hundreds of elements are considered when creating this system, including plug loads, HVAC, heating, water, safety, occupancy, resource management, and environment. When these things are taken into consideration, the building can perform well, make its occupants happy, and save the organization that owns it a great deal of money.

Modeling Smart Buildings

There is a lot that goes into the creation of smart buildings (or smart homes), and it all typically begins with building information modeling (BIM) and building energy modeling (BEM). While traditional building modeling was done with simple 2D sketches, BIM has allowed engineers to map out the functionality of a structure as well as the 3D design. BEM is an extension of BIM that accounts for how energy is used in a building

During the BIM/BEM process, all elements are taken into consideration. It’s important to note that not all “smart” functionality is high-tech; in fact, some of it is simply common sense. For instance, minimizing thermal bridges is one of the best ways to ensure that a building stays at a moderate temperature without any major fluctuations throughout the day. People have been taking care of this problem for ages by creating thick stone, brick, or concrete walls—but since most buildings today are comprised of thinner and lighter materials, this has to be engineered more precisely. So buildings are modeled with the proper type of flooring, dual- or triple-pane windows, and adequately-insulated walls so it’s harder for the heat to pass through.

Building occupants should also be taken into account during this process. Occupants create heat, use plug loads, and need light, so they impact the performance and design of the building in many ways. Unfortunately, humans often don’t cooperate with baseline assumptions that are used during the modeling process, which is where monitoring comes into play.

Monitoring Building Performance

Once employees or residents occupy a building, a number of assumptions used in the modeling phase can be proven incorrect based on the way individuals use the space. Consider a hypothetical situation in which it is assumed that each occupant would draw a certain amount of power from each outlet. Perhaps half the accountants are from Florida and were recently relocated to Boston, so they each bring in a large electric space heater to handle their first Massachusetts Winter. The model didn’t take this power draw into account, so the energy efficiency of the building takes a hit. The same thing happens when you try to cram more people into a cube farm than was initially intended, or you go from a closed floor plan to an open floor plan. All of these elements impact how the building performs.

One of the best things an organization can do when creating its building is to ensure that every part of the building that has been “made smart” is monitored with sensors. Often these sensors can be inexpensive and even wireless. This could be anything from motion sensors, to lighting, outlets, HVAC (which is typically the biggest load on a building and a very important element of smart buildings), and more. If the aforementioned organization had this technology embedded in their power strips, for example, they would get alerted to what kind of loads the power strips were handling. This would allow them to fix any issues within the building so that it would remain cost-efficient.

Wise Up To Smart Building Solutions

Smart building technology doesn’t just allow for trendy or unique features to be implemented; it helps the building become a better place to live or work in. If implemented properly, these solutions can improve your organization's bottom line while improving the quality of life for the building occupants.

Written by Brian Ray

Brian is the Founder and CTO of Link Labs. As the chief technical innovator and leader of the company, Brian has led the creation and deployment of a new type of ultra long-range, low-power wireless networking which is transforming the Internet of Things and M2M space.

Before starting Link Labs, Brian led a team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab that solved communications and geolocation problems for the national intelligence community. He was also the VP of Engineering at the network security company, Lookingglass, and served for eight years as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and received his Master’s Degree from Oxford University.

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