Over the past few months, I’ve become fascinated with Smart Building solutions, how beneficial they are and yet used by so few. Countries such as the Netherlands are at the forefront of adapting this technology. Interestingly, the adaptation is driven by end users rather than legislation with many companies integrating smart building solutions within their company strategies. In the office sector, stakeholders concentrate on designing  inspirational buildings for employees and tenants and use space optimization software to monitor and harvest data on how every square foot of space is used. They are investing in platforms that connect employees to their workplace, enabling them to book meeting rooms and navigate around the building, as well as making the building energy efficient. As we move towards net carbon zero buildings, it will be interesting to see if this technology will become increasingly popular around the UK.

What is a Smart Building?

A smart building uses technology to share information between systems to optimise the building’s performance. This information is then used to automate various processes, from lighting to heating and ventilation to air conditioning and security.

Building overheads are a significant cost for any building owner or user. However, while these are a necessary business expense, the level of spend is often wasteful because it’s not intelligently applied. Most commonly, switching off lights and heating in unoccupied rooms. The main motivation behind the smart building is to avoid this kind of wasteful use of energy and resources, both to cut cost and to improve energy efficiency.

The Main Features

Systems are connected
The most fundamental feature of a smart building is all core systems being linked allowing them to talk to one another. Water meters, pumps, fire alarms, power, lighting etc are all connected and work in harmony.

The use of sensors
Sensors are an integral part of smart buildings and play an important role in collecting data to inform decisions where to allocate resources.

Automation
Information is gathered and analysed by the systems that have been put in place in a smart building – importantly, this is done constantly and in real time. This ongoing monitoring allows for automated adjustments that can control conditions across an entire building.

Data
Smart buildings generate a large volume of valuable data about their own use over months and years.

Why Smart Buildings?

There are many benefits to installing Smart Building solutions. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Net Carbon Zero – as we move towards zero carbon buildings, this is probably one of the simpler changes that we can make. Smart buildings are greener, more energy efficient and more cost effective.
  • Productive occupants - Air quality, physical comfort, security, sanitation, lighting and even room and space availability can all be delivered at an optimum level to enable occupants to perform well. My favourite has to be adjustable lighting that follows the pattern of the sun during the day. So if you have an office with no windows, the lighting will adjust throughout the day to make it seem like you’ve had sunshine all day.
  • Automatic equipment testing – for fire alarm testing the software will run over night and tell you in the morning which alarms need attention. Here is to the days where you don’t have to apologise to a client for a very loud alarm going off in the background.
  • The end of guesswork - The use of sensors and cameras provides precise data on how the building is being used, which can be converted into insightful decision making. Space utilisation can be improved based on actual data, as the building generates actionable, living intelligence automatically.
  • Significant operational savings - This includes the savings that can be made in terms of everyday spend and maintenance on equipment. It also extends to the potential savings that are offered by identifying underutilised resources and the potential for growth into unused spaces.
  • Data protection - Equipment, such as thermal sensors, measures data without using identifiable images of staff or the public.
  • Paperless – imagine going to a public toilet and not seeing the cleaner’s sign in sheet on the door. Instead, this will be automated and the cleaner would simply get a notification to clean certain areas when a specific number of people have used it.
  • Marketing – One case study showed how supermarkets use the data collected to understand which isle is the most popular and where people stagger, they then simply put their promotional products in that space to increase sales.

What’s next? 

Apart from office buildings benefiting from this technology, sectors such as education, healthcare, custodial and many others would be great candidates to adapt this technology. Within education for example, the system would allow you to see if any students have decided to linger around have remained on site after school hours, lights and ventilation will be turned off automatically and all building users will know within seconds which rooms are free or occupied.

I don’t believe this technology is new or that it’s extremely rare to see in the UK, but I do believe that not enough people are aware of it and the benefits that it could bring to their building. As educators and trend setters within our industry, we hope as time goes on we will be using it within our designs as a standard rather than an ad-on.