The dumb mistake that could topple the promise of smart buildings

Sensors in and around the walls could change the way we think of a “connected office,” but only if designers approach it properly

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We had a dehumidifier running in our basement all summer, so every couple of days, I had to run down and empty the tank else the unit turned itself off and the basement started its sweating ritual. If our home was just a tad smarter, that entire process could be automated, ensuring the lower floor’s sweat-free status wasn’t dependent on the whims of a fickle memory.

Smart buildings are making inroads in commercial and residential spaces where technologies such as sensors, data analytics and communications devices are used to manage the environment.  In the medieval branch of NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, an army of sensors monitors weather, humidity, contamination levels, light, traffic and other factors. This information is analyzed and controls adjusted to ensure an optimal environment for preserving valuable works of art.

The convergence of next-generation IT tools over the network – the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, big data and data analytics – will present new business opportunities for both building technology and ICT companies, according to a recent report from Frost and Sullivan.

In the report “Big Data as an Enabler for Smart Buildings,” the industry analyst predicts three big trends that will drive developments of smart buildings: urbanization, the connectivity and convergence of smart technologies and the communication between smart devices.

“Builders and contractors need to focus on incorporating big data and data analytics solutions to provide real-time monitoring of building data and predictive maintenance,” says Anirudh Bhaskaran, lead analyst in Frost and Sullivan’s India office.

This represents a marked departure from how buildings are designed today, says Noah Goldstein, research director at Navigant Research in San Francisco. IT needs are often incorporated as an afterthought or in the final stages of the project.

“To enable a “smart building,” builders and contractors need to understand the value of incorporating IT infrastructure into designs,” he says. “In many small and medium-sized buildings, there are new technologies that can be considered to augment and promote IT infrastructure in a building, such as power over Ethernet (PoE), cell signal repeaters, and wireless alternatives.  By being proactive, and communicating with the designer, owner, or developer, builders and contractors can add value to the overall project.”

Today, much of a building’s intelligence is focussed around energy management and controlling costs, but that’s just the tip of the management iceberg, adds Bhaskaran.

“Smart buildings are not restricted to energy management alone,” he points out. “Space management and operations management are also part of smart building solutions which at present are not implemented in most of the so-called smart buildings. Much of the advanced intelligence will be hidden from view. Through the incorporation of automation and building energy management systems, building services – lighting, HVAC, occupancy, elevators –  will be tuned to perform optimally, not just according to spec.”

The next five years will be an era of awareness, says Bhaskaran, not just of the systems in a building, but for the building operators and managers, “who will, for the first time, be presented with a complete view of how their building operates, how much energy it uses, and how well it serves its occupants.”

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at

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