For as long as there have been buildings, there have been expectations around building performance—even if they haven’t always been voiced in quite those terms.
Heat, for example, was (and still is) a basic requirement. But in the mid-1800s, getting heat inside all areas of a tall building was easier said than done—for someone working on the upper floors, it meant banging on the radiator to signal the janitor when the furnace needed stoking.
Over the course of the next century, buildings became more than capable of functioning in a way that satisfied our basic needs. And today, smart building technology is upping the ante even further. Smart buildings are more flexible and responsive than they have ever been, delivering enhanced performance that benefits building managers, owners, and tenants in a variety of ways.
Dr. Kenneth Wacks is someone familiar with the benefits of smart buildings—an engineering and management consultant with over three decades in the building automation field. He served for 24 years as chair of the ISO/IEC committee, responsible for international standards in building automation systems. He is also chair of the ASHB Information Council and the whitepapers committees for the ASHB Intelligent Buildings Council and the Connected Home Council.
Wacks contends that even smart buildings in their simplest form—which means using a building automation system to control and manage the internal environment without advanced machine learning capabilities—make management easier and significantly impact the human experience. Of course, any list of smart building benefits would vary depending on who you’re talking to (building owners, managers, or tenants), but safety, comfort, and savings—outlined in the sections below—would rank highly on most lists.
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3 Benefits Of Smart Buildings
According to Wacks, the single most fundamental role of a building is to protect the health and safety of its occupants. Smart building technology can help manage numerous safety-related aspects of facility operations, for instance, remote monitoring of emergency lighting, remote access control, and smart fire prevention systems.
Indoor air has catapulted to the top of the list of building safety issues recently. “It’s not about just keeping the air conditioned, but watching the quality of the air and circulating it to bring in as much fresh air as possible. In light of the pandemic—and the reality that, five years from now, another virus could pop up—indoor air quality ranks highly as a major concern now.” Smart building technologies have become more important for health and well-being than ever before; for example, indoor air quality functions in HVAC automation and controls ensure an automatic supply of fresh air when carbon dioxide levels exceed acceptable limits. Technology can also be used to better manage airflow and ventilation in all areas of the building.
When Wacks previously teamed up with a Canadian governmental agency for a study to find out what makes office buildings attractive to tenants, participants identified a comfortable work environment as one of their top criteria. Other studies also support this view, having found that 18% of employees are more likely to stay in a job where they are satisfied with the work environment.
It makes sense, then, that one of the most important smart building benefits for occupants is having the ability to personalize an individual space. People want to be able to control the airflow around their seating area, for example. Lighting is another key issue. “Lighting isn’t just about flipping a switch anymore; now you can control the color temperature (Kelvin rating) and direction of light.” Task lighting, ambient lighting, and aesthetic lighting—all are crucial parts of making a workspace conducive to productivity, while also contributing to a pleasant work environment. The various components that make up a well-lit space are numerous, says Wacks, “but when it’s done right, you don’t even notice it.”
For buildings, energy costs are the most expensive line item after personnel/staff expenses. Most of the building managers Wacks has talked to acknowledge that energy efficiency isn’t always their top priority (making the building attractive to tenants usually ranks higher), but as technologies continue to evolve in buildings—and more complex devices and applications are adopted at scale—the need for energy efficiency and management will only increase. Additionally, younger building owners and occupants generally prioritize sustainable energy much more than older generations, a fact that complicates the picture for building operators looking to maximize tenant satisfaction.
With regard to energy, smart buildings make it possible to achieve greater savings while simultaneously enhancing occupants’ comfort. Smart buildings use information and communication technologies to connect building operating systems together, allowing managers to optimize operations; they also provide greater visibility and control around energy usage and consumption.
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