A MarketsandMarkets report1 predicted the global smart building market will grow from $5.73 billion in 2016 to $24.73 billion by 2021, increasing at a compounded annual growth rate of 34% over this period.
Today’s technology advances—from energy management and lighting control to sensors that measure structural damage and stress after a seismic event—incorporate a host of bells and whistles and some pretty impressive capabilities. One of the greatest benefits of these systems is that a facility management team can perform condition-based maintenance rather than time-based. Today’s sensors are equipped with warning systems, much like cars, that alert operators when benchmarks are shifting, filters need replacing, etc.—long before something breaks.
Smart buildings and smart technology means something different to every owner—and it’s important to clarify your objectives before investing in today’s sensors and smart systems. Here are a few tips to consider before you invest time and money.
- Know Your Objectives
Is your goal to reduce your carbon footprint, or is it to save energy and increase the lifecycle of your equipment (or is it both)? Today’s technology can do most anything but could be very expensive to implement, integrate and/or operate. Build a system around your specific goals.
- Integration is More than a Buzz Word
Simply installing meters and sensors throughout your building is a waste of time if you don’t intend to change the way you operate the building. It’s important to ensure that the building functions as a cohesive, integrated system—not a collection of discreet points. Define integrated smart design-based objectives upfront with your design team.
- Don’t Forget the Operator
While smart systems can certainly gather comprehensive amounts of data about a building’s heating, cooling, lighting, etc., and even make automatic adjustments, your facility managers must have the knowledge to adjust systems to meet benchmarks and occupant comforts. There might also be security and IT constraints to consider. As much as possible, develop your integrated smart building system with the help and support of your facility management team AND don’t forget to train them!
- Look beyond the Price Tag
Hardware—the sensors, systems, and solutions—are not all the same, and the challenges associated with selection are best illustrated with an example. One owner wanted a sophisticated lighting control system that incorporated motion occupancy sensors. They picked a solution that had all the bells and whistles and provided exceptional data and operator functionality from one vendor. However, the owner did not consider that they were now locked into that provider. Any changes to the lighting system required someone to reprogram a big chunk of the building. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—but it’s an aspect that must be considered at the beginning.
- Modular Systems/Open Protocols
Beyond hardware and software objectives, consider condition-based maintenance or life-space quality. In most cases, an owner is layering new smart technology over an old infrastructure that may have a lifespan of 10-20 years. Building control systems advance much faster—therefore, it’s beneficial if the smart solutions are modular and easily upgradeable. As well, every owner wants to build systems that have a long lifespan. Consider the benefits of using open protocols versus manufacturer protocols. Everyone can send metering information over open protocols, but sometimes manufacturers have proprietary protocols that lock certain features—and again, don’t forget to train your facility management team!
- Bonus Tip
Select an integrated design team to deliver a holistic solution rather than just working autonomously from the architects, engineers and contractor. An integrated solution allows all electrical and mechanical systems to communicate to the master system and to each other through appropriate protocols. An integrated design team will ensure that you don’t have any unnecessary infrastructure and will look for ways to share IT equipment raceways.
Find the design professional that is aligned with your objectives. A manufacturer will focus primarily on their technology capabilities, which may or may not capture your needs. Design professionals see and work to deliver a system across manufacturers to provide a solution that’s best for you.