The era of the smart building is upon us. You work with smart technology every day – from the sensors that scan your card and allow you entry into your building, to the climate control in your offices. You pass through layers and layers of sophisticated, smart technology on a regular basis.

There’s nowhere to go from here but bigger. According to a recent report, smart building technology is expected to grow 34% annually over the next five years. As new construction standardizes smart technology from the get-go, older construction will be revamped and brought up to par.

Biometric Integration

Sensors are already used, but there is room for them to expand. The biometric data of individual occupants can be used to tailor building performance to the individual person. For instance, sensors could be used to detect individuals coming and going from their office, and turn on or turn off lights and climate controls as necessary.

The lights could also be set to come on at different levels of illumination at specific points of the day, or in response to particular biometric signatures. In one case, an engineer with Jabil, an electronics manufacturer, noted that there were major energy spikes in the middle of the night. They were able to trace this to the security guards, who flipped on all the lights at once to make their rounds. They installed smart lighting controls to limit the number of lights that could be turned on at night, as well as limit the brightness.

One major idea that comes off of this is utilizing lighting controls with LEDs to mimic the circadian rhythm of the body. Paired with environmental controls, it is expected that this would help to optimize work spaces and sleep spaces, even in windowless areas.

Predictive Maintenance

Currently, most of the maintenance sensors connected to the Internet of Things center around prevention and repair. While they are great at detecting failures, the problem is just that – they wait until failures happen. One of the leading technologies for the future of smart buildings is the idea of predictive maintenance.

Utilizing cloud-based data collection, smart buildings can compare the equipment in question with similar equipment elsewhere in the world, as well as historical data from the piece of equipment and any other identical pieces of equipment. This can allow building operators to detect potential issues before they arise. This allows them to take corrective action before a failure, as well as allow building operators to optimize assets and prioritize what maintenance needs to be done.

For instance, if a particular compressor was used in the chiller unit, the building could monitor the data of identical units used elsewhere. It could identify when failures were common, as well as what the indicators were prior to failures. Unlike in “dumb” buildings where these statistics or details are often not noted until well after the facts, this could occur in real time. Thus, building operators could be notified if the compressors in their building was seeing failures in other buildings, and could schedule preventive maintenance to avert the climate control system from going down.

Wireless

Wireless technology is increasing in usage, and could be the key to retrofitting older buildings and creating smart buildings. Older “dumb” buildings are often overlooked for the installation of smart building equipment due to the cost. To update these buildings, owners need to open up the floors and walls. This is cost-prohibitive, and interrupts your tenants and customers. On top of that, running copper wire is a massive part of installation expenses.

By using wireless technology and putting infrastructure into the cloud, older buildings can be upgraded without having to deal with the capital expenses of demolition and patching. It can also be done with minimal interruption to the tenants and customers. By making it easier to update a building to be “smart,” it then becomes much more accessible. This can expand the scope of smart buildings, meaning building owners won’t have to decide between making a major investment or remaining a “dumb” building.

Self-Awareness

What if your building could diagnose and fix itself? Instead of needing thorough inspections at regular intervals by teams of workers, it could predict or detect structural damage due to ambient vibrations. Maybe the building wouldn’t even need inspection – it would just heal itself!

These are just two ideas already being tested out, and there are many more in the works. In the first, researchers at MIT installed accelerometers throughout the MIT Green Building. They then developed a computational model that analyzes noise transmissions and vibrations in the surrounding environment to measure structural stress. Combined with the accelerometers, it can detect swaying and torsional movement of the building. This could be used as a diagnostic tool in major buildings and indicate where repairs may need to be made after a damage-causing event.

In the second, Dr. Christian Grosse of the Technical University of Munich has been investigating three different methods of self-repairing concrete. Hydrogels that can be sprayed or otherwise applied can expand to fill cracks when it comes in contact with moisture. Epoxy resins can be encapsulated and mixed into concrete, so that when the concrete cracks, the capsule cracks as well. This releases the epoxy, immediately forming a hard mass and sealing the crack. He has even investigated bacteria and microorganisms as possible self-repairing tools.

Consolidated Management

Smart buildings need to go beyond simply being a collection of advanced technologies working independently. Even with many modern smart buildings, this still requires a facilities team to manage and analyze the data. This overload of data is just more information they have to sort through. Comprehensive building management systems and energy management platforms are the next logical step to improve efficiency of smart systems. Instead of relying on human facilities managers to do the leg work, the systems can collect data and analyze it internally.

A great example of this is in the case of the Waterfront Station building complex. Utilizing an Internet of Things-enabled platform, a thermal model of the building was created while considering internal and external variables. The platform was able to uncover that, within the HVAC systems, two components had existing set-points. This meant that they were always fighting with each other, and immediately counteracting each other. Not only did this cause a huge drain on energy, it also caused occupants to become uncomfortable as the temperatures fluctuated up and down, hitting peaks and lows. This consolidated platform allowed them to develop and implement improved zone controls.

Of course, these are just five of the latest technologies that are being worked with to make smart buildings smarter. There is plenty more on the horizon, with new ideas coming to the forefront on a regular basis. Here at CDG Builders, we are always keeping an eye towards these technologies for the future, and we look forward to implementing them within our own designs and construction projects. So reach out to us with your project, and let us build you a beautiful – and smart – space for today and tomorrow.