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The Business Impact of Smart Buildings and IoT

Connected buildings

These days, buildings can be engineered from the ground up to feature an environmentally conscious design with embedded, networked computer systems – an Internet of Things .

March 6, 2019 - The average building wastes 30 percent of the energy it consumes. That’s according to the EPA, which cites a variety of common inefficiencies leading to the poor performance of traditional building design and operation. The agency, of course, advocates for buildings to become EnergyStar compliant as a way to mitigate this problem in existing structures, but there’s perhaps a much more compelling fix on the horizon: Smart buildings. These days, buildings can be engineered from the ground up to feature an environmentally conscious design with embedded, networked computer systems – an Internet of Things – with sensors embedded throughout the building to detect and help eliminate traditional waste.

Smart buildings are, to use an engineering term, “highly instrumented.” Like a high-tech space probe or a piece of industrial machinery, smart buildings are packed with embedded sensors that measure a wealth of information like temperature, light levels, energy use, and occupancy – and then take action, automatically, in programmed responses to rules and thresholds established by the building manager.

Where’s The Value?

Of course, that might sound a little familiar even if you don’t operate a smart building. One could argue that many (if not most) commercial buildings already have at least some instrumentation in place without being networked into an IoT. Thermostats control the temperature in offices; light sensors illuminate rooms only when they’re occupied; doors and gates lock at specified hours but respond to security badges. With all that tech already in play, where’s the value in ‘smartify-ing’ a building from the ground up?

Well, there are a number of reasons, but it turns out that energy consumption is the low-hanging fruit for any smart building. With the IoT, building managers can control heating, cooling, airflow, and other essential settings in a holistic, whole-structure way. And the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates that buildings which leverage the IoT for a holistic approach to energy management can save as much as 50 percent, ten times more than when engineers upgrade individual systems in existing structures. In other words, there’s a lot of value in leveraging the IoT rather than managing discrete sensors and environmental controls.

Less Obvious Advantages

Moreover, the IoT delivers less obvious value in a smart building as well. For example, in addition to measuring and tracking analytics like whether a room is occupied – and therefore may or may not need lighting and temperature control – it can also record and assess occupancy and foot traffic by time of day, day of week, and time of year. It can assess how people enter the building, where they go, and how long they stay.

This kind of indirect surveillance can have implications not just for energy saving, but logistical support and security as well. Building managers can assess how rooms are used and detect when large conference rooms or meeting facilities are routinely used by small groups or large groups which need the space are displaced by smaller groups. With the right algorithms and monitoring, that can lead to happier, more productive, and more efficient employees, since the IoT of the building itself can help teams reserve, use, and maintain the facilities they need more efficiently.

Enter Analytics Tools

And the big data that smart buildings amass allows algorithms – not people – to obsess over the details, optimizing then facilities within. Analytics tools can process day-to-day performance data of all the connected hardware within the building to look for malfunctioning equipment, safety concerns, and energy waste.

At the same time, because all of this data is Internet-connected, it lets building managers virtualize and extend control over aspects of building systems to more users. To wit: Today, can occupants and users of the building directly control the environmental systems in a typical office building? Not at all. But the IoT suggests a future in which everyday building occupants can directly affect the building’s HVAC systems via web interface or smartphone apps, at the discretion of building managers. And that’s a win for everyone.

Find out how an IoT platform like Canopy can help uncover value in your smart building project.

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