Smart buildings: what they are, how they work and why we are building them
Smart buildings are getting smarter and trendier. Given what they are and what they can do for humans, it’s no wonder that they’re attracting a great deal of attention in the commercial construction world.
The global smart building market is projected to expand from $80.62 billion in 2022 to $328.62 billion by 2029, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.2%, according to a report by Fortune Business Insights. Another report, published by ReportLinker, shows the market reaching $111.5 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 10.2% during that period. In the U.S., the market reached $20.5 billion in 2021, representing the largest share (30.3%) in the global market, according to Reportlinker.
While demand for smart buildings slowed down during the global Covid-19 pandemic, the reopening of commercial buildings for in-office work will boost demand for smart buildings that can provide a safer environment.
What Are Smart Buildings?
Smart buildings are integrated or retrofitted with internet-enabled, inter-connected appliances and devices whose systems can be automated and self-regulated. Using technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT) and Power over Ethernet (PoE) to connect buildings, transport and infrastructure, smart buildings create ecosystems that can optimize efficiency, use more renewable energy, minimize energy waste and slash carbon emissions.
Smart buildings use smart technology to control lighting, heating and air conditioning, ventilation, elevators, security and other building management systems. The IoT collects actionable data and AI/ML analyzes that data to make the building programmable and responsive to the needs of occupants and building management.
For example, a smart building can manage temperature, ventilation, lightning and security based on the occupation of the building during work and off-work hours, which it detects via sensors. AI analyzes the data collected from the sensors to set up maintenance based on occupancy and seasonal changes.
Many buildings already use smart technology to control some of their systems, but to be “smart” all systems must be integrated and communication hardware and data processing software must be implemented to collect, send and act on data that can be used to maximize building efficiency. A centralized platform allows building owners and managers to control all systems and identify, monitor and correct any inefficiencies found.
Advantages of Smart Buildings
Smart buildings offer many advantages to the occupants and users, as well as the building owner and manager. Following are some of these benefits.
- Higher energy efficiency
- Lower energy consumption, costs
- Reduced carbon emissions
- Enhanced safety and security
- Predictive maintenance
- Reduced operating costs
- Better space usage
- Better air quality
- More thermal comfort
- Improved health and safety of occupants
- Improved productivity and quality of life
- Higher property value
In terms of disadvantages or cons, the need for smart technology experts in the development and design of smart buildings can hinder projects that may encounter a lack of qualified vendors. Cybersecurity concerns and unproven technologies may also present a challenge.
Construction of Smart Buildings
Creating these impressive structures requires the usual players and a few new faces.
The technologies used in smart buildings are determined and designed during the early stages of a construction project. Tech experts must identify these technologies, establish the criteria for system selection, understand all underlying infrastructure requirements and develop the metrics and key performance indicators that will be used to quantify outcomes over the lifecycle of the building.
In traditional construction, the main stakeholders are the client, architects, structural engineers and general contractor. Smart building construction also calls for professionals who work on the digital aspects of the building. These include system integrators, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) consultants, IoT and AI experts, low-voltage infrastructure designers, data analysts, and multiple solution and service providers.
These experts identify the type of data that should be collected and determine how it will be analyzed, shared and acted upon to achieve desired building outcomes. They also may design the low-voltage infrastructure and determine how systems will be connected and integrated (Smart Buildings Technology, Nov. 2021).
Although all of these professionals don’t need to be included on day one, a master systems integrator should be involved as early as possible. This person can find out what the client wants to achieve, set the initial requirements and convey this information in a way that architects and system designers can understand. IT infrastructure designers should also be included during the early design phase.
It is a good idea to talk to the people who will actually occupy and use the building early in the process in order to identify their needs and what technologies the building should have to improve their experience. User experience professionals can be consulted if the occupants cannot be identified or reached.
In addition to involving the right people at the right time, infrastructure and building systems should be based on an open architecture approach so that the building can accommodate and integrate future technologies.
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