A smart building is a building that uses technology to capture data which is used to enable automatic, efficient, and economical use of resources while maintaining a safe and pleasant environment for occupants.
Smart building technology is most of the time a central feature of any new construction. But the majority of existing buildings were not designed with this technology in mind.
This is where retrofitting comes in. To combat the challenges of climate change and provide an optimized environment for occupants, building managers, and property owners are now introducing technology to legacy buildings to turn them smart.
We’ll provide a rundown on:
- What are smart buildings and why are they important
- What does it mean to retrofit a building
- How to retrofit a building with sensor technology
- 5 benefits of retrofitting buildings with sensor technology
What is a smart building?
Typically, a smart building is a “new build”, in which Internet of Things (IoT) technology, building management systems, and artificial intelligence are used together to control and optimize the performance of a building. Specific areas that are managed include:
- Energy efficiency and sustainability
- Occupancy utilization
- Environmental optimization
- Employee well-being
- Health and Safety compliance
Some examples of smart buildings, and the technology they deploy, can be found here.
Why are smart buildings important?
Society is becoming much more environmentally aware. Global initiatives have been agreed to address some of these major issues, including
- The 2015 Paris agreement, which 196 countries signed, aiming to reduce global warming and build resilience to climate change.
- Local Law 97 in New York, which intends to reduce 40% of the carbon emissions emitted by buildings by 2030
- Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) initiatives becoming critical evaluation criteria used by investors, employers, and employees.
Together with other social and economic factors such as changing working practices (hybrid working) and the ongoing need for cost reduction, mean that all organizations should be considering smart building technology today.
What does digitally retrofitting mean?
Retrofitting an older building consists of deploying the same IoT-based technology found in a modern smart building, to improve the energy efficiency and performance of the structure.
The collected data is used to identify where changes to building structure or systems are needed, such as the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Condition (HVAC) equipment, to realize energy efficiencies or reduce energy demand. It is also used to determine areas where modifications to the building infrastructure are required, such as window replacement.
9 out of 10 buildings in the UK and Ireland must be digitally retrofitted to achieve net-zero by 2050.
The report also highlighted that many organizations are not currently monitoring their energy consumption (80%) and that nearly 30% of building energy is wasted. Both are shocking statistics.
Advances in IoT technology now mean that many more services can be provided in a retrofitted building to make it smarter. These include air quality monitoring, reducing water wastage, and space occupancy.
How to retrofit a building
To effectively retrofit a building, accurate and relevant information is required from all areas of the structure. This data is best obtained using IoT sensors that collect and transmit recorded information to a central store, from where it can be processed.
IoT sensors can be used to collect different types of information including temperature, touch, proximity, water, humidity, CO2, and movement, at any location.
With advances in technology, the sensor size and installation complexity has reduced significantly, making it much easier to install them exactly where they are needed. Installation in an older building, either into workspaces or on to existing equipment thus becomes much simpler and can be undertaken by non-technical personnel.
With collected data stored in the cloud, the information is accessible from anywhere in the world and can be analyzed to provide near real-time, or trend-based, reports. This real data, when analyzed, can then be used as the basis for organizational strategy and decision-making around energy efficiency, health and safety compliance, employee well-being, and more.
5 potential benefits of digital retrofit
#1 - Energy efficiency
Temperature sensors can be used to help identify energy wastage. By placing these devices exactly where they are needed, for example, next to a heater, close to a window, or directly onto a ventilation system, accurate temperature measurements can be made.
The collected data can be analyzed, compared to previous information, and used to identify both sudden changes and trends over time. Companies will quickly and easily be able to identify problematic areas, such as excessive heating, over- ventilation, or poor insulation.
By changing heating schedules, using Demand Control Ventilation (DCV) to automate ventilation based on actual requirements, or replacing old and inefficient windows organizations will actively be able to reduce their energy consumption.
Following changes to the building infrastructure, the collected data will indicate a downward trend in the office temperature and ventilation use, as well as higher temperature adjacent to new windows, indicating less heat loss. These changes will therefore save energy, cost, and reduce carbon emissions.
#2 - Air quality
Monitoring CO2 in a building can lead to the identification of faulty equipment e.g. cooling units. Placing CO2 sensors on equipment can help companies see both spikes and trends related to CO2 concentrations.
Sudden increases are typically caused by equipment failure, for example in refrigeration units. Quick identification will enable the organization to address a problem before it becomes critical and affects employees' wellbeing.
#3 - Legionella compliance
In older buildings, water flow in pipework can be both difficult to detect and difficult to measure. If water remains stagnant in pipes, within a temperature range of 18 and 48 degrees Celsius (64.4 and 118.4 Fahrenheit), it is possible that the Legionella bacterium can grow. If untreated, this bacterium can cause Legionnaire's disease, a lethal respiratory illness. There is now strict legislation in place related to its detection and control.
As a result, many organizations spend time, money, and resources to “flush” water from all of their pipes, as they are unaware which ones have been used.
Temperature sensors placed on, or adjacent to, water pipes can record the temperature of the water in the pipe. This data can be analyzed over time and will show when temperature changes in the water have occurred. These changes determine if and when the pipe has been used. If the pipe has not been used then it can be flushed.
However, for pipes where the temperature change indicates that water has moved, there will be no need for flushing, saving water, resources, and money.
#4 - Occupancy detection
Desk occupancy and PIR sensors collect data about how often desks, offices, and meeting rooms are occupied. Small temperature changes at a desk arise as a result of body temperature. Using analytics, you can determine if a desk is occupied.
PIR ceiling sensors placed in office areas or meeting rooms detect movement. The recorded data indicates if there is motion in the area where the sensor is located.
For these sensors, the data is collected in near real-time and stored in the cloud. Providing employees with access to the analyzed data through the web or a phone-based app will quickly allow them to locate a free desk or room.
This improves efficiency and productivity by eliminating wasted time when looking for an available workspace. It will also remove employee frustrations with searching for an available desk or room.
#5 - Employee welfare
Proximity sensors, in combination with occupancy sensors, can track how frequently restrooms, desks, and meeting rooms are used. This data can be analyzed to determine which locations have been heavily used and so will require cleaning. This allows a company to both tailor its cleaning schedule to meet actual requirements based on usage and to monitor, and potentially change, the cleaning contract that they have.
Touch sensors can be deployed in any relevant location to act as a feedback panel, service button or for surveys. The sensors can be placed on appliances, equipment, counter tops, or reception desks for employees, customers, or tenants to request services right away.
Water sensors can provide an early indication of water leaks from pipes, cooling systems, and fridges. The identification of unexpected water allows preventative action to be taken to again limit potential problems.
Not all of us are lucky enough to work in a state of the art smart building. But we a
By retrofitting old buildings with sensor technology, companies can benefit from similar services while maintaining their real estate investment.
Using a range of secure, robust, easy-to-use, and long-lasting sensors within existing building infrastructures or attached to older equipment will enable any organization to gather necessary good quality, accurate, data. This can then be used to assist with energy strategy, building work, improvements to work practices, and compliance.