Smarter buildings are about more than comfort
Having been in the building industry for over 30 years, I can tell you that it’s one of the slowest industries to see change. For decades, heating and cooling have been some of the greatest innovations that have allowed us to conquer environments that are difficult to live in around the globe. Even now, 99% of buildings are still controlled by using only one element of human comfort – temperature. We really need to ask ourselves, how can a building be smart when there is only one point of data in which to control them?
If we think about the modern car, it has a backup camera, proximity sensors, cooling by seating location, heated seats/steering wheel, whilst also having air based heating and cooling. Smart screens and sensors inside and outside of most cars will one day, probably not too far away, allow them to be completely self driving. With a slowness to adapt, commercial and residential buildings are like driving a car from the 1970s. There is just the speedometer to tell you how fast you are going, but not much else in the way of information or control. There isn’t even an engine light. We can equate modern buildings to old cars, because IoT is only just now slowly making its way into buildings.
Internet of things devices that use indoor air quality data have the greatest potential impact on our lives in buildings. Imagine a building that can be controlled by how many people are in spaces (therefore saving energy), by using CO2. By monitoring indoor air quality, one can also respond to chemicals in the air, dust from inside and outside and with sound, light and humidity sensors to improve your comfort, safety and wellbeing.
A building that uses indoor air quality to set controls goes so much further than a building that only uses a thermostat. By using this data monitoring, you can control for occupancy, reduce risk, and really start getting more efficient.
Dynamic ventilation (sometimes called demand control ventilation) is one of those easy to do things that can save between 10-40% of a building’s energy use. Most commonly this is done using CO2 which can tell you how many people are in a space. Because people breathe CO2 at a constant rate you can use it to tell how many people are in a space. That means you can now heat and ventilate without guessing. But you can also do this monitoring using chemicals and dust in industrial applications. In many instances, fans and filters will just run constantly in a facility to address both chemicals and dust. Being able to sense what is in the air and saving fan energy by responding to what can’t be seen, goes a long way toward both energy savings and human health.
IoT sensors also allow a facilities team to be able to know where to focus their day. We’ve seen many times where someone will use a piece of paper against a vent to tell whether air is coming out of it (the paper moves if air is flowing). A sensor can do this job much more efficiently and with far greater accuracy, because not only can it tell you whether the air is blowing, but also what is in the air. They can tell you how much dust is in the air and whether or not the filters are doing their job. Rather than filter maintenance being on a set schedule, filter maintenance can be done based on demand with dust sensor information.
Over the next few years, existing buildings are going to have to focus heavily on attracting people back into them. The only way to do this is through transparency, by showing people what is happening. And the best way to save time and money is through information from IoT driven data that allows you to plan and optimize all your spaces for comfort, health and efficiency.