No longer just bricks and mortar, today’s buildings are increasingly intuitive, adaptable and responsive. Thanks to the combination of smart sensor technology and software, building owners and managers can create smart systems, enabling their buildings to ‘talk’ to them, intelligently.
With more employers now understanding that the health and comfort of their employees is a key factor in productivity and retention, it’s a trend that’s set to grow… and grow. The building industry will see an increase in human-centred buildings — focused on the safety, comfort and security of occupants, at the same time as being ultra-energy efficient. These ‘healthy’ buildings will monitor internal conditions such as temperature, humidity and occupancy, keeping levels to an optimum and introducing automation and alerts if conditions move beyond established parameters.
What will monitoring look like in the future?
There are some key monitoring areas which some forward-thinking companies have already adopted, and these are likely to accelerate as more businesses realise the potential opportunities and savings this data could bring.
1. Air quality monitoring
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of air quality, and as organisations begin to welcome workers back on site it’s become clear this is a key area of focus. Increasingly, buildings will be equipped with wireless sensors to monitor air quality such as CO2 levels and harmful airborne small particles. The data these sensors gather can help set automated levels for ventilation adjustment as needed.
In the future, we’re also likely to see more buildings — in particular those in areas of high pollution — monitoring the outdoor air that enters via the ventilation. Smart systems can then alert when filters need replacing, or turn off the system if the outside air quality becomes unacceptable.
2. Occupancy monitoring
Another area of importance emphasised by the pandemic is monitoring the number of occupants in a building. While in the post-Covid days this necessary for distancing and restrictions, it also plays a key part in managing comfort levels and energy use.
The future smart buildings will give more control to their existing occupants, enabling them to create a bespoke environment for their comfort. People will more closely interact with a building by adjusting everything to their precise needs, from zone temperature, sound levels, desk and meeting room spaces, and specific lighting.
Whole floors and zones can also be adjusted depending on desk bookings and required use, helping to manage space optimally.
3. Light monitoring
Lighting can make a big difference to the comfort of occupants and the productivity of workers. One of the biggest monitoring trends we can expect to see is smart lighting that adjusts to the preferences of occupants. For example, brighter lights in an office during the afternoon may help workers focus better, while soft lights later in the day might be more relaxing.
4. Equipment and machine monitoring
Smart technology enables companies to completely change the way they manage their equipment and machinery, by switching from a reactive to predictive maintenance model.
In the future, smart sensors will more frequently be clipped to machinery to measure and detect equipment usage — helping to understand where there is unnecessary energy consumption — or detect changes in normal operating conditions to detect degradation and faults, and forecast maintenance.
Emerging technology can now even turn legacy ‘dumb’ meters into smart meters by monitoring the pulse output from meters, machinery and equipment.
This in turn can transform the way building owners automate and manage their maintenance. This type of maintenance based on reactive needs rather than scheduled intervals has been shown to be significantly save time and costs.
5. Safety and security monitoring
Getting a full view of what’s happening in a building at any time is a key part of safety and security considerations, whether it’s an unexpected presence in a room or a broken door lock.
As the uptake in smart technology increases, facilities mangers can also take advantage of a smart building’s capacity for data analysis. A single facility could have hundreds of smart sensors detectors which can collect a continuous — and anonymous — stream of data on occupancy, traffic flow, peak times and anomalous behaviour. This data can be collected and overseen by a single control room or central monitoring point, with a focus on protecting the safety and security of occupants.
Transforming buildings with synergised systems
These responsive, intuitive data-enabled buildings allow everything that goes on inside to come together to be monitored, controlled and adjusted to the precise needs of its occupants.
Although many of these systems and sensors have been around for a while, they were often fragmented and independently operated. We’re likely to see more cases of comprehensive use throughout a building. Occupancy monitoring is complemented by air quality monitoring which is complemented by energy use monitoring… and so on. Separately, each element is useful. Together, they make a powerful transformative tool to ensure occupant wellbeing and energy efficiency on a scale never seen before.
With this abundance of highly accurate, real-time data, building and facilities managers can make informed decisions about building use and automation, as well as plan strategies for future use.
What we’re seeing is the emergence of next-generation smart building monitoring systems, which build on previous systems and take them to the next level. These ‘healthy’ buildings reflect the wellbeing of their occupants, effectively ‘talking’ to managers and building owners to let them know how they can improve and optimise the internal conditions of workspaces.
Employees will be working in a comfortable, safe environment which in turn promotes productivity and improves retention. We’ve already seen how accurate data can improve the health and energy efficiency of buildings. Now we can see how it can bring them to life.