The Guide to Smart Buildings

What are smart buildings, how do they work and how can you make your building smart?

What is the definition of a smart building?

A smart building uses a range of technology, such as sensors and actuators, to gather activity data on various aspects within the building so it can be analyzed and utilized to find out which operations can run more efficiently. 

Once the operations that need to be improved are pinpointed, the smart building technology connects systems together in order to optimize them through automation to make the building more efficient, cutting costs and lowering its environmental impact.

Whilst a smart building is optimized by technology, the same technology can be used to improve the quality of conditions for occupants in order to aid their safety, comfort and productivity.

Smart buildings examples

A smart building could be as small as a 120 sq. ft. office or as big as a university campus, but they are classified as smart if they use technology to enhance and aid the way the building is being run.

Take National Grid, for example. They used technology in the form of occupancy sensors to make their buildings smart and optimize their space utilization. They also gained valuable data on the time employees went for lunch, enabling them to choose quieter times to visit the canteen, avoiding queues at the typically busier periods.

Within the hospitality industry, hotels could also adopt this smart approach. If they use a smart building system to gather information on how busy their facilities are, they can show residents how active the gym or pool is at different time periods so they can choose a quieter time to go.

How does having a smart energy building save your business money and keep it sustainable?

Did you know that 30% of building energy is wasted? That’s money you’re spending on energy that’s not being used and adding to your carbon footprint unnecessarily.

You can create a smart energy building by using technology to identify the key areas in your building that waste energy and where energy costs can be minimized. Systems can then be connected together to automate operations and reduce your energy costs, for example turning off lighting that is left on when a room is not in use or controlling HVAC systems that heat or cool rooms that are unoccupied.

Building automation systems can be retrofitted to existing buildings, meaning you don’t need to move offices or build a new building to get the energy saving benefits of a smart building.

What is the connection between smart space buildings and wellbeing?

Utilizing smart space buildings for wellbeing involves the business optimising all internal spaces to create an environment that enhances staff’s physical and mental health. The social distancing enforced due to COVID-19 means that staff will look to find uncrowded areas that provide them with the necessary space to ease any concerns or anxiety about being in close proximity to others. Using smart technology, such as desk monitoring sensors, can enable employees to find a hot desk that is free and has been recently cleaned, whilst ceiling occupancy sensors allow you to optimise space within your building and help you implement social distancing by putting capacity limits to specific spaces.

Adopting technology that allows you to provide the correct lighting and ventilation is one way businesses can help satisfy the employee experience. Employees considering a return to the office post-lockdown will be keen to see the steps you've taken to ensure their safety and wellbeing. Primary concerns will be around touchpoints, i.e., have you introduced automated lighting to remove the necessity for lightswitches? Staff will also want to know what has been done to improve the quality and cleanliness of the air in the building.

Another way is through adjusting your cleaning schedule to be smarter. By using sensors you provide peace of mind for staff, such as alerting cleaning staff when meeting rooms or hot desks become free so they can disinfect the spaces before their next use. Not only this, but research shows a link between staff morale and unclean toilets, and monitoring usage of these facilities means you can carry out cleaning when it’s required. This improves hygiene standards for your staff by setting the schedule to correspond with how many times it is being used rather than just at fixed regular intervals – something that is likely to be demanded by workers in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Using smart buildings IoT

Most smart building solutions utilise IoT (Internet of Things) technology to connect building systems together through networked IoT sensors or devices. This allows them to send and receive data between building systems and enhance the way that the building works.

Using smart building IoT enables you to access, control, and monitor all these connected building systems from anywhere on a centralised hub. This eliminates the need for time-consuming management of individual systems and can be done remotely.

Benefits of smart buildings IoT

Smart building IoT allows you to stop relying on assumptions and guesswork when making decisions. By collecting precision data and using technology to implement processes you can enjoy the following four benefits: saving costs, reducing energy consumption, improving efficiency and wellbeing.

For example, by using desk monitoring sensors to power a desk booking system, the sensors can automatically detect if a desk becomes available and the system can even cancel a booking if an employee doesn’t turn up to utilise the desk. Not only does this help employees be more efficient, by no longer searching for somewhere comfortable to work from, but also helps to allow businesses to see the real utilisation of the space as flexible working days become more common. 

Not only can IoT solutions provide the advantages outlined above, but it can also facilitate maintenance predictions to stop unnecessary replacements and services. It can also provide you with a forecasted maintenance budget, rather than having a surprise system breakdown that isn’t planned into the budget for that month. 

Furthermore, analysing how your building is actually being used provides insight on the space and capacity each department and floor actually needs. This data allows you to decide whether you really need to spend budget on more building space or moving to a bigger space, or if instead you should consolidate or repurpose what you already have because you’re not utilising it resourcefully.

How do smart building systems keep your business efficient?

As a facility or property manager, finding out how your building is being utilised by staff can help you make sure it runs more efficiently for your business and its staff.

Using systems that produce real-time data can help you achieve this by monitoring the availability of facilities such as hot desk stations and meeting rooms to increase productivity. 

The data can save staff time by making it easier to find an available area to use. By integrating this data with your existing calendar tools, it can tell you if a meeting room has been booked, but even more importantly, it will automatically release the meeting room if the attendees are a no-show.  

Optimal configuration of a meeting room or conference room’s capacity can also be achieved by using data that measures if a meeting room is being used by groups of appropriate size. For example, if a 10 person conference room is only used by groups of four or less, then it is not being used efficiently and indicates that it would serve the business better if it were repurposed into two smaller meeting rooms for 4 to 6 people. 

Not only does this help meeting rooms be used more efficiently, but it also helps employees to be more productive. With 4 in 10 office workers spending around 60 minutes every week searching for available conference rooms, you can dramatically improve the efficiency and wellbeing of your staff and break the misconception that there’s never enough meeting rooms.

How can smart building sensors help my business comply with COVID-19 regulations?

Smart building technology, such as occupancy sensors, have been predominantly used to improve the efficiency of commercial and public buildings. With the health and safety challenges brought about by COVID-19, however, their role has become critical in addressing concerns around social distancing and hygiene. Occupancy sensors are helping to enforce compliance with the evolving COVID-19 regulations while reassuring occupants that their safety is being prioritised by the business. They achieve this in the following ways:

  • Enabling the implementation of social distancing throughout the building by using sensors that monitor the number of people within specific areas and setting occupancy limits that can be displayed on screens to indicate whether it’s safe to enter the space.
  • Helping to enhance hygiene by providing insight into the utilisation of facilities and scheduling usage-based cleaning around occupancy frequency. 

Thanks to the accuracy of the data provided, you can streamline operations to extract maximum value from your maintenance and asset management budget. By getting optimal utility out of your property while still ensuring the safety of employees and occupants, you are creating functional and productive spaces that provide added reassurance to your team and business stakeholders. 

What are the comparisons between smart building solutions?

The systems that can be used to help make a building smart come in a range of different solutions. These solutions can differ by the way the technology collects data, the amount of data it can provide, or the function it provides.

The way a smart building solution collects data is down to the function it will serve. For example, if the system is to enhance space utilisation, then solutions that use occupancy sensor technology to count people, monitor desk or meeting room utilisation will be best suited as they provide the data that can give insight on how to aid this requirement. 

And even once you have decided on the type of smart building solution you need, there are often other considerations that you need to think about. For example, when choosing a workplace occupancy sensor you will need to make considerations based on aspects such as how the technology is powered, if it can integrate with other systems and the connection type it requires. There are also differences in the type of detection technology it uses, such as passive infrared, ultrasonic or image recognition. Each comes with limitations and advantages in terms of the amount of data it can provide and the anonymity it keeps.

How can I maintain anonymity while using smart building technology?

Choosing a smart building technology that captures no personally identifiable information and never relies on the use of cameras will make sure the privacy of your workers is kept whilst still allowing you to gather the valuable data that makes your building smart and operate more efficiently. 

Many smart building technologies could be classified as privacy protecting despite using sensing technologies that can be considered invasive, for example video/CCTV and WiFi tracking. The data transmitted by the sensor may be anonymous as it has been processed by the device, however it has still been captured and should the sensor have any security flaws it could be possible for third parties to access it.

Who provides smart building services?

There are numerous companies around the world providing smart building services and solutions. These range from integrated workplace management systems (IWMS), to building automation and building management systems (BMS) and to solutions developed to solve or overcome specific problems.

True Occupancy is one of these specific solutions. Understanding how occupants of a building are actually using it is vitally important if you want to increase its efficiency and reduce running costs whilst also improving the occupants experience.

Our occupancy analytics solution makes your building smart and can help you revolutionise the way your business is run. Our solution uses advanced people counting technology to provide you with accurate data and reports on the utilisation of different buildings, floors, areas or individual rooms. Accurate occupancy data from our solution can bring further benefits as it can be integrated into other systems, enabling automatic control - for example lighting and HVAC systems.


Tom Bell

Product and Marketing Manager

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