Buildings Built for Sustainability with the IoT

by Clarke Morrison and Luc Wing

Buildings are responsible for using a large percentage (42 percent) of the world’s energy consumption for their operations. Worse yet, inefficient systems waste 30 to 50 percent of the energy used in buildings. With recent advances in technology, such as large data storage in the cloud and the decreasing costs of valuable sensing devices, the Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Owner/Operations (AECO) industry is poised for a new era of sustainable, automated buildings.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is being researched and applied in fascinating ways within the industry. IoT is the interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. At its simplest, IoT is all our “things” (devices, equipment, spaces) connected to the internet.

As a relatively new field, the application and understanding of IoT and building management systems is evolving rapidly. Building sensors and IoT support many important goals, from security and operational cost efficiency to occupant health and sustainability. 

Building sensors allow operators to pull, analyze and utilize the data that gets collected. By integrating these assets in a network, designers, occupants and building owners can begin tracking countless data points. The key is understanding how this data can inform decision-making and create more efficient, healthy places to live, learn and work. 

This goes beyond putting an occupancy sensor in a room to control lighting. Rather, it’s about being able to control electrical and mechanical systems holistically while leveraging data to inform space utilization, equipment performance and energy use. For example, building automation systems can detect when people leave for the day, turning off lights and switching heating or cooling systems to nighttime mode to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. 

With the current global challenges related to health, building systems data is more important than ever. Indoor air quality impacts occupant health and productivity and also affects energy use. Individual rooms with temperature and humidity sensors can track conditions as more outside air is introduced — assuring that energy isn’t being wasted in spaces where the indoor air is meeting standards. Pressure sensors in ducts can monitor pressure drops and detect when air filters need to be replaced before energy is wasted with fans running at higher rates or circulating unhealthy air. 

The introduction of renewable energy strategies can augment fuel and electric use in the form of solar panels and wind turbines. By connecting these systems to an overall building automation platform, power can be stored on site for use when the grid goes down or electricity prices peak. Smart sensors can automatically switch between grid power and locally generated power when necessary.

Recent sustainability research and development has investigated how the IoT will help decrease the amount of energy consumed by buildings and allow operations to run more efficiently. Smart building management systems teaches how people and the building interact, allowing us to better plan for improvements and future renovations and allocate maintenance and operation funds accordingly. 

Further, predictive analysis can inform an operations team when equipment is nearing failure. Coupled with a digital twin, sensor data can help avoid unplanned shutdowns of large spaces and make maintenance and repairs much more efficient. These processes are not limited to new buildings, as sensors can be placed in existing buildings to harness that insight and utilize a circular data workflow to inform and influence the design process. 

When designers and owners understand all aspects of the building lifecycle, they can think beyond current capabilities and the status quo. IoT offers the opportunity to be more efficient in designing, operating and maintaining facilities, saving time and money and, often, promoting sustainable practices.   

Clarke Morrison, Microdesk strategic BIM consultant, is responsible for growing client relationships, uncovering new business partnerships and ensuring quality service. He has a background in architectural design and AEC technology.
Luc Wing, Microdesk architecture solutions specialist, has made it his mission to promote integrating sustainable solutions and mindsets into BIM throughout the lifecycle of a project.

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