If you’ve been around long enough, you must have heard the phrase smart building thrown around a couple of times. What are smart buildings really?
The term “smart buildings” refers to buildings that use resources more efficiently and help occupants to work and live more effectively. If this short definition doesn’t make sense yet, I’ll explain further. Keep reading.
Smart buildings often have features such as energy-saving sensors that keep the temperature at an optimum level, automated lighting systems that make adjustments according to natural sunlight available (or lack thereof), and rain-sensing devices on roofs that prevent flooding in the event of heavy rainfall, and more.
At its core, smart buildings use building automation systems (BAS) that make use of sensors, actuators, and software to provide efficient operation of the building. The goal of a BAS is to ensure that occupant needs are met while providing maximum energy efficiency, comfort, and utility.
One important element within smart buildings is the intelligent software that provides users with easy access to complex building automation systems. It provides a more intuitive interface to the BAS so users can make modifications necessary for their daily activities in the facility, such as turning lights on or off, adjusting water temperature, etc.
What is a building automation system?
A building automation system (BAS) is a computer-based control system used to manage the energy use within a building. BAS uses sensors to collect information about the state of the environment and can make adjustments to heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, lighting, and other systems as needed.
In addition to controlling various building components, BAS also monitors them for possible problems and can alert maintenance personnel if an issue arises.
Examples of building automation systems
As mentioned before, Building automation systems are used to manage the energy use within a building. A simple BAS can be a thermostat that controls the temperature in a dwelling, or it can be an advanced system with mobile software that manages routines like turning lights on and off and adjusting air conditioning.
There are even systems that can be programmed remotely to alter settings such as turning fans on and off, opening windows, etc.
- Lighting and other electrical systems: BAS can be used to control the electrical use within a building. Lights of various kinds can be turned on and off, either by entering a room or by using a remote control or smartphone app. HVAC systems (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) can also be controlled remotely. BAS can also be used to monitor electricity usage so that it does not cause an overload or power outage.
- Plumbing systems: BAS can be used to control the volume of water flow, the temperature of water and its pressure. BAS can also be used to monitor the usage level of energy in pump systems and use this information to adjust pumping levels as needed. BAS is also able to monitor the status of plumbing system components such as valves, pumps, heaters, etc., and can alert system operators when a problem arises.
- HVAC systems and rooftop units: BAS can be used to control the temperature of air coming from the air conditioning system, and can also be used to monitor the temperature of condensers and storage tanks. In some cases, BAS can also be used with rooftop units (also termed “air-conditioning units”) that use water to cool buildings. BAS controls temperature, humidity, or both in a building, supplying it with cooling or heating as needed.
- Fire alarms and other emergency systems: BAS can be used to monitor fire alarms, smoke detectors, CO sensors, and other safety devices. It can turn fire alarms on and off as needed or sound the alarm if a dangerous situation arises. BAS can be used to check the status of emergency equipment, alerting maintenance personnel when a problem arises. It can also monitor the status of emergency exits and instruct people to exit the building during an emergency evacuation.
- Surveillance cameras and other security systems: BAS can be used to monitor the status of surveillance cameras, door and window sensors, etc. BAS can also monitor the status of key fobs, pagers and other types of access control devices, or maintain them when necessary. BAS can also be used to monitor security systems that enable remote access to building facilities from remote locations.
What components make up a building automation system?
A BAS contains many different components, but there are some core components that are common to all BAS. Generally, a BAS is made up of the following four components:
- Sensors: Sensors collect information about conditions within the building in which it is used, and transmit this data to the BAS. BAS can monitor things such as temperature or humidity levels, or when a valve or pump is turned on or off. Sensors can also monitor fire alarms, smoke detectors, and other safety systems.
- Actuators: BAS can use actuators to control building components like electrical systems, plumbing systems, and HVAC units. Actuators can also be used to operate building security devices or to control lighting or ventilation systems.
- Control software: BAS can manage multiple types of building components using a variety of different programming languages and data formats, including databases and Processing programs (more common in the GIS industry). However, BAS must have some way of communicating with these devices so that they can be properly controlled.
- Computer hardware: A BAS uses computer hardware to process information and transmit instructions to the various devices in a building. BAS must also be able to store and retrieve information about the building in which it operates so that it can maintain the status of its components.
In addition to these four elements, there are other components that can be part of a BAS according to the special needs of a building and its occupants. Building owners may choose systems that include additional devices or software depending upon their individual needs.
What are the advantages of a building automation system?
BAS can provide several benefits to building owners and occupants. First, it can reduce energy costs and increase energy efficiency within a building. Second, BAS systems can be used to monitor systems for possible problems as well as for normal maintenance, allowing for proactive repair work before an actual problem arises.
Finally, when there is a problem like an electrical outage or plumbing failure, it is often easier to detect and fix these problems sooner with the use of a BAS than with common operating procedures.
It can also be easier to find and fix the source of problems with a BAS than without. For example, imagine the scenario of a large apartment complex plagued with electrical outages for years. When the power went out, there would always be several people complaining about it, but nobody could pinpoint the exact location of the problem.
When he installed a BAS in his building, it immediately detected the issue and informed maintenance personnel of the problem. The BAS then pinpointed the cause of the outages, which was a faulty connection in an underground conduit used to transmit electricity to several of the buildings in the complex.
This information made it much easier to repair this problem than if they were just relying on hearsay from tenants.
How can a building automation system be used for commercial buildings?
BAS can be used to create several different types of buildings, including industrial buildings, schools, office buildings, and retail buildings. BAS systems can be customized to meet the needs of any building design and its occupants.
For example, an owner may choose to use BAS technology in a warehouse to monitor temperatures and humidity levels in each room so that it is easier to determine whether certain rooms need heating or cooling systems.
BAS can also be customized to the special needs of certain personnel within these buildings, allowing for a more efficient or safer work environment.
BAS systems can also be used to create school buildings. BAS can track, store and retrieve information about particular classrooms so that teachers can see exactly how their students are doing at any given time during the day.
BAS also allows for communication between classroom teachers and their students during class periods. For example, a teacher may be able to check the status of a classroom from his office.
BAS can also be used in retail buildings like supermarkets and shopping malls to monitor inventory levels and perform basic maintenance. BAS also allows for communication between shop owners and employees to make sure that shelves are stocked appropriately, or that a particular item is being pushed to the front of the line for customers.
Limitations of Building Automation Systems
Building automation systems can be very helpful in maintaining a healthy building environment, but there are also some limitations to their use that should be considered. BAS is not available for every kind of building, and it can be more costly than operating the same building without it.
First, the price for adding a BAS to a building may suddenly make it cost prohibitive. The sensors, actuators and control software used in BAS can cost thousands of dollars per device. It may also be more difficult to find local technicians for the repair of BAS devices than for other systems because there is less demand for their work.
Finally, BAS does not address all the needs of a building owner or tenant. For example, a building owner may want to monitor security conditions within his building even when it is not being managed by a BAS, or perhaps his needs are simply beyond the scope of what a BAS can handle or what his current budget can provide.
Although there are some limitations associated with the use of building automation systems, they can be beneficial to any building owner or tenant. It is important to be realistic about what a building automation system will and will not be able to do for you. If you have a large commercial building or an office with multiple floors, think about whether it is worth investing in a BAS to manage these systems for you.