What Is a Smart Building? 

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As technology permeates every aspect of our everyday lives, the concept of a “smart building” has emerged as a revolutionary trend in commercial real estate. But what exactly defines a smart building, and why is it increasingly essential to the modern urban landscape?  

Going well beyond automation, this transformation combines sustainability, efficiency, and innovation to redefine how commercial buildings operate. 

Using automated processes, a smart building can control its operations, which include heating, ventilation, lighting, and other systems. Unlike traditional commercial buildings, smart buildings leverage Internet of Things (IoT) technology, sensors, and advanced software to optimize operational performance, enhance sustainability, and deliver actionable insights to building owners. 

The IKON Global Innovation Centre in Ireland is a laboratory that measures smart home efficiency. (Source: Autodesk) 

For example, a smart building might use sensors to detect occupancy levels and adjust lighting and temperature accordingly. By emphasizing scalability and complex system integration, this focus on commercial applications distinguishes smart buildings from their residential counterparts. 

Who Benefits From a Smart Building? 

  • Building owners: Through automation, owners can reduce operational costs and billable hours decreasing the building’s overhead costs. . 
  • Facility managers: Insights provided by smart building technologies enable more effective management and preventative maintenance. 
  • Chief sustainability officers: Smart buildings contribute to sustainability goals by reducing energy consumption and environmental impact. 
  • Capital planners: Enhanced data and insights support better long-term planning and investment decisions in future projects. 

Why Do We Need Smart Buildings? 

The need for smart buildings is rooted in the growing demand for energy efficiency, sustainability, and enhanced occupant experience. By aligning with global trends toward digitization and environmental responsibility, smart buildings represent the future of commercial real estate. 

For example, consider the Edge Building in Amsterdam. Designed as a smart building that prioritizes energy efficiency, the Edge building uses a state-of-the-art Building Management System (BMS) that monitors and controls heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Sensors throughout the building detect occupancy and adjust energy consumption accordingly. As a result, the Edge building consumes 70% less electricity than typical office buildings, achieving a 98.36% BREEAM sustainability score. (BREEAM, which stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology, is the global standard for assessing, rating, and certifying the sustainability of buildings.) 

With sustainability and reducing carbon footprint being a paramount concern in today’s society, smart building innovations like those seen in the Edge building are the gold standard for the future of real estate. 

Smart Building Sensors 

At their core, smart buildings are enabled by the proliferation of various IoT sensors throughout a building. Sensor types include: 

  • Occupancy sensors: This sensor type continuously monitors the number of people in different areas of the building. By understanding occupancy patterns, these sensors allow for dynamic adjustments to lighting, heating, and cooling systems, optimizing energy consumption and creating a more responsive environment that adapts to the needs of the occupants. 
  • Thermostats: Intelligent thermostats, popularized by brands like Honeywell and Nest, have become a staple in modern building management and residential housing. These devices not only allow for precise temperature control but also learn from occupant behavior and preferences. By analyzing data and learning usage patterns, intelligent thermostats contribute to comfort and energy efficiency, providing a tailored climate while minimizing energy consumption. 
  • Monitoring MEP systems: Sensors can be installed on MEP (mechanical electrical and plumbing) systems to track their productivity and help detect potential issues for proactive maintenance. For example sensors can be installed on plumbing fixtures to alert facility managers of active leaks. Some MEP systems have their own built in sensors that monitor and control how the system is operating, which are controled by a BMS system.  

Smart Building Technology 

Beyond sensors, smart building technology revolves around the integration of disparate systems to create an intelligent environment.  

For example, the BMS is a centralized control system that manages building functions such as heating, cooling, lighting, and security. By collecting and analyzing data from different sensors and subsystems, a BMS can optimize energy consumption, enhance comfort, and provide real-time insights to improve decision-making.  

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical building. (Source: Autodesk). 

An innovation driving smart building technologies is a digital twin, which is a virtual replica of the physical building. Digital twins integrate data from IoT devices and BMS systems into a visual context, offering a comprehensive view of the building’s operations. For example, the BMS could collect data from the HVAC system as it cools a buiding, a digital twin could integrate with that same data and provide a heatmap with the information laid over the 3D model, illustrating what portions of the HVAC system operating efficiently, which are not, and how the system, is impacting the connected rooms. This view informs decision-making while enabling predictive analysis and automated responses to issues that may arise. 

A Smart Future 

By leveraging advanced technologies like digital twins and IoT sensors, smart buildings offer unparalleled benefits to building owners, facility managers, and other stakeholders. As the world continues to embrace digitization and sustainability, the role of smart buildings in shaping our urban landscape will only grow. Learn how you can begin to leverage digital twin technology to visualize the data from your smart building here.