Connecting data streams from buildings is becoming easier. The proliferation of new and lower-cost wireless sensors is an exciting development for smarter buildings. Having a well-developed plan is key to construction success.
The reach of building automation is expanding beyond large and high-budget projects. Functions that previously relied on extensive wiring and building automation system integration can now be accomplished for a fraction of the cost. Third-party solutions are enabling data exchange between systems that previously couldn’t communicate. Whether bringing data from sensors straight to the cloud or achieving better integration with a traditional automation system, the ability to improve building function is remarkable.
Previously, intelligent lighting required zoned lighting connected to individual line- or low-voltage sensors or BMS (building management system)-connected lighting control panels. Now, lighting systems are available with sensor-enabled and individually controllable fixtures. Each fixture is equipped with a multipurpose sensor and wireless transmitter. The fixtures connect via a mesh network and one or more wireless gateways. Beyond just measuring light levels and occupancy, these sensors can also capture and transmit real-time data including building temperatures, CO2 levels and alerts about potential emergencies such as fire.
An emerging application in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) is monitoring packaged RTU (rooftop units), which are often neglected except for a periodic filter change. Updated energy codes now require automated fault detection to monitor refrigeration and damper function. Major manufacturers ship solutions to meet these requirements. By monitoring this data, owners can improve performance and prevent costly equipment downtime.
Codes also require increased monitoring and data retention, typically from multiple energy meters. However, owner requirements to measure a range of building functions from door swings to interior temperature to video feeds are commonplace.
Clear responsibility for delivering a platform that brings together data streams is essential, regardless of whether it is in the cloud or on an operator’s workstation. Key considerations include what data needs to be displayed and how the data can be accessed. A solution for a hard-wired workstation with a 22-inch monitor looks very different from an LTE-based tablet.
Security is another area that can’t be overlooked. Clearly defined owner’s requirements and establishing a process for integration and commissioning is essential to get even simple projects to come together at the end. New sensors and software can mean a project that wows occupants, with a lot less cost and effort than even a few years ago.
Steve Abercrombie is a principal with Connected Buildings and a faculty member at South Seattle College’s Sustainable Building Science Technology program.