Smart building basics

In this transcribed article, Julianne Laue gives an overview of smart buildings

By Julianne Laue, PE, LEED AP BD+C, BEMP, BEAP, Mortenson, Minneapolis August 11, 2022
Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

Industry insights:

  • Industry expert Julianne Laue, PE, LEED AP BD+C, BEMP, director of building performance, Mortenson, Minneapolis, explains the requirements for smart buildings and what that means. This transcript is from a May 2020 webcast and has been edited for clarity.

There’s no single definition or set of requirements for a building to necessarily be considered smart. Smart really takes on more of an implied state of being rather than a true definition. Smart building is loosely defined as a building or structure that uses processes to manage and control its operations, whether that’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning; lighting; security; or a variety of other systems. It does so via virtually integrated network of sensors and actuators, microchips, all stuff that can generate a constant stream of data that can be converted into key insights.

When we talk about buildings being smart or smart buildings, there are some basics that just always apply. And it goes to note that you don’t always have to have all of them to be considered smart. Big pieces are listed on this slide. You need to have an interconnection of technology, meaning how different technologies integrate with each other. There is this connection of people, computers and data and HMI, or human machine interface. It really applies in this instance, too, with us being able to interact with all of these things. The ability to measure and report. That adage that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. And the piece of it too, is, is you have to be able to report it and report it in a way that can be interpreted and understood as well as being useful to those who are going to use it.

They need to be intelligent. A lot of times it’s synonymous, whether you’re saying smart building or intelligent buildings. Those things, really, are in a lot of ways the same. And it’s just another loaded word. In terms of buildings, it means that it can do various actions in response to other actions or situations and experiences. Internet of things, we can’t live without it these days. Automation is really in a lot of ways that magic things can happen without human interaction and that automation between systems use and data analytics.

Smart buildings have many drivers, many of which are based on the type of client. Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

These are drivers and goals behind smart buildings. They can be organized in any way, shape or form. And they’re sometimes also listed as some of the success factors for smart buildings. And why might someone want any of these? These great things are a good starting point and discussion point. Great success stories exist out there in relationship to energy savings, operational efficiency, maintenance and carbon. Those things are measurable and tangible. You can really calculate that return on investment. Things that are taking longer to gain usage and traction are things like space use and cybersecurity.

In a recent report by Smart Energy Decisions, they noted that the most used information technology applications are building automation and control. While the least is going back to that optimizing space use. All of these things are coming up and coming up quite quickly.

Client goals can also be different by different client types. Just like how we wouldn’t do the same thing architecturally or mechanically for every client, we’re going to be doing the same thing when it comes to smart buildings. Health care goals are going to be vastly different from a commercial office, sports and entertainment versus multitenant building. Additionally, these things can vary based on climate or location and availability of products. Ultimately, the biggest impact that smart buildings can have is really dependent on clients, their business and their definition of success. We can’t measure that as the designer or builder or an installer, the end user is the one who’s going to ultimately determine if we succeeded or failed in our design of their build things.

Where does someone begin and how do you get started and where might you be looking for things? The great thing about all of this with the integrated design processes that have been coming about information sharing groups that are out there, look to other fields for insight and knowledge sharing, listen to others, really be broad in what you’re looking at and use the tools that are out there sharing is absolutely huge. Being able to go with others, share the information, be open with your sharing, be involved in those networks in groups and be OK going in and saying, I don’t understand this.

I always get a little nervous when I put out literature sources or resource, because this list is in no way exhaustive. The best way to get any information is to go out on the internet and start doing a search. Look for things that you recognize, anything that comes from ANSI or ASHRAE or NEMA is going to be something where you know that there’s a group out there that’s going to vet a technology or system.



Author Bio: Julianne Laue is the director of building performance at Mortenson. She is a 40 Under 40 award winner, and a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board.