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This article is part one of a three-part series discussing the opportunities and business reasons to utilize smart building technologies. This article will discuss how to deploy new technologies without necessarily spending more on the building systems we rely on. The second will examine opportunities to drive operating efficiencies and cost savings throughout the operational life cycle, and the third will review how to leverage these connected “smart” systems for productivity gains, experiential benefits and competitive advantage.

Why Smart Buildings?

Technology continues its rapid march forward. We hear regularly in various media about rockets landing on ships, cars that drive themselvespaying for lunch with your smart watch, or that you can pilot a quadrotor (it’s not a drone!) and fly it through a first-person view camera.

Yet this rapid adoption of technology is only now making significant inroads into our buildings, whether it is a commercial office, bricks and mortar retail location, new hospital or even an existing school that is being retrofitted.

Traditional Building Design

Think of how buildings are traditionally designed and built. The electrical engineer designs high and low voltage power delivery systems that power mechanical and electrical systems (pumps, fans, lights, plugs and more). The mechanical engineer ensures those systems provide the thermal comfort, air quality and water that users need safely and comfortably. Then the civil engineer makes sure the whole system is structurally sound, stable, durable and able to be constructed the way it was designed by the architect. These disciplines, which are very good at what they do, now work together on integrated design teams to build greener, more efficient high-performance buildings.

However, each discipline can be quite conservative when it comes to the details of the systems they specify, relying on what has been proven in previous projects and specifications. This typically results in systems (HVAC, lighting, access control, CCTV, digital signage, elevators, energy metering and so on) that are procured separately and run on proprietary networks, keeping data locked within discrete systems.

Build for less, with more capability

A smart building technology changes this paradigm. It eliminates these separate networks, converging the communication of these core building systems onto a single, secure enterprise-grade network. It uses Internet Protocol (IP) and Ethernet cables to provide connectivity and, increasingly, power to controllers and devices that perform a function in the building. This can be a variable air volume box (VAV), an LED light, an air handling unit plant controller or an energy meter. This convergence of communications onto an IP network drives capital savings, as redundant wiring, conduit and the labour to install them are removed from budgets. Systems that can use this one network include:

  • Access Control and CCTV
  • Building Automation
  • Digital Signage
  • Public Wireless
  • Lighting Control (and increasing power)
  • Metering
  • Parking
  • Distributed Antennae Systems (enhanced cellular coverage)

There is additional expenditure for enterprise grade network equipment, such as proper firewalls, when compared to traditional designs, as well fibre optics cabling to serve as the “backbone”. However this, can result in net savings ranging from $0.20 to $0.60 per square foot of construction cost with this combined approach.

Digital Building Blocks

Even if a project team conservatively assumes the cost is equivalent for this communication infrastructure, the building now shares an infrastructure that will allow systems to communicate easily, let data be shared with new services and users, and makes better control and visibility into the building’s performance more cost effective to achieve. These savings can be pushed further when this same infrastructure is used to power devices through Power over Ethernet. This strategy can be used for phones, wireless access points, VAV boxes, access controllers, LED lights and more, using one Category 5 or 6 cable to power a device and provide the communication pathway. For an example, check out the video below that describes this strategy as applied to Oxford Properties’ WaterPark Place, home of Cisco Canada’s headquarters.

The next question is – what can you do with this new connectivity? Check back in a week for further discussion and examples of energy savings, insight into real estate use cases and more based on newly-accessible system data.

 Written by: Andy Schonberger, Business Development – Smart and Connected Real Estate, Cisco Systems Canada

Interest(s): Architecture, Construction, Engineering, Property Date: May 31, 2016