January 2014

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Smart Buildings Predictions for 2014

The next big leap will be the development of software applications that not only can identify a system fault, but can automatically correct it.

Jim Sinopoli
Jim Sinopoli PE, LEED BD+C, RCCD
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor

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We all now know the benefits of using analytic software applications to support the operations of a building. Automatic Fault Detection and Diagnostics (AFDD) routines have proven to save energy and support facility management staff in ways that make operations more effective and efficient. The primary focus of the analytic software has been HVAC systems, and rightly so; it’s the most complex system in a building and uses the most energy. The detection and monetization of faults and the use of such software in re-commissioning buildings are all verified positive results of analytic applications.

What will happen in 2014? There will be an upsurge of similar analytic software for other building systems using AFDD as a template. The idea of determining how a system should operate optimally, casting the ideal routine into a set of software “rules”, and monitoring adherence to the rules through real-time data points of the system will be applied to almost every building control system. 

The analytics will go beyond well running building systems to decision making. An example would be a demand response event: in making a decision on whether or how to respond one has to take into account several financial and operational variables, including tangible and intangible benefits and costs. How much load can I shed? How can I shed it? What’s my typically demand profile during the timing and duration of the event?  Do I use auxiliary energy generation? What’s the maximum demand I can curtail?

The next big leap will be the development of software applications that not only can identify a system fault, but can automatically correct it. This will be a level of sophistication with significant consequences for building performance and be the largest impact on building operations and performance in decades.  If an airplane can flight eight miles above the earth on “autopilot” why can’t a building on the ground do so?    

Photovoltaic Windows

Photovoltaic WindowsWindows play critical role in dealing with energy related thermal loads and lighting in building spaces. We worry about the sun creating additional thermal load, but also the “visual comfort” of the building space; brightness, glare and shadows.  In 2014 we’ll see more attention to shading devices, glazing, electronic switchable windows and window related control systems.

There’s a move on to integrate photovoltaics into buildings rather than having a separate solar array. That trend starts with windows. The big break out in 2014 will be “solar panel windows”. Essentially transparent photovoltaic windows will be utilized in buildings to facilitate the structure as a solar collector. 

The technology is in an early phase but shows tremendous potential. Some of the current versions of photovoltaic windows can transmit more than 70% of the visible light, similar to tinted glass windows already in use. The power conversion for the initial designs is low but is expected to improve and reach over 12% efficiency. One research team calculated that even with 5% efficiency the windows could generate over 25% of the energy needs of a building. Besides energy generation, the windows could also reduce infrared radiation, thus reducing thermal loads. 

Having windows generating DC power also begs the question of why not a DC power infrastructure? The argument for DC infrastructure in buildings is quite compelling. Most of our devices and equipment we use operate internally on DC. Power storage is DC. Plus, eliminating the conversion of AC to DC saves some energy. The market will move towards interaction and integration between photovoltaic windows, DC current, microgrids and power storage.      

Real Occupancy Metrics

Real Occupancy MetricsFacility managers know the value of having accurate and timely occupancy data, but it is challenging to generate that data. The options for acquiring occupancy data include video surveillance, access cards, infrared, RFID and a host of other methods. Each technical approach has its pros and cons. However, it now seems the best approach to procure occupancy data will be through an occupant’s smartphone; everyone’s onboard sensor system.

Last year one of our predictions featured Indoor Positioning Systems. These systems are backed by many large international technology companies including Google, Nokia, Samsung, etc. While there are different ways of deploying the systems, many use the ubiquitous smartphone to communicate with or acknowledge the phone via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The major application for these systems from the technology companies are related to way finding (i.e. taking Google maps or Map Quest into buildings such as malls, airports and museums); as well as identifying people via their smartphone and then relating the personal identification to the surrounding space. For example, letting a person know their favorite coffee shop is in a mall or a department store recognizing a past customer and sending out a discount coupon to draw the person back in to shop.

This technical approach can recognize an “occupant”. In 2014 you’ll see large companies use the same technology in their own buildings with their employee smartphones. Researchers have studied the tracking of employees via their smartphones using the office Wi-Fi systems. While the accuracy of Wi-Fi is not as good as “Bluetooth Beacons” for identifying the exact locations, it’s still good enough to develop occupancy metrics. The researchers created apps that could power down a workspace when the occupants left and power it up as the occupant approached or entered the space. One study estimated that energy for lighting could be cut in half using the technology. Facility engineers will be able to know how many people are in building spaces, the duration of their stay, what areas are really being used, how best to design or renovate spaces, linking the occupancy data into a host of building control systems, etc.    


You generally will not see the words “building automation” and “building envelope” in the same sentence. In general, monitoring steel, concrete and other inert materials may sound a bit ludicrous. Building envelopes have several basic functions: they protect occupants from adverse weather, let light into the building, they provide security and safety, it’s a major component in occupants’ thermal comfort and the air change rate, building envelopes provide some acoustic isolation, and of course it provides the aesthetic attributes that occupants react or relate to.

The envelope is critical for structural integrity, energy management, maintenance, operations and security. Most monitoring of a building’s envelope or structure is done through periodic manual inspections. However, in 2014 we will see increased deployment of automated monitoring of building envelopes, especially for new high rise and skyscrapers in large urban areas.

Control Solutions, Inc What could possibly be monitored in the building envelope and related structure that would assist in measuring and managing the building’s performance? Turns out there is plenty:

Moisture Intrusion – If there’s moisture in the building envelope there’s a leak possibly leading to mold and or a breach in the integrity of the envelope. The solution is moisture sensors and a data recorder to continuously monitor the envelope with sensors at locations such as parapet joint flashing, control joints, wall-window interfaces, window jambs, wall-concrete slab interfaces and all the other places water is likely to gather, settle or get into. 

Air Leakage - Air leaking through a building envelope not only wastes a significant amount of energy but it decreases thermal comfort for occupants, allows dust, moisture, noise and airborne pollutants into the building. Measuring air pressure differences via a remote instrument can at least indicate potential issues that need to be further inspected via a manual air leakage test.

Structural Loads - Building structures should be monitored for stress, strain, vibration, deflection, displacement and tilt, with the data being analyzed to determine the integrity of the building structure. One common building example is the steel joist construction used in many commercial buildings to support the roof; the use of strain gauges or sensors can assist the building owner in monitoring the load of the roof when it snows or rains.

Seismic Monitoring - Seismic monitoring is a highly specialized building system. It uses accelerometers (devices that measure motion and vibration) at specific locations throughout the building to measure the response of the structure in an earthquake event. Seismic monitoring has several critical benefits. For the building owner, real-time data on how the event affected the structure is quicker and can assist in the physical inspection of the building afterwards, thus increasing the likelihood that the building can remain functional or quickly regain functionality. 

Openings in the Structure - Fenestrations

The fenestrations of the envelope quite simply must be monitored. That means each exterior door and operative window should have a switch in its frame to indicate whether the door or the window is open or closed. Doors that have access control already have such switches, but other doors not covered by access control should have a door position switch as well.  If you have a facility or building management system that can monitor the door or window position switches you can create some “exceptions” or times as to when open doors or windows are acceptable and when they’re not, thus reducing the number of false alarms. 

Sensors for the building envelope

For more information, write us at info@smart-buildings.com


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