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Enhancing Occupant Comfort and Efficiency With Smart Building Controls

For decades, building occupants have used manual controls for lights, alarms and HVAC systems. Although manual controls work as intended, they're not exactly efficient — at least not by today's standards. You have to get up every time you want to adjust the temperature, turn on a light or respond to an alarm, interrupting your concentration and reducing your productivity.

Fortunately, technological advances have led to the creation of smart buildings. As a result, many people now expect smart building controls as a baseline for commercial spaces, making it critical for developers, designers and building managers to think more about occupant comfort and efficiency.

If you already have a smart building, it's important to think about how it's set up. Did the person who programmed the system consider the variety of external factors that impact the different spaces in the building, or did they just implement uniform settings for every room or space? Are changes made seasonally to account for sun angles and differences in when the sun hits or leaves a certain elevation? What about daylight savings time?

Smart controls take more of these factors into account, leveraging collected data and improving overall building performance. With the right controls, you may even be able to increase the value of leased spaces. Learn more about using smart building control systems to your advantage.

Understanding Smart Building Controls

Smart building controls let you integrate and automate multiple functions, increasing occupant comfort and efficiency. A robust system lets you control lights, window shades, HVAC systems, building access, electrical loads and security. Smart buildings usually use Internet of Things (IoT) technology or Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) technology.

The Internet of Things is a network of devices, appliances and other objects linked to a gateway. Each device has sensors, software or other features designed to help them communicate with each other. PoE technology uses a single copper Ethernet cable to deliver power to multiple devices.

Two-way communication allows facilities managers to control window shades remotely. IoT and PoE technologies make it possible to know the status of every shade in the building at any given time. Facilities managers also have control of individual shades. If the weather suddenly turns cloudy, for example, a building manager can easily raise the shades to let in more natural light. Two-way communication also increases flexibility when using wall switches, remotes or mobile apps to control window shades.

The Role of Smart Building Controls in Commercial Buildings

Energy-efficient building controls allow occupants to control the following functions:

  • Lighting. Smart building technologies let you automate and optimize lighting in different spaces, ensuring that occupants have plenty of light when they need it. For example, you can put office lights on a timer or make them brighter on cloudy days.

  • HVAC. With smart building controls, it's possible to automate many heating, cooling and ventilation functions. For example, smart controls can adjust the temperature of different spaces based on individual thermostats instead of a one-size-fits-all setting. This increases energy efficiency without forcing occupants to work in too-hot or too-cold environments.

  • Security. Many smart building systems include surveillance, digital locks and other key security features. Smart controls allow facilities managers and other authorized personnel to control these features remotely.

  • Shade control. In a smart building, you can even automate your shades. This includes raising or lowering shades a certain times of the day, but it can all incorporate the use of daylight sensors to optimize the amount of natural light coming into a space. Occupants benefit from customized settings that manage incoming light and reduce the glare on their computer screens.

Automating and optimizing these functions has several benefits, including increased energy efficiency, improved occupant comfort and additional integration options.

Increased Energy Efficiency

With smart building technologies, you maintain precise control over your HVAC system, reducing the amount of energy it uses. For example, you can program your system to keep the office at 62 degrees Fahrenheit overnight and then increase the temperature to 68 degrees Fahrenheit about 30 minutes before occupants arrive the next day.This reduces energy consumption when no one is inside the building while preventing occupants from walking into a cold office when they arrive. Smart controls also make it easier to lower utility expenses and achieve sustainability goals.

Improved Occupant Comfort

Smart building controls also keep occupants comfortable without worsening their productivity. Think about the old way of doing things. If a worker couldn't see their screen due to glare from the sun, they had to get up and lower the shades manually. Then, they had to get up again a few hours later when the sun retreated.

Simple tasks, such as adjusting the temperature and accessing security footage, required building occupants to stop what they were doing instead of staying focused. Now, it's possible to complete these tasks at the push of a button. Building managers can even automate many tasks, eliminating the need for occupants to think about them at all.

Additional Integration Options

With the right setup, you can even integrate smart building components with other systems. For example, you may want to connect your shades to daylight sensors or occupancy sensors. These sensors cue your system to adjust the shades as needed, eliminating the need for manual intervention.

Sure, you could choose a high-performance fabric to block as much solar radiation as possible, but if you're using manual shades, you're not increasing occupant comfort as much as you could with smart controls. Automated shades on a timer are a little better, but an integrated system that responds to changing weather conditions allows for the greatest level of optimization.

Key Components of Smart Building Controls

Smart building systems have multiple components, which makes it possible to control more than one function at a time.

Sensors and IoT Devices

In an IoT system, sensors enable two-way communication by collecting data and sending it to a central gateway. The constant flow of data enables responsive controls, enabling facilities managers to automate and optimize critical functions.

Automated Shades and Lighting Controls

Too much sun heats things up and increases glare, while too little sun may make it difficult to see or stay warm. With automated shades, it's possible to control the amount of sunlight that flows into a commercial space, addressing these issues. Lighting controls also ensure occupants have enough light to see what they're doing without forcing them to work under harsh lighting conditions.

HVAC and Energy Management Systems

Smart HVAC and energy management systems reduce energy usage, helping building owners save money on their utility bills. Reduced energy usage may also make it easier for a company to reach its sustainability goals.

Integration and Centralized Management

With integration and centralized management, it's possible to create a unified system for managing building functions and collecting data. A unified system eliminates the need for occupants to learn how to use multiple controls. It also gives building managers the opportunity to manage many functions remotely, reducing travel-related expenses for companies with multiple sites.

Utilizing Smart Building Controls

Now that you understand the value of smart controls, here's how you can integrate them into your building.

Assessing Your Building's Needs

The first step is to assess your building's needs. Gather utility bills, productivity reports and other types of data to identify key areas for improvement and estimate your potential return on investment. For example, if your heating bills have been rising steadily, you may want to focus on HVAC automation before you work on optimizing other functions.

Training and Adoption

One of the biggest benefits of using smart building controls is that you don't have to provide much training. If you set up the system correctly, you shouldn't have to lift a finger. You can always use the local override controls if you need to make a temporary change in operations. However, you should still introduce the system to occupants and explain how it will benefit them.

Best Practices for Optimizing Building Performance With Smart Controls

To optimize building performance, make sure you set up your new system correctly. Think carefully about your building's needs and take steps to address them. Likewise, take into account how different spaces are used and what would affect the occupants using each space.

Be sure to consider external factors that have an impact on the interior environment of your building. These can include:

  • orientation of the building

  • shade or shadows created by trees or other buildings

  • reflections from bodies of water

  • privacy concerns

Use Smart Controls to Enhance Building Performance

Now is the perfect time to assess your building control systems. If you're not optimizing efficiency and occupant comfort as much as you could be, contact Contexture to discuss your needs.

Contexture's team evaluates how window treatments impact the overall performance of the building and can program the systems for an entire building, ensuring that the solutions in different spaces contribute positively to energy efficiency and overall occupant comfort.