Smart Building Technologies Basics

Product Image

Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Smart Building Technology (SBT); Sustainable AV

Date: September 2011

The AV industry often sits at the crux of revolutions in building design and technology. IT network convergence, green technology and integrated project delivery (IPD) are changing the way people design, inhabit and use a building. AV professionals are now turning their attention to smart building technologies (SBT), a growing force within the design and construction industries that, once again, requires a strong AV industry presence.

“The problem with existing buildings is that facility managers have little information on how the building is performing, so management of the building’s performance is poor,” explains James M. Sinopoli, PE, LEED AP, RCDD, managing principal of Smart Buildings LLC. Sinopoli is a design engineer who has worked on approximately 600 buildings over the last 25 years and is a member of the InfoComm Intelligent Building Technology Task Force. “Integrating building systems is what SBT is all about; systems like building automation systems, building management systems, HVAC, life safety, security, AV and lighting.”

Michael Carter, Director of Integrated Building Solutions at AMX and fellow IBT Task Force member, says, “The challenge with SBT is that, historically, every discipline in the construction industry is a silo. At some point, some of them connect but they pretty much are on their own. Building automation dates back to the 1950s but now the notion of what automation is has changed.”

AV technology, Carter points out, currently exists in intelligent buildings with building automation but SBT goes yet another step beyond to a truly integrated building. The difference between the two is a subtle but very important distinction.

Understanding SBT
The key to wrapping one’s brain around SBT is to understand that there are many definitions under which it operates. “SBT is a continuum,” says Carter. “It has dozens of definitions and all are true. SBT is a process; not a final product.” The InfoComm IBT Task Force defines SBT as a process of conceiving, designing, constructing, commissioning, and operating buildings, which leverages technology to optimize the goals and objectives of the built environment. SBT occurs within the construct of an intelligent (or smart) building.

David Wilts, LEED AP BD+C, director of integrated building technologies for Crestron and chair of the Integrated Building Technologies Task Force, adds, “The goal of SBT is to integrate all building systems in the same way an AV professional integrates the AV systems in a room. SBT can seem like a vast topic but it's really straightforward. As one becomes more familiar with the different technologies, it becomes rote. We’re trying to encourage the AV industry to understand that SBT has happened on the residential side for over a decade, albeit on a smaller scale.”

Wilts says that, in many cases, he gets called in on an SBT project because the owner wants a “living” building — a building that responds to how people behave in the building and to changes in the microclimate. Not all projects begin as SBT projects but once a building owner understands what SBT can produce, then proceeding down the SBT path only makes sense.

Sinopoli echoes the sentiment that SBT is a great opportunity for AV professionals since the general concept of integration is the same. “Integrating an entire building versus 50 pieces of AV equipment in a system is not that different,” he says. “The difference is that the objective is much broader and a bit different than a typical AV project.”

For example, designing and integrating a large auditorium may mean ensuring sightlines are good from every seat, the room acoustics are acceptable, the projectors meet the lumens requirement for the space and that the audio system provides adequate coverage. SBT means taking that thinking to a much larger level, such as ensuring that the data and communication points from every system are integrated into the building’s management dashboard. Even lighting takes on a new scope that stretches beyond the lighting in a room to include daylight harvesting and balancing the use of architecture, shading and lighting systems throughout an entire building.

Sinopoli, author of the book Smart Building Systems for Architects, Owners, and Builders, further explains that the scope of SBT integration runs along several lines:

  • Physical integration includes many of the building systems using a structured cabling system, and the consolidation of cable pathways and equipment rooms throughout the entire building. This recognizes the physical convergence of the systems, providing an opportunity to use one cable contractor for the systems, and more importantly, reduce the cost of the installing the systems.
  • Network integration means more than just AV and IT convergence. Sinopoli is seeing building automation systems (BAS) and building management systems (BMS) use open protocols such as BACnet, Modbus and Lonworks that use IP and an IT network.
  • Application integration allows different building systems to work together and provide more functionality. An example is an employee access card that's embedded with identifying information for security/access control, HVAC, AV, and lighting systems to automatically adjust for that person. Application integration also means facility managers have improved tools for managing the building’s performance; for example, instead of different workstations for each system, a facility manager can get information integrated into one dashboard, such as integrating alarms for all different types of systems into one alarm management dashboard that gives the manager an easy and quick way to understand what is happening.

Sinopoli is currently designing integrated automation for a client where every data point on every building system is normalized and brought to an enterprise level database; on top of the database is a series of software applications and dashboards addressing energy management, alarms, fault detection, trending, etc. The integration involves solar panels, wind turbines, seismic monitoring, water reclamation, exterior shading, video surveillance, digital signage, HVAC, IT systems, access control and lighting. All of the data being generated by the building systems is available as dashboards for different interest groups; facility engineers, business executive, general public, purchasing, human resources, etc.

Why Should AV Pay Attention to SBT?
The design and construction industry in the U.S. has a history of reusing designs from building-to-building, but that tide is changing. The past ways of designing a building and working with a team is morphing into the collaboration of not only the team, but the technology as well. “The future is pretty well set for tying together building systems. The key to defining AV’s role is to identify assets that AV professionals understand and staking a claim now,” adds Sinopoli.

AMX’s Carter stresses that SBT is not a switch that can be turned on or off. SBT is a continually moving force that is affecting everything from technology infrastructure to the integration process and building operations. “This is an opportunity for AV consultants to take a holistic view but no one owns the view right now,” he says. “There's no one leading the charge for integrated buildings. So how do we move this discussion forward? We make sure people understand that AV humanizes interaction with the building technology and that’s what is at the heart of SBT.”

Wilts says that he is seeing more projects where operations teams want to conduct a continual commissioning process — refining the building systems as use and occupancy changes — and that presents a big opportunity for AV to fill that role. In addition, it is inevitable that one industry or another will own the position of SBT project manager and, as of right now, AV is best positioned to do so. “The angle isn’t that AV is trying to take over, but we’re just trying to make disparate systems talk to one another by tying together the building calendar, motion detectors, security, lighting, AV etc. This is the job that AV is already doing on a smaller scale,” says Wilts. “AV should own the ball. InfoComm means information and communications; we are the specialist on the design team for information and communications.”

Sinopoli agrees that systems integration is a core ability that is useful and translatable to SBT. And while energy systems are seeing the most attention in building design circles right now, AV can still play a large role by supplying system information and helping to manage the plug load.

Next Steps for AV
There are several steps that AV professionals can take right now to prepare themselves for SBT projects.

Start by reading the Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEPSM) manual when it becomes available. One-third of the available points are for SBT. Wilts advises that the soon-to-be-released STEP manual is a good method to help understand where SBT and AV meet.

Second, learn about the different building systems involved in the SBT process. Sinopoli gives an example of HVAC systems, which are easy to understand in a residential space but are completely different for large commercials spaces (think chillers, pumps, boilers, etc.) 

At this time, there is no formal SBT certification for people or for buildings.

There are many AV manufacturers who have made headway into understanding SBT and pursuing projects in this area. Reach out to them for educational resources and to make them aware of your interest in SBT. Architects are also looking for any firms who have experience in building systems. This is the opportunity for AV to reach out to the disparate silos and become the integration bridge across industries.

Control system programming and system commissioning are important steps in the SBT process, regardless of whether it is a design/build or design/bid/build project. Wilts says that seeking out a programming partner or developing this discipline in-house is one key to success.

Perspective in Communication
Historically, the AV industry has had to learn a new vocabulary and new language nuances to better relate to other industries. Architecture, IT and interior design are just a few examples of where AV has molded their language to improve communications. SBT brings yet another party — the facility manager. Many new technologies — IT, renewable energy, AV — now fall under the facility manager’s purview because of SBT. Tailoring communications for facility managers will go a long way in helping them understand the importance of AV.

“SBT is inevitable; it’s just a question of when,” says Wilts. “Once a building owner understands the total cost, lifecycle cost and return on investment, it’s bad business not to do it. AV needs to lead this process or we’ll be following the pack.”

Carter concludes, “SBT is a gauntlet that's been laid down by the building community. The more educated AV can become about building systems, the better for us all.”