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Five Steps to Smart Building Technology Success

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Standards

Date: December 2009

There are many reasons why smart building technologies (SBT) are a growing trend in the design and construction industry – lower costs, higher efficiency and sustainability, to name a few. The rise of SBT presents both a daunting challenge and a compelling opportunity for AV professionals. What sets SBT apart from other trends is the cross-industry goodwill and collaboration that will drive SBT to the forefront of all construction projects in the near future.

What is SBT and why should AV pros care?
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. The emphasis on that definition is the word process. SBT is neither a product nor a standalone technology; therefore, it is important that AV professionals have the tools needed to understand SBT from end-to-end.

“Sustainability is good business, but only if business is part of the process. The AV business has not been part of the sustainable building process until now (through STEP). More importantly, sustainable buildings will lead to SBT buildings as a natural progression: just as energy efficient buildings became green buildings and green buildings became sustainable buildings,” says Allen Weidman, InfoComm’s Sustainability Officer and a recognized sustainability and environmental expert. “Sustainable buildings will become smart buildings as SBT is the only way a “sustainable building” can operate as designed.”

But there is a subtle shift in thinking and some familiarization with new technology before AV can take advantage of SBT opportunities. Weidman explains, “First they need to think beyond AV, they need to think of themselves as information technology system specialists. Second, they need to be willing to claim the space. There is no single technology designer/installer that has stepped into SBT. HVAC, IT and AV manufacturers are storming the gates, but the implementers (designers, integrators, consultants, installers, operators, etc.) have not.”

For AV implementers who are ready to pursue SBT, here are five keys to success:

1) Energy management and monitoring systems
SBT is different from LEED and other recent trends because it takes the building occupants into account. Their impact on building operation is an area that needs to be understood by anyone who wishes to act as the SBT project manager for the building’s construction. The area of biggest impact by building occupants is on energy consumption and, therefore, energy monitoring services are high on the list of important technologies.

“SBT will remove some of the occupant decision-making while offering occupants more feedback on their actions. A cubicle dweller can still bring in the under-desk-space heater but the outlet is sub-metered; the energy usage will show up on the cube dweller’s desktop LCD so he or she can directly see the relationship between that heater and the building’s energy consumption,” says Weidman.

Energy management services are a multi-billion dollar market segment. According to the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), a 2009 member survey found that the majority of respondents sold energy management tools and services to the commercial, education and medical markets; markets in which AV is already operating. AV can help manage the plug load as well as interface with their electrical trade counterparts to better understand the overall building’s resource consumption.

2) Building dashboards
Energy monitoring is often rolled into a larger, holistic view of the building via a building dashboard. Companies who specialize in dashboard user interfaces are data visualization experts who recognize how best to lay out the information in easy-to-understand graphs or charts. AV’s role isn’t to also become data experts, but to understand how these dashboards aggregate and relay information to building occupants.

Building dashboard designs range from the simple web page to a more complex series of information trees. No matter what the design, the goal is the same: To convey the real-time status of every system in the building.

A prototype example of how a university may use building dashboard is seen via the UC-Berkeley Dashboard Project whose goal is to make every building’s resource usage data available to everyone on campus.

3) Mechanical systems
For AV professionals to step up as the SBT project manager on a project, he or she must be well-versed in the language and protocols used by MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) firms. Specifically, commercial and industrial mechanical systems are complex and are very different from anything that is encountered in the residential market.

BACnet, a communications protocol, is a popular standard for HVAC, life safety and other systems. Many commercial and industrial building automation and control systems use BACnet for primary systems communications. BACnet International oversees the testing and adoption of BACNet, and is a great resource to learn more about it.

4) Lighting control
Lighting is sometimes forgotten when dealing with audio and video systems. Most often, lighting and lighting control is under the purview of the electrical contractor and not the AV contractor. As with mechanical systems, lighting control relies on a communication protocol to interface with the building automation system.

Lighting manufacturers like Leviton have also branched out into fan control, occupancy sensors and relay panels in addition to lighting products. Keep abreast of such changes is imperative for an AV professional to become successful at managing an SBT project.

5) STEP
Last but not least, AV professionals who want to fully understand SBT should read the STEP Foundation’s Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEP) design manual once it is made public. Approximately one-third of all points awarded in the STEP program are related to SBT and STEP will play a large part in helping AV professionals make the leap into the SBT project manager role.

Weidman notes that the information needed to start a STEP project is already available from manufacturers and others in the AV industry. “However, to help the AV professional the STEP Foundation will be developing educational programs for the AV pro as well as architects, designers, and building operators.Additionally the Foundation will be developing a “verifier” educational program to help insure consistency and transparency in evaluating designs and installations that will be submitted to STEP,” he adds.

Overall, the ROI for SBT buildings is huge for the AV industry. “The AV industry has the opportunity to design, install and manage the SBT system. More importantly, the AV professional is the only current building design participant who has the knowledge and skill to complete the information process by providing the SBT information to the user/occupant,” stresses Weidman. “In other words, the AV industry has the opportunity to humanize SBT.”