While in some sectors fierce debate rages on about the positive impacts of emerging technologies, it’s safe to say that, for the most part, automated systems in buildings have been relatively uncontroversial. That’s because even though people may disagree about what the best technology is for a certain problem, everyone’s generally in agreement that technology - as a whole - has significantly improved the efficiency, performance, and utility of our buildings.

This carries over to sustainability, where smart systems continue to find innovative ways for our buildings (and the people within them) to do more with less. Dubbed ‘smart buildings’, these are buildings that use smart design or a range of automated processes to automatically control the building’s operations in order to help improve asset reliability, performance, and energy use.

There's a significant incentive to make buildings as efficient as possible; for developers, the more efficient the building, the more attractive it is to lessees who relish the reduced utility costs. With that in mind, smart buildings are a growth area - and there are a few trends emerging that we expect to see take off in the coming years.

Automated water management

A large-scale commercial building uses millions of litres of water a year, so being able to analyse data on water usage and use it to drive behaviour change is a huge advantage. Automated systems are now able to track parameters like average shower time, use of half-flush vs full-flush, and the comparative water savings by use of reduced flow faucets. This data can subsequently be used to drive more sustainable habits (taking shorter showers, for example) among the building’s occupants.

Smart HVAC

Ventilation and temperature management are among the most energy intensive functions performed in any building. Whereas in the past, these functions were performed in a very blunt manner (too hot? Turn the thermostat down!), they are now precise and closely monitored. Modern systems can read everything from temperature, to air quality, to humidity - not just at a per-floor level, but a per-zone level, and allocate only the amount of energy that is required to maintain a comfortable atmosphere within.

Smart lighting

The days of the flickering fluro light tube are almost behind us as more modern buildings and offices opt for sustainable LEDs. Apart from the reduced energy required to illuminate an LED, they offer a far greater level of control than previous lighting solutions. Smart systems give building managers control over parameters like the colour and intensity of lighting so that - for example - a softer light is used in an area that attracts ample natural light during the daytime. Again, the key here is data visibility and increased control, allowing energy to be allocated only to where it’s needed most.

Automated Maintenance

No, we’re not talking about robot tradies zooming around the halls of our buildings… yet. But most smart systems enable a level of automated maintenance. This could include automatically sending a repair request to a contractor when something is broken, or it could mean scheduling regular repairs when a particular fixture has been used a number of times. Automated and proactive maintenance removes the human factor from repair scheduling, and (generally speaking) means that smaller problems are detected before they become large problems requiring major intervention.

The really exciting thing about smart systems, and smart buildings is that they’re just continuing to get smarter. And this means that over the next few years we can expect to see further sustainability gains, while still improving the occupant experience. It’s a win-win for everyone, and we’re looking forward to seeing what comes next.