Intelligent Buildings

How Smart Are Intelligent Buildings?

Gains in technology Have improved functionality and reduced costs for building intelligence. Now, a rating system aims to provide an IQ score for facilities

By Abigail Gray  

It has been roughly a quarter of a century since the notion of the “ intelligent building” first appeared on the facility-management horizon. Back then, the term was used broadly: An “intelligent” building was one with high-tech bells and whistles that elevated it above the ranks of the common building. Beneath the surface, however, “ intelligent building” didn’t mean anything specific, and often it didn’t mean much at all.

More recently — within the past 15 years or so — the notion of building intelligence evolved as some once-futuristic technologies moved into the real world. The term “ intelligent building” began to be applied more narrowly, referring, in general, to a building with automation features that offered better control over various building systems.

Now, building automation systems of all stripes are commonplace, and the notion of the intelligent building has undergone yet another transformation. Discussions about building intelligence extend well beyond building automation to issues such as security, communication, and environmental monitoring and control, and focus as much on how facilities use their technology as whether they possess it. The intelligent building of today not only boasts systems automation and control, but is also able to generate data and share it among systems to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole facility.

“The intelligent building of today is taking those standalone systems and integrating them,” says Ron Zimmer, president and CEO, Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA).

“In an intelligent building as we defined it 15 years ago, you would never see sharing of data between a fire system and a security system,” says Frank Spitzer, senior associate, IBI Group. “You might have seen an HVAC building automation system, but it didn’t give you the opportunity to turn the HVAC on and off in small sections of the building based on occupancy. Now all of these essential functions can communicate with one another and operate based on information received from a sensor in a room.”

Advances in technology have, to a large extent, driven this evolution. In the past, many buildings operated on closed or proprietary systems that could not communicate with one another. “Developments like LonMark and BACnet were major steps forward,” says Zimmer.

As a result, say experts, building systems are becoming more interoperable and are allowing more facilities to reach the next level of building intelligence. “Tremendous amounts of data can be pulled and shared, and communications devices allow sharing between systems and even between buildings,” Zimmer says.

The reality of building intelligence today is very different from what it was in the past, Zimmer says. “Now we’ve got technology that is much better, at costs that have been reduced substantially. And we’re looking at quantum leaps forward in the functionality of the systems and in opportunities for linking them together to improve the performance of a building as a whole.”

Intelligence matters

Building-intelligence experts have a lot to say about the benefits an intelligent building offers — benefits that contribute to the bottom line.

“I think of the benefits in terms of several different issues — the efficiency aspect, the cost aspect, the environmental aspect, the health aspect and the security aspect,” says Jiri Skopek, director, ECD Energy and Environment Canada Ltd.

From an energy perspective, the efficiency benefits of building intelligence are familiar to many facility executives. To cite one common application, a building that knows when and where it is occupied can limit its own energy use by confining the operation of power-hungry HVAC and lighting systems to the hours and areas of the building they are needed. Sensors that provide occupancy data to HVAC and lighting systems are seeing increasing use for exactly this reason.

Cutting energy use is one environmental benefit of intelligent buildings. In addition, they can improve indoor air quality through continual ventilation adjustments and air-quality monitoring, or maximize daylighting by automating shading systems.

Intelligent security

Experts draw links between building intelligence and security.

“A lot of the 9-11 type concerns have fueled discussion about intelligent buildings,” says Spitzer. “Now you have surveillance cameras everywhere, but in intelligent buildings security activities are linked closely with other building functions in ways that enable you to have a much better understanding of whether there may be someone in your building who should not be.”

In addition, Spitzer explains, intelligent buildings’ security operation can be more cost-effective — one security guard may be able to keep an eye on security functions, see who is where in the building, lock and unlock doors, and monitor the fire system from a single location, eliminating the need for a group of security personnel making rounds.

In the most intelligent facilities, the moment an employee enters during off-hours, the access control system informs the building management system who has arrived. By accessing tenant data, the building management system can adjust temperature and lighting for the area of the building where that individual works. To further reduce energy consumption and enhance comfort, it can also increase outdoor airflow to that area, or open window shades that had been closed to minimize heat gain. Doors to the area where the employee works can be unlocked automatically while other doors remain locked, and elevator security configurations can be changed to allow access to certain floors. Security cameras can be cued if necessary. And when the employee leaves, the area can return to its secure, low-energy, off-hours state.

What’s more, says Zimmer, intelligent buildings are more attractive to prospective tenants, and that translates to higher retention rates, higher rental rates and higher occupant satisfaction.

Despite these and other purported benefits, experts say that many facility executives have not yet begun to take full advantage of the opportunities intelligent buildings present. In some cases, that is because existing systems in older buildings do not permit interoperability, and retrofits are not in the budget. When it comes to building intelligence, however, experts say a little bit can go a long way.

“A building that has even two of its systems brought together — say access control and HVAC — could be considered ‘intelligent,’” says Zimmer. “Does that make it rate a 100 on a scale of 100? No, but it may be very appropriate given that specific building’s needs.”

According to Spitzer, a facility’s intelligence level can be increased by a series of baby steps — not necessarily a major one-time investment.

“The move to access control — a card system instead of keys — is one many people are comfortable with, so they can take that step first and then down the road they may take the next step to real energy management,” he says. “A lot of people don’t have confidence in this idea yet or an understanding of how it can help them.”

Help is on the way

Facility executives interested in taking steps — be they large or small — toward “intelligent building” status will soon have access to an important resource. CABA has commissioned development of a Building Intelligence Quotient (BIQ) — an online rating tool that will enable facility executives at existing facilities, or engineers involved with new construction, to gauge a building’s intelligence and identify ways to increase it.

“The BIQ is a way to determine how well a specific facility is achieving the goals of an intelligent building,” says Spitzer, who sits on the CABA committee spearheading the development effort. CABA launched the development of BIQ roughly two years ago.

Process of development

BIQ will provide facility executives with a numeric score for a facility based on an analysis of a series of data points related to the building’s use, location, size and features. The questionnaire that guides the data-entry process is in the final stages of development; however, it will encompass a long list of issues, including:

  • Demographics related to the facility’s location, occupancy and use
  • Specifics about building systems, including training and maintenance practices and the extent to which systems are automated and integrated
  • The ease with which new tenants can move in and set up
  • Data-sharing characteristics
  • Information about communications systems like the Internet and intranets
  • Capabilities for tracking and adjusting the indoor environment, including IAQ
  • Capabilities for using technology in emergency procedures
  • Specifics of the elevators and other components
  • Emergency power resources

Using all this information, the BIQ generates an online report that not only assigns the rating, but also provides recommendations about ways to improve the score.

“It will amplify the information by linking users to specific Web sites, so if you don’t use automated shades, it may recommend that you do so and also give links to more information about shades and how they work,” says Skopek. “It is certainly not a replacement for an engineering study, but it is a way to make you aware of issues you may want to address and help you get started addressing them.”

Skopek and Spitzer, along with David Katz of Sustainable Energy Solutions, are the members of the BIQ Consortium, which developed the tool for CABA.

An alpha version of the BIQ tool was presented to CABA’s Integrated and Intelligent Buildings Council in June. A beta version of the tool, which reflects feedback from the council, will be tested by 11 CABA members. “They will answer the questions online for specific buildings and give us feedback about the tool,” says Katz, project manager for BIQ. “How easy is it to use? Did we include all the right things? Were the scores fair?”

Comments from the beta test will be incorporated into a final version of BIQ.

The initial version of the tool, which will be overseen by CABA, will target multiunit commercial buildings, though applications for other market sectors may soon follow.

The process of evaluating a facility using the BIQ is fairly simple and does not require extensive homework in advance; a sound knowledge of a facility’s components and characteristics is all it demands. And, Skopek says, the Web-based nature of the tool will make it affordable and easily accessible.

Factoring in life-cycle costs

In its current form, the BIQ is more qualitative than quantitative. It generates ratings and recommendations, but does not provide payback or cost information related to the enhancements it suggests. But through linkage with another new, CABA-developed tool, the BIQ may soon offer facility executives financial analyses as well. Developed in collaboration with Reed Construction Data and R.S. Means, CABA’s Life-Cycle Cost Analysis tool will work in tandem with the BIQ.

“The Life-Cycle Cost Analysis tool is a set of online cost calculators that will be accessible on the CABA Web site,” says Rawlson O’Neil King, communications director, CABA. The tool will provide detailed cost models and life-cycle costs for three types of buildings — commercial office, educational and government — using the R.S. Means Construction Cost Index. “The tool is also expected to draw upon standards determined by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Subcommittee E06.81 on Building Economics for determining building life cycle costs,” King says. The tool should be available at the end of November.

“The idea is that someone who uses the BIQ can then link over to the Life-Cycle Cost Analysis tool and determine very quickly the benefits in terms of savings and payback of taking the recommended steps,” says Zimmer.

The primary drawback of a self-reported Web tool, of course, is that the results are not verifiable. So to the extent that facility executives hope to leverage their facilities’ BIQs for favorable financing or leasing purposes, the tool may be only moderately useful in its current form. Down the road, however, CABA hopes to implement a verification program whereby trained inspectors corroborate and certify the results of an online analysis. This may represent an important step toward two of CABA’s other goals: building a system for measuring building intelligence that complements other rating systems for facilities, and advocating for an increased awareness of the operational and environmental impact of building-intelligence measures.

“We’d like to see greater emphasis placed on this issue,” says Zimmer. As one example, Zimmer says, CABA hopes to see the U.S. Green Buildings Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program increase the number of points facilities can earn for having energy management systems. It’s a goal that he believes is well within reach, as the energy-saving benefits of intelligent buildings continue to speak for themselves.

“Our objective is really to produce buildings which use less energy, cost less to operate, are safe and secure, and are healthier, more productive, and more comfortable,” says Skopek. “Helping educate people about the fact that intelligent buildings really offer all of that is a big part of our plan.”

Abigail Gray, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, is a writer who specializes in facility issues. She is the former editor of EducationFM magazine.

The Continental Automated Buildings Association

The Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) is a not-for-profit industry association that promotes advanced technologies for the automation of buildings, primarily in North America. The organization’s membership comprises some 400 companies that share an interest, products, or services in building automation or intelligence. The 18-year-old organization is responsible for the development of the 2002 “Technology Roadmap for Intelligent Buildings,” an industry-funded research report that examined the status and evolution of building technology. A revised and updated version of the roadmap is currently in development.

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  posted on 9/1/2006   Article Use Policy

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