4 Trends in Smart Buildings

Get your building ready for the future by understanding and implementing these smart building trends.

By Greg Zimmerman, senior contributing editor  

In the not-too-distant future, there will be no such thing as “smart buildings.” Buildings will of course still be hyper-interoperative with a wealth of sensor-collected data and operated by artificial intelligence and machine learning, but people won’t think of them as “smart buildings” anymore. There will just be buildings – “smart” will be the norm, the standard way facilities are built and operated.  

However, the industry is not quite there yet. And even then there will still be “dumb” buildings, – buildings that are obsolete, that have failed to upgrade and stay current with automation trends. Facility managers shouldn’t let their building be a dumb building.  

That’s why, whatever state of “smart” their building is currently in, facility managers will want to stay up on the technologies and strategies trending now. Here are four of the hottest smart building trends.  

Real-time monitoring 

A result of the declining cost and greater availability of sensors and smart meters in buildings has been an explosion of building data. This blessing has also been a curse in some cases, however. How do facility managers sift through this massive amount of facility data to create actionable objectives and improve outcomes in their facilities? Real-time monitoring is one way to do this.  

Real-time monitoring delivers continuous data and up-to-the minute reports about building systems status and energy use. This data then can be used to constantly adjust and balance systems for optimal efficiency, alarm if a building system is malfunctioning or simply not operating within expected tolerances, and communicate with a utility to ensure the best rate structure.  

The ability for two-way communication with a utility is becoming increasingly important. As utilities are offering more sophisticated pricing models based on time of day and overall demand, one of the biggest benefits of real-time monitoring can be energy cost savings. Buzzwords like “smart grid” and “demand-response” are fading into obsolescence as buildings and utilities alike overhaul their systems for communication. Buildings now have a much greater capability to reduce energy use automatically when most needed and run other processes when energy is least expensive.  

Occupancy-based controls 

It’s no secret occupancy in buildings has been a moving target over the last few years as organizations work through their work-from-home, hybrid work, and back-to-office policies. One of the most crucial trends in smart buildings, therefore, is the ability to control what is happening in a space based on occupancy that is constantly shifting day-to-day and even hour-to-hour. 

Occupancy-based controls are nothing new. Facility managers may recognize the term demand-controlled ventilation, a strategy ASHRAE 90.1 has been requiring for years. But as sensors are improving, and building automation systems reach increasing levels of elegance, so too can occupancy-based control bring huge benefits for facilities.  

The main benefits of a sophisticated occupancy-based control system are energy savings and improved occupant comfort. For HVAC systems, when occupancy sensors detect a space is empty, setpoints can be setback 2-3 degrees or more, saving energy. When a space is reoccupied, and occupancy sensors can tell by how many people, humidity and lighting can also be constantly optimized to save energy and make occupants feel more comfortable in a space. The ultimate goal should be to incorporate AI that can begin learning occupancy patterns and make minute-by-minute adjustments to really improve energy savings, by some estimates up to 30 percent without significant equipment upgrades.  


The smarter the building, the more opportunity to effect positive change. But also, the more opportunity for nefarious elements to gain access to these systems. A recent IBM report found a 2,204 percent increase in cyberattacks on facility operational technologies between January and September 2021. Especially in health care facilities, ransomware attacks are exploding. These cyberattacks hold an organization’s data hostage, crippling operations, and costing the organization millions of dollars. 

A facility manager’s role in improving cybersecurity of smart building systems has definitely ramped up in the last few years, and that will certainly continue. The question remains, however: What exactly is a facility manager’s role in cybersecurity? 

A recent FacilitiesNet story by facility influencer Maureen Roskoski points out six steps for facility managers to take to ensure their own cybersecurity competence. While cybersecurity may never be a core competency of facility management, it is undoubtedly an area in which facility managers can improve their own value to the organization by learning the basics. 

Working closely with IT on cybersecurity is, however, a core competency of facility management. But a good relationship between facility management and IT isn’t plug and play. It requires some work, mutual understanding, and being able to interpret each other’s languages.  

Digital twins  

The concept behind digital twins isn’t a new one for facility managers, especially if they’ve had exposure to a Building Information Model (BIM) as part of a facility operations or maintenance plan. Essentially, a digital twin is a BIM on steroids – a sophisticated model of a facility including everything from preventive maintenance schedules to real-time energy performance data to environmental product declarations to RFP templates to solicit bids for particular work from service providers (and much, much more).  

The idea behind a building’s digital twin is simplification – a single repository to give the best holistic glimpse of a building. The benefits are many. For one, decisions can be made more quickly and with the most current information. No more glancing back and forth between spreadsheets or reports from the building automation system. Digital twin technology can also be used to run simulations based on real-time data, meaning facility managers may not even have to make a decision. They simply choose the simulation option that provides the best outcome – whether improved energy efficiency or lowering the cost of maintenance.  

Digital twin technology is also beginning to incorporate virtual reality so that facility managers or their staff can take a stroll through your building from thousands of miles away to check out on that damper that may not be closing properly.  

Greg Zimmerman is senior contributor editor for the facility group, which including FacilitiesNet.com and Building Operating Management magazine. He has more than 19 years’ experience writing about facility issues. 

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  posted on 12/20/2023   Article Use Policy

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