The terms “smart building” and “high-performance building” are increasingly bandied about when facility managers discuss ways to improve building parameters like energy efficiency, comfort, and productivity. No hard and fast definition of either phrase exists, and sometimes the two are used interchangeably. But, however the terms are defined, it’s clear that the automation technology of a smart building, which encompasses three levels of controls strategies and can provide important granular detail, should be an important component of any high-performance building.
A big reason is data. Today, a range of powerful technologies enable facility managers to get the right data and take advantage of it to make the building both smart and high-performance.
But having technologies available is not enough. There are still obstacles to overcome before smart, high-performance buildings become the norm.
One way to look at the connection of smart and high performance is to divide controls strategies into three levels. The bottom tier involves operating and sequencing equipment to get optimum productivity from building systems, says Paul Ehrlich, president of Building Intelligence Group LLC.
The center tier involves integrating building systems, so they can use information from each other. “For example, the lighting system is shutting down so the variable air volume can be turned off,” he says.
“The highest tier involves analytics, fault detection, and better analysis of data that is optimized at the high end to achieve a high performance building,” Ehrlich says. At that third tier, smart technologies are used to maximize performance.
At the “high end,” smart-building technologies offer a way to address a persistent performance problem: bridging the gap between design and operation.
“Many buildings that are designed to achieve high-performance design goals fail to achieve them in actual practice,” says Alan Shepherd, senior vice president of Built Ecology at WSP. Shepherd sees smart building systems offering a way to tackle this issue. Using a cloud-based interface, building performance trending, and diagnostic software makes it possible to monitor buildings remotely and to diagnose design or installation flaws that might have been missed during commissioning.
Furthermore, says Shepherd, “diagnostic algorithms can be programmed that are able to automatically detect non-conformant operations and to notify interested parties.” The result of this “post-occupancy refinement” is that buildings are better able to deliver the energy performance they were designed for.
“Smart technologies can give (facility managers) more granular data to better understand day-to-day building performance,” says David Wilts, associate principal at ARUP. “If you have good measurement and verification systems in place, you will be notified where there’s an anomaly from standard operations.” He cites a practical example: If a specific lighting circuit is suddenly using 140 fewer watts than normal, that can be a signal to the operations staff that two 70-watt bulbs are burned out and need replacement.
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