How smart buildings work: A complete guide with examples

31 March 2021

Lately, we've seen companies, building owners and facilities managers increasing their interest in using smart buildings for offices, hotels and apartments. In fact, it's an interest that's set to grow the smart building market by $24.73 billion in this year alone.

But what do we mean by smart? Like many other bits of tech that have gone smart recently, smart buildings focus on giving companies and owners greater control – specifically over the building's environment and operations.

Capable of supplying numerous benefits, smart buildings have hit the market with a fair amount of hype. So, what's the big deal?

Here to help you get to grips with smart buildings, we'll go into what they are, how they can benefit you, and some real-life examples of the technology in practice. 


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What is a smart building?

A smart building uses technology to optimise performance between systems. The information shared is then used to automate various processes, from heating and ventilation to air conditioning and security.

If you're a building owner, then you'll know how costly overheads can be. As necessary as they are as a business expense, the level of spend is wasteful due to improper applications.

Think about how many lights remain on in unused rooms or spaces that are heated when nobody is around. Smart buildings seek to avoid such wasteful energy use, cutting costs and improving energy efficiency in the process.

businesswoman looking out her office window

What are the benefits of smart buildings?

For managers and businesses that own their facilities, smart buildings offer numerous benefits, including:

  • Greater maintenance of equipment: Through data collected from equipment in the building, facilities engineers can pinpoint potential issues and take action before faults develop.

Switching to real-time maintenance helps reduce downtime and ensures everything runs as smoothly.

  • Reduced environmental impact: Commercial buildings contribute much to both energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Smart buildings help to reduce waste and conserve energy, benefitting both those who profit from or work in them, as well as communities on a global scale.
  • Productivity and comfort of occupants: By optimising and automating air quality, lighting levels, heating and cooling, smart buildings let those who work or live in them benefit from a greater degree of comfort and productivity.
  • Reduced energy use and costs: By connecting their electrical and mechanical systems to the cloud, buildings can automatically switch on and off. This reduction in waste and energy use can help business owners make some impressive savings. And when you consider that 30% of building energy is wasted, that's a lot of money we end up spending on energy that's not being used.

Smart building technology can identify the key parts of the building which are wasting energy, locating where energy costs, and the resulting carbon footprint, can be minimised. These automation systems can be retrofitted to existing buildings too, so businesses can get the same smart building benefits without having to move or build new premises.

  • Increased inhabitant safety: In smart buildings, safety measures that can protect the wellbeing of inhabitants are easily implementable. For instance, the building's elevators can detect power outages before they shut down, guiding riders safely to the closest floor if necessary.
  • Data visibility and insights: Imagine if your building could provide data that offers actionable insights into cost-saving solutions and innovations. With smart buildings, it's possible to gain output data on structural integrity, merge data into a single analytics and reporting platform, and offer a visual snapshot of which facilities are experiencing things like high energy usage.

businesswoman using a tablet

What technology do smart buildings use?

Although smart buildings employ varying solutions, many of them utilise the Internet of Things (or IoT). IoT connects building systems through networked IoT sensors or devices, which can then send and receive data between building systems. All this adds up to enhance the way a building works.

Through IoT, it's possible to access, control, and monitor all of these interconnected systems from anywhere on a centralised hub, which can be done remotely. As a result, there's no need for time-consuming management of individual systems.

Additionally, IoT puts an end to the reliance on assumptions and guesswork in order to make decisions. Instead, any processes implemented are grounded in precise data, which can help with everything from improving efficiency and cost savings to forecasting maintenance budgets.

Analysing how your building is being used provides insight into the space and capacity each floor and department needs. From here, the data lets you decide whether you require more building space and a change of premises, or if you just need to repurpose your existing space because you haven't utilised it in the most effective way.

For example, if you have a 10-person conference room and it's only ever used by groups of, say, four or less, then it's not being used as efficiently as it should be. By optimally configuring the usage through data insights, the business can be better served by repurposing the room into two smaller rooms.

team meeting

What are some real-life examples of smart buildings?

Smart building tech is already in use around the globe, used to reduce energy use in a variety of buildings, including:

The Mirage, Las Vegas

Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, is home to The Mirage, the hotel and casino that's lowered their energy costs through what's known as load shedding. A deliberate shutdown of electric power, load shedding is a means of preventing system failure caused by demand straining the capacity of the system.

Elsewhere, The Mirage also uses weather stations to monitor things like wind, temperature, and humidity, which can help chill water on days when the temperature spikes. And in a place that gets as hot as Vegas, that's definitely a plus!

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UNIQA Tower, Vienna

Vienna's UNIQA Tower features a heating and cooling system that's automated and changes according to the temperature of the environment outside. Such technology has helped reduce CO2 emissions by 84 tonnes, making the operation of the building far more cost-effective as a result.

The Crystal, London

Said to be one of the most efficient buildings in the world, The Crystal produces about 70% less CO2 than other buildings of its kind in the UK. It does this through a combination of rainwater harvesting, black water treatment, solar heating, and automated building management systems. 

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