Five major property trends and how smart building tech helps deliver them
Michelle JaggerView bio
Recent events have given us clear signals of the key trends in design, delivery and operation of buildings will be this decade. We had the reveal of the new Australian National Construction Code (NCC) 2022 and increased stringency for energy efficiency requirements; a shift to all-electric assets including announcements the ACT will be switching off the gas network by 2045; on-site renewables becoming business-as-usual; enhanced focus on as-built quality and asset performance; and a realisation that the pandemic has changed how building users choose to occupy floorspace.
These five trends could be seen as requiring a seismic shift across the construction value chain. This can seem daunting for an industry already buffeted by economic pressures, skilled labour shortages and rising interest rates. Fortunately, smart building measures can help project designers, construction teams and asset owners meet customer demand in a highly cost-effective and straightforward way.
Increased focus on energy efficiency
There are two ways smart building technology can help improve energy efficiency in either a new building or as part of a retrofit. Where a building management system (BMS) is being installed or is already incorporated into the building, building controls software with control logic elements can automatically tune up or tune down equipment to optimise energy use.
For example, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can include smart BMS controllers with predictive algorithms on parts of the system including Air Handling Units (AHUs) and central plant including chillers. The controllers enable units to ramp up or down depending on ambient conditions, occupancy patterns and other factors. This delivers a major energy efficiency dividend compared to standard set-and-forget set points approaches.
The second way to improve energy efficiency outcomes is through smart building platforms. These cloud-hosted software solutions can utilise customised algorithms that combine energy performance benchmarks, exception reporting, and alerting. The platforms help occupants, asset managers and facilities managers understand see how much energy and water building systems and individual tenancies, apartments or common areas should be using so that issues including water leaks, excessive energy use due to occupant behaviour (leaving lights on, for example) or equipment faults can be detected quickly, and action taken.
One of the biggest impacts for the design and delivery of going to all-electric buildings is the increase in overall electricity use. But this is easily remedied. Smart building technology such as submetering on all electric systems will help ensure accurate data is available on energy use and assist with ensuring consumption remains within the required limits, as well as giving early warning of any equipment faults or malfunctions.
One of the motivators for an all-electric building is also the client, asset manager, tenants or portfolio owner having emissions targets. Energy use on-site is a key determinant of Scope 1 emissions, so the data from submetering combined with the energy monitoring platform data gives accurate data for emissions reporting, which then also translates into determining the precise quantity of offsets required where the end goal is achieving net zero emissions.
Integrated solar PV
Having on-site renewables is becoming standard for both new and existing buildings across almost every NCC Class. From retail centres with large-scale panel installations through to strata apartment towers and commercial towers, rooftop photovoltaics (PV) is reducing the reliance on mains energy use for common areas.
Smart building platforms enable asset managers, tenants, and owners to have real-time data on how much energy is being generated and when, which can be applied to fine-tune time of use to maximise the benefit of free electricity. It is also feasible to combine such systems with Bluetooth or cloud-hosted remote controls for switching equipment on and off to ensure energy-intensive equipment can be undertaken when on-site generation is at its peak – without someone having to physically switch on the units.
Another benefit of smart platforms for monitoring PV is it will give early warning if any panels are not performing as they should, so maintenance can be undertaken as soon as possible. Also, where an energy storage battery or array of batteries is connected to the system, storage levels and overall performance can be seen in real time. The monitoring platforms can also incorporate alerting systems that inform an asset manager or maintenance person of problems as soon as they occur.
Verifying as-built quality
When a client is relying on the design and delivery team to ensure a NABERS rating commitment, NatHERS rating or other third-party verified performance benchmark is achieved, smart building control and monitoring systems are invaluable. Real-time data from submetering and indoor environment monitoring systems give precise information that verifies what got promised got delivered. During the commissioning phase, the BMS system, controls strategy and building technology can be fine-tuned and any faults or suboptimal performance factors identified quickly – before handover and occupancy.
This boosts the delivery team’s reputation for quality and reduces call-backs during the Defects Liability Period.
Adapt to the new normal
Encouraging staff to return to the office and crowds to return to public places since the recent pandemic has become challenging. Smart building systems such as occupancy sensors, desk booking apps and air quality displays are tools delivery teams can incorporate into new buildings or retrofits to deliver the flexible, safe and resilient assets required to meet changed demands.
Here’s the real value: these technologies can either be incorporated into an existing BMS system or can be easily and cost-effectively retrofitted as a stand-alone system. They provide facilities managers, tenants and occupants insight into how space is being used, by how many people and when, so people can make smarter decisions about where they work (or shop, or play) and when.
2023 is one year closer to 2030 and beyond
Smart building features are an important tool in our kit for achieving important goals for our buildings, precincts and our urban environment. As we move closer to the emissions reduction milestones of 2030 and the net zero target of 2050, they also offer a cost-effective and user-friendly way to help improve the performance of existing buildings through smart retrofits. For new buildings, they are rapidly becoming a standard: such as having ducts for the HVAC or electronic access controls on the entries.
By thinking strategically about which smart systems, controls and platforms will deliver the best value for clients and for building users, design and delivery teams are well-placed to work at the leading edge of the major trends and achieve excellent results.
This article was first published at Sourceable.