Real-World Scenarios: Democratizing Smart Buildings with IoT

In “Democratizing Smart Buildings with IoT,” we talked about how the advent of powerful and cost-effective Internet of Things solutions has opened up the realm of connected technology to small- and mid-sized buildings — a benefit that was previously limited to large commercial sites.

Smaller spaces and smaller budgets are no longer a barrier to implementing a smart building solution, with a new generation of IoT devices such as sensors, thermostats, and different types of lighting control solutions driving the cost of data and device management down to only a few cents per square foot. Now owners and managers of smaller buildings can boost efficiency and get insight into building system performance.

Now we’ll share a couple of scenarios in which we implemented Altair SmartWorks™ solutions to turn smaller facilities into smart buildings.

Connecting a Special-Needs School

We worked with a special-needs school in California to help the facility manager get insight into after-hours energy usage and optimize building HVAC performance. They were on a tight budget but wanted to reduce operational costs and ultimately create a better learning environment for their students.

Before getting started, they didn’t know how their assets were performing or if those assets were running efficiently. They had no insight into off-hours energy consumption, which they believed was contributing to higher-than-average energy bills.

The solution was to implement the cost-effective Altair SmartEdge™ IoT platform and install several multichannel energy meters, a submeter, and connected, programmable thermostats that enabled to school to pinpoint higher-than-expected consumption on non-working days and after hours. They then assessed factors that could be causing the problem.

As a result, the school was able to reduce off-hours energy consumption, optimize equipment usage, and create comfortable conditions for everyone in the school.

With its IoT system in place, the school now uses pre-set thermostat schedules to regulate the classroom environment and data analysis to make smart decisions. Off-hours energy consumption is down, and the building’s HVAC equipment is operating more efficiently than ever. Most importantly, students are in a comfortable environment and staff members are free to concentrate on their primary mission — education.

Making Commercial Real Estate Smart

Another project we undertook was for a Canadian commercial real estate management company. A community college was one of its larger tenants, and the school operated extended hours to serve its class schedule. All tenants were billed utility costs on a per-square-foot basis, as is typical with small commercial buildings, and as a result the smaller tenants with standard business hours were paying for a portion of the college’s energy usage.

The lease was due to be renegotiated and the building owner wanted to submeter the school so they could understand their actual energy use and negotiate a different cost model. There had also been two leaks that led to flooding in the previous 18 months, which resulted in around $175,000 in damage and increased insurance premiums. They wanted to prevent that from happening again.

We used SmartEdge and low-cost sensors to accomplish these goals, including installing 42 wireless leak detection sensors in bathrooms and near water coolers, a sensor in the parking garage, and a valve on a main water line that could be shut off if a sensor triggered as part of the rules we created in the platform. We also created setbacks on the thermostats. This implementation resulted in fair and balanced billing for tenant energy consumption, in addition to over 22% in energy savings.

With SmartEdge and connected technology, the real estate management company is seeing a higher ROI than a traditional building management system could offer — plus more applications, more data, and more flexibility.

Now with an optimized HVAC workload, fair tenant billing, less risk of flooding, and the potential for reduced insurance premiums, this connected building is set to efficiently support tenants well into the future.

IoT for Real-time Building Control

With IoT devices installed, you have a smart and connected building with real-time control of thermostats, lights, and discretionary loads to optimize your building’s performance and maximize your investment. Having sophisticated sensors, alarms, and thresholds for out-of-bounds conditions means you can get ahead of problems before they become critical.

Learn more about these scenarios and about connecting small and medium-sized buildings in our on-demand webinar


Democratizing Smart Buildings with IoT

Until recently, smart buildings have been limited to large commercial sites — but with the advent of powerful and cost-effective Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, owners and managers of small and mid-sized buildings can take advantage of connected technology.

Challenges for Small and Medium-Sized Organizations

Smaller buildings are frequently heterogenous, with a myriad of disparate systems that don’t interact with each other in an intelligent way. The equipment has different makes and models. There’s no common protocol between systems, which is challenging in terms of interoperability.

Traditionally, rooftop HVAC units are controlled individually using a thermostat to manage zoned heating and cooling. Lighting is generally on a separate system and in zones controlled by individual switches or circuits. The same can be said for other electrical systems in the building including the utility meter, submeters, and other operational equipment for each individual business. Small- and medium-sized business owners and operators have smaller budgets than big corporations, so many service providers focus on buildings with more than 50,000 to 100,000 square feet.

Without connected devices, a business has limited insight into building system performance – typically only utility bills to help them understand energy consumption data. This can mean assets end up working more than they need to, ultimately reducing asset life and increasing the cost of maintenance.

Most IoT-based smart building systems on today’s market use proprietary solutions or are siloed, meaning users are captive to a single technology stack. That can make it difficult to incorporate additional devices for control at the edge, including those used for energy monitoring and lighting control.

The cost to install a complex building automation system runs, on average, $2 to $3 per square foot. These systems are great for large commercial buildings, but at a smaller scale the ROI doesn’t work. $100,000 to $150,000 for a 50,000 square foot facility makes it a difficult expense to justify. In addition, these systems require specialized expertise to operate and can be complicated for building owners and operators. If the workflows are difficult to navigate, the system won’t be used to its highest potential, reducing efficiency and increasing long-term cost.

A new generation of IoT devices such as sensors, thermostats, and different types of lighting control solutions are driving the cost of data and device management down to only a few cents per square foot, allowing small- and medium-sized building owners and operators to participate in this space. This has enabled system integrators and service providers to adopt this type of technology as part of their solutions for this previously underserved segment.

Selecting a Smart Building Solution

When evaluating smart building solutions, key variables include:

  • Platforms that leverage open, multi-protocol solutions that don’t rely on a single technology to deliver value
  • Incorporation of logical workflows that are simple to use
  • The ability to scale across use cases as the industry begins to harness IoT technology more broadly

For energy managers, facility managers, and service providers who want to adopt IoT-based technology in their buildings, it’s critical to have a flexible platform on which to scale and deliver value. This includes incorporating productive analytics or enabling the choice to use a third-party analytics platform.

One of the advantages of Altair’s Smart Building solution is that it’s built on Altair SmartWorks™, an IoT platform for enabling applications across a wide variety of industries and verticals. SmartWorks has multiple components that help solve problems common to many IoT applications. It has an edge component called Altair SmartEdge™, which helps connect to both wired and wireless networks on the ground, aggregate and normalize the data, and send it to the cloud. It has a cloud component and a drag-and-drop data visualization layer, which helps drive outcomes from the data that comes from the cloud. We’ve adopted this architecture for smart buildings.

SmartWorks is an open architecture, so each component in the structure is swappable with other components. While they work well together, they don’t necessarily need each other. They’re also easy to use. A core tenet of every development for these products is that it needs to be easy to implement and use. Because Altair’s Smart Building solution is built on SmartWorks, it means that as we add features, they become part of the solution and part of all the smart buildings that use it. Having a solid backbone like this allows flexibility and long-term scalability.

Benefits of Enabling an IoT Solution

Not only is there a tremendous energy savings opportunity that comes with the ability to identify energy conservation measures through real-time data analysis, but users can set thresholds and alerts on the data from specific pieces of equipment. Doing that allows them to react quickly to faults and triage issues immediately. If you’re an energy service provider or mechanical contractor, the ability to do proactive monitoring means you can optimize your service visits. An IoT platform provides insight into the status and operation of equipment and devices, and it allows building managers to get ahead of faults and breaks — without waiting to be notified by tenants.

It’s an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction, be a trusted advisor, monitor asset performance over time, and identify issues early, potentially extending the life of your assets.

In an upcoming article we’ll share some specific use cases — setting up smart building solutions for commercial real estate and for a special-needs school.

Learn more about these scenarios and about connecting small and medium-sized buildings in our on-demand webinar available now.