The concept of smart devices is often misunderstood, and we frequently use the word “smart” to describe appliances with wireless connectivity. However, the concepts are related but not equivalent - a wireless device is not necessarily smart, and you can have a smart device using wired signals.
A smart appliance is characterized by the ability to optimize or enhance its own operation. For example, smart thermostats can program themselves based on user habits, and smart lighting can reduce brightness or turn off when there is daylight. In a few words, smart devices simplify tasks for occupants, while conserving resources like energy and water.
Many smart building projects achieve poor results due to a common mistake: adding wireless connectivity to a large number of devices without planning and coordination. This has several negative consequences:
Adding a wireless adapter to multiple devices is expensive. Wireless connectivity should be used where it provides functional advantages, but it becomes unnecessary if equipment that can be controlled effectively with existing wired connections.
Wireless networks can be easily saturated by a large number of devices, and this can result in sluggish operation. Wireless saturation can be avoided by using a protocol that does not interfere with conventional WiFi, such as Z-wave.
The platform can become difficult to manage, due to the large number of devices. Your maintenance and IT staff can become familiarized with the system, but the learning curve will be long for new staff members.
If a smart building project makes appliances more difficult to manage, it defeats its own purpose. Smart devices should be easier to manage, requiring less attention and optimizing their own operation.
Improve your building performance with smart controls.
Why Mechanical Engineers Recommend Smart HVAC Systems
In most residential and commercial buildings, HVAC installations represent the lion’s share of energy consumption. Significant savings are possible when HVAC equipment is controlled by a smart platform, achieving an attractive return on investment.
Air conditioning is the highest electricity expense for most buildings, especially during the hottest months of summer. On the other hand, space heating consumes more fuel than any other building system, followed closely by water heating.
Automatic controls are available for all major components of HVAC systems, and the following are some examples:
Air conditioning systems can use variable speed compressors to drastically reduce their power consumption. The technology exists for AC units all scales, ranging from small mini-splits to chiller plants with multiple tons of capacity.
Modern boilers and furnaces are equipped with electronic ignition and fan controls to boost their fuel efficiency.
Variable frequency drives (VFD) can drastically improve the fan efficiency of air handlers and cooling towers. In HVAC systems that distribute heating and cooling with hydronic piping, VFDs can also be deployed for pumps.
HVAC controls can be managed from a centralized Building Automation System (BAS). A BAS can monitor heating, cooling and ventilation requirements in real time, to adjust equipment set points accordingly.
How to Make a Lighting System Smarter?
Lighting often occupies the second place in building energy consumption, after HVAC. The recommended first step is upgrading to LED lighting, which brings three advantages over most conventional lighting systems:
Higher energy efficiency.
Longer service life.
Improved compatibility with building controls.
Fluorescent and HID lamps suffer a service life reduction when they are switched frequently, which limits the use of automatic controls. On the other hand, LED lighting tolerates switching without a major impact on service life.
Smart lighting controls are characterized by their variety, and they best option changes depending on the application. The following are some of the most common control methods:
Time-based controls, for lighting systems with a predictable operating schedule.
Occupancy controls, for lighting systems with variable usage. This method uses sensors that can be infrared, ultrasonic or dual.
Daylight responsive controls, which dim indoor lighting depending on the amount of daylight entering through windows and skylights.
Electrical engineers and architects have ample knowledge about lighting. They can select the best lamps and fixtures for your project, combined with optimal controls for each application.
Additional Applications of Smart Devices in Buildings
HVAC and lighting represent the largest opportunity to improve building performance. However, smart devices have many applications beyond energy efficiency, such as enhanced security and comfort.
For example, alarm systems with zone-based sensors can normally be integrated with a smart platform to enhance security. The following are some potential applications:
Automatic arming of alarm systems when there are no occupants. This can be accomplished by integrating with occupancy sensors, or by detection of smartphones in the area.
Using smartphone integration to know exactly who has left or entered a building area.
Checking the status of building areas remotely - Managers and security personnel can be notified immediately when there is an intrusion.
A smart building platform produces large amounts of data, providing a better perspective of how the building is operating. Improved data leads to better decisions, and property managers can detect problems that were previously invisible.
Qualified MEP engineers have updated knowledge about the controls and smart devices that are compatible with building systems. They can suggest promising upgrades to make appliances and equipment smarter, in both new constructions and existing buildings.