Electronic Design

What Are Intelligent Building Technologies?

Property managers can substantially boost the efficiency of their real-estate portfolios by installing intelligent building technologies. Intelligent-building technologies seek to enhance the building environment for occupants while controlling costs. These systems are designed to improve end user security, control, and accessibility, with the aim of increasing worker productivity and user comfort levels.

"For commercial developments, intelligent-building technologies can result in above-market rents, improved retention, higher occupancy rates, and lower operating expenses," says Paul Ehrlich, president and founder of the Building Intelligence Group.

Such technologies are defined as integrated communication and control systems that provide both the building operator and occupant with an environment that is flexible, effective, comfortable, and secure. By using such systems, building operators can enjoy a single interface that can control a network of disparate building automation systems, which typically comprise electronic equipment that automatically performs specific facility functions.

The commonly accepted definition of a building automation system (BAS) includes the comprehensive automatic control of one or more major building system functions required in a facility, such as heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems. Automated systems include a collection of sensors that determine the condition or status of parameters to be controlled, such as temperature, relative humidity, and pressure. Similarly, output devices impart electronic signals or physical action to the control devices, which may be electric relays or damper and valve actuators. The sensors and output devices are connected either to a unitary controller or to a distributed processor.

Unitary controllers are limited to the needs of an intended function and, thus, have limited capabilities, such as memory size. Distributed processors can accommodate the requirements of several unitary controllers, as well as connect directly to input and output devices. Intelligent-building technologies revolve around the use of distributed processors that constitute "integrated systems."

Integrated systems bring a modicum of centralized and simultaneous control over lighting, security, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, fire suppression, and other building systems that form the crux of any intelligent building system.

Using such advanced intelligent-building technology provides both property managers and tenants with a comprehensive access and security system that can effectively and efficiently exchange information with other building systems. Fully integrated functionality makes it possible to open doors, notify responsible staff of unwanted intrusions, and ensure that lighting, fire, and other building-management systems are informed of personnel that enter or leave the building. This information then can be used to manage the local environment and resulting energy usage. Most intelligent-building systems are characterized by:

  • standardized building wiring systems that permit full building control over a single infrastructure
  • higher building value and leasing potential via increased individual environmental control
  • consumption costs that are managed through zone control on a time-of-day schedule
  • tenant control over building systems via computer or telephone interface
  • comprehensive tracking of tenant after-hour use for chargeback purposes
  • a single human-resources interface that modifies telephone, security, parking, local-area network, wireless devices, building directories, etc.

Increasingly, intelligent-building technologies are noted for their capacity to concurrently carry both a tenant's voice and data communications over the same wiring infrastructure that carries building control data. Many industry insiders say that an intelligent building should have high-speed wiring, real-time communications, real-time information, real-time services, and real-time integration. Generally, an intelligent building also should be flexible.

"A good intelligent design should incorporate flexibility to allow for easy change," notes Ehrlich. "Examples of this type of design characteristic include CLA (communications, life safety, automation) structured cabling design, and open space with movable or demountable partitions. An intelligent building needs to be designed to meet the needs of initial occupants and be flexible to meet the needs of future occupants."

For detailed guidelines on what constitutes an intelligent building or information on the latest intelligent building technologies, contact the Continental Automated Buildings Association. CABA is a not-for-profit industry association that promotes advanced technologies for the automation of homes and buildings in North America. The organization has published an in-depth examination of intelligent building technologies. The report, entitled Technology Roadmap for Intelligent Buildings, is freely available online at www.caba.org/trm.

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