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Why is a “Living Building” the next stage in built environments?

Originally published by AutomatedBuildings. For eons our buildings were silent, static structures. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) transforms how we experience the world around us, our buildings are achieving new awareness as well. Hear from Kunal Sikka, VP Sales, Atrius and Scott Hamilton, VP, Sales, Distech Controls as they discuss why a "living building” is the next stage in built environments.

This article was originally published by AutomatedBuildings.

1) Why is a “Living Building” the next stage in built environments?

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) transforms how we experience the world around us, our buildings are achieving new awareness as well. For eons our buildings were silent, static structures. Connectivity through high-speed telecom, machine learning, streaming data and cloud technology have enabled buildings to sense, think and act. An intelligent living building will decide autonomously, faster than human intervention can, what actions will be the most energy efficient while making occupants safer and more comfortable.  

A combination of hardware infrastructure that collects data from operational equipment and propagates that to comprehensive software solutions means buildings can sense and respond to changing conditions. Connecting people with intelligent building solutions creates better health, better spaces, and higher efficiencies.

2) How do we define ‘intelligence’ in a building?

A built space’s intelligence can be described as blending technology and systems to create a space that is smarter, safer and greener. An intelligent building uses data and software to recognize its occupants: operational processes are streamlined when people can easily enter a building and move about depending on their level of access. A living building can grant visitors temporary access to specific areas and provide them optimal routes through large office complexes with location aware maps and wayfinding abilities. Intelligent buildings are able to think, predict and adapt to upcoming events based on recorded experience from prior events. Meetings can be more productive if connected systems consider how many people are attending, open rooms that have already been cooled or heated, change air exchange rates as needed, automatically trigger fans, window screens and other devices required. 

3) How does a living building reduce energy consumption?

A living building senses conditions and proactively adjusts for optimal energy allocation before human intervention is required. A connected building continuously monitors its HVAC, lighting and other critical equipment and can make energy-smart decisions in response to changing conditions. Spaces that are enabled to optimize energy autonomously then free up human capital to instead invest in higher priority activities  (engaging occupants in sustainability initiatives, reducing the manual processes they have for tracking/reporting).

For example, sensors within a space can detect that the room temperature is rising due to people gathering within a confined space and can automatically turn on the AC or adjust other settings to ensure comfort is maintained. In addition, comparing historical patterns to current data will detect anomalies that signal problems. When preventive maintenance tools catch problems early on, an expensive asset’s lifespan can be extended. Costly repairs and disruptions are then avoided or reduced.  

4) What kinds of buildings can be considered “living”?

Any building can be brought to life by incorporating a combination of data-gathering hardware infrastructure and software solutions that help the building sense, think and act. Corporate buildings, schools, health care facilities, manufacturing plants, and airports are ripe for critical retrofitting and upgrades. 

Older buildings can greatly improve energy use and occupant satisfaction with the installation of intelligent systems that don’t require starting from ground-up renovations. Solutions that are open source platforms vs. proprietary, enabled building owners and operators the choice of who they bring onboard as installing contractor and service provider. This also creates an opportunity to connect with other open digital services as the building needs change. Simple measures, like installing dimmable LED lighting, shading systems, motion sensors and heat recovery mechanisms can make a large energy-saving impact on any type of building, old or new, large or small, turning a formerly mute building into a living, aware environment. 

A built environment that is deeply attuned to all the activities happening within creates frictionless day-to-day operations and ultimately helps inhabitants be more productive, maybe even happier. People feel more connected to a building that responds to their needs with meaningful action.

5) How are sustainability goals and technology intersecting to create a better built environment?

A living building that optimizes its energy use based on real-time conditions will improve its operational efficiency, contribute to sustainability goals and support climate resilience. Because technology is bringing data to life with real-time views of energy allocation, analysis, interpretation and subsequent action, you can set realistic goals and engage all stakeholders. The correlation between energy awareness and energy savings have been well studied and some research has shown that increasing awareness alone can result in up to 20 percent energy savings. Energy demand is mostly influenced by end user choices and behaviors, making the effectiveness of the adoption of new technologies dependent on users being aware of any potential energy saving methods/technologies at their disposal. Distech Controls and Atrius customers are seeing a 20 to 30 percent energy reduction just from being able to see the information in the right way. Public-facing displays and kiosks that showcase progress on ESG and energy conservation goals foster more collaboration and behavior modification. 

Technology that allows for holistic deeper insight and centralizes aggregated data can identify where renewable, greener energy sources make sense. Buildings account for about 40% of all energy consumption and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. HVAC systems are the most intense users of energy within a building, consuming up to 40 percent of its total energy.

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