Smart Building System Commissioning

Commissioning 101 – The Basics

When it comes to deploying new smart building technologies, system commissioning is by far the most overlooked construction phase. Moreover, system commissioning can pose some of the most challenging repercussions if done incorrectly. How is this possible? Well, in our experience, everyone thinks they can commission a system - it’s easy, simple as 1. 2. 3. Right?

Not so fast. Countless device installers can attest to this, I'm sure. Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of system commissioning, let’s first set the stage by explaining at a higher level what system commissioning is, exactly.

A 30,000-Foot View of Smart Building Commissioning

The term system commissioning isn’t without dispute. As those of you who live and breathe in this industry can attest, commissioning, in the traditional sense is a very different prospect from how the networked lighting control marketplace uses the term. To ensure we’re all on the same page in terms of what we mean by system commissioning, let’s discuss this a little further.

  • System Commissioning (Traditional Sense) – In the traditional sense, commissioning a project or system is the: “quality-oriented process for achieving, evaluating, and documenting that the performance of buildings, systems, and assemblies meet defined objectives and criteria…[ensuring] owners, programmers, designers, contractors, and operations and maintenance entities are fully accountable for the quality of their work.” (ASHRAE, Commissioning for Buildings and Systems).
  • System Commissioning (Smart Building Context) – While commissioning in the context of a smart building system involves evaluating and ensuring the performance of the system and quality of work performed, smart building system commissioning goes one step further to incorporate the physical act of programming and configuring system devices.

It's the inclusion of these additional programming steps that differentiate smart building system commissioning from traditional building system commissioning. Therefore, when as we use the term system commissioning, here, we refer to the extended process of device programming.

Where Does Commissioning Fit into the Deployment Process?

When deploying a smart building system – in this case, let’s use the example of an advanced networked lighting control system – there are multiple construction phases and sub-phases. Device commissioning typically comes into play a bit later in the deployment process, but this shouldn't be a hard-fast rule. This is explained further a bit later in the post.


Smart Building Deployment Process

  • Phase I – Pre-construction
  • Phase II – Construction
    • Sub-phase-I – Network Install
    • Sub-phase-II – Lighting Fixture Install
    • Sub-phase-II – Smart Device Install
  • Phase III – Device Commissioning
  • Phase IV – System Commissioning Finalized

As indicated above there are four main phases and three sub-phases of a smart building system deployment.  Each phase plays a critical role in the final operability of the smart building system. And while Phases III and IV are displayed later in the deployment process they are, in fact, rather important throughout the entire process.

What is System Commissioning?

System commissioning is the process of configuring each individual system device to determine three specific things 1) WHERE the device is located, 2) WHEN do you want the device to do something, and 3) WHAT do you want that device to do. In its simplest form, system commissioning is the task of creating communication lines between each system device.


So, that’s what system commissioning is, but how is it done, exactly? Let’s take a deeper look at the actual process of system commissioning and explore how this phase of a system deployment can present serious system operability challenges if completed incorrectly.

The Breakdown: Nuts and Bolts of Smart Building System Commissioning

The commissioning of a smart building system is broken into the following three phases:

System-Commissioning-PhasesSystem Commissioning Phases

  1. Network Configuration (i.e. standard for a wireless system)
  2. Fixture Device Configuration (i.e. internal fixture adapters and/or sensors)
  3. Controls Device Configuration (i.e. sensors/wall switches/thermostats/etc.)

Through each of these commissioning phases, it is the responsibility of the commissioning agent to integrate, configure, program, and commission each respective system device to 1) Define WHERE the device is located, 2) WHEN the device should do something, and 3) WHAT the device should do.

How’s this accomplished?

Depending on the smart building system platform (think a Daintree Networks, LG, Autani, or Enlighted systems), the commissioning process may vary. Often, though, an advanced networked lighting control system will have the same basic commissioning process no matter the platform: 1) Network configuration, 2) Fixture device configuration, and 3) Controls device configuration.

Below is an example of what the commissioning process of a single device looks like from a general perspective.


Commissioning Hurdles – Don’t Make a Mountain Out of a Mole Hill

It may seem as though the commissioning process is a no-brainer; not so fast. While this is generally true, there are a few system commissioning hurdles to be aware of. With that said, there's really no reason to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Let’s take a deeper look at some of these hurdles and how to overcome them.

System Commissioning Tips

  • Process, Process, Process: We cannot beat this drum enough. Having the right process from the get-go will save project stakeholders considerable time and frustration. Remember N.F.C.:
    1. Network Install and Configuration
    2. Fixture Device Install and Configuration
    3. Controls Device Install and Configuration


  • Parallel Commissioning: When commissioning system devices it is highly beneficial to commission devices in parallel with their installation. So, for example, let’s say the installing contractor is installing new fixture devices on Monday. If that's the case, then the commissioning of those devices should be completed on Tuesday.


  • System Design: When it comes to commissioning a smart building system, the difference between operability and system failure is a fine line. Ensuring the system design is feasible from the get-go goes a long way in determining the ease of which the system can be commissioned. If your network can’t “talk” with system devices, it’s pretty tricky to get them into the system, configured, and commissioned.


  • Project Roles and Responsibilities: From the outset defining project roles and responsibilities is critical. Knowing the responsibilities of team members plays a massive role in the overall flow of a project. Knowing who to go to for particular project responsibilities helps to streamline the deployment process. Thereby avoiding timely bottlenecks or miscommunication.

Still in the Weeds? Seek Help!

Still in the weeds when it comes to system commissioning? That’s OK. While it seems an easy enough process, the technical requirement, know-how, and learning-curve is steep. Don't let the technicalities get the better of you.  If you, your colleagues, installation contractors, or project managers are involved on a project with networked lighting controls and feel the water rising above your head, get some help! It’s far better to recruit some experienced help in commissioning a smart building system than going it alone. Successful smart building deployments are possible with the right help and process.

System Design Considerations: Zonal vs. Granular Control

Networked Lighting Control 101

Smart buildings, smart cities, smart everything. At every turn, it seems that more and more “things” are becoming smarter at an ever-quickening pace – including buildings and their lighting systems. While lighting controls have been around for decades – at least in their simplest form (i.e. relay control) – it’s the latest advancements in LED technology, coupled with the plummeting price of sensors, that will prove the biggest boon to this smart building workhorse.

What was once rudimentary on/off control with a hefty price tag, is now a cornucopia of efficiency options. Looking to task-tune your lighting with 0-10 step dimming? Now you can. Want to take advantage of daylight harvesting? Now you can. Temperature and humidity control? You guessed it, now you can. What’s more,  you now have the capability to take advantage of each of these control strategies on a single networked platform – allowing for control from any device, in any location, from any location. Now that's an improvement over legacy on/off control.

Today’s networked lighting control system benefits are easy to tout. And while nice to hear, simply recounting the bells and whistles of a given system leaves many end-uses at a loss in understanding how the system would work in their specific facility. Moreover, they're at a loss in understanding how a networked lighting control system should be designed for the desired outcomes they're shooting for. This alone is critical information that one must fully absorb if looking to upgrade a building's entire lighting infrastructure. I mean, we're talking about some serious investment dollars.

Whether you’re considering an advanced lighting control system to harvest data to improve operational efficiencies, or looking to reduce energy expenses through aggressive lighting control strategies, let’s explore the role system design will play in achieving your goals.

System Design Considerations

When it comes to a networked lighting control system there are really two system designs to consider:

1) Zonal Control System Design
2) Granular Control System Design

While each has their own unique benefits – of which we’ll cover in more depth below – the important thing to understand at this point is how each design controls fixtures. By understanding this first, we’ll then have a much better grasp of each design’s capabilities and whether it would fit your desired lighting control goals.

As a side note, these system designs are applicable to either a wired control system or a wireless control system. The important thing to note here is the desired outcome you’re looking to achieve and which design best fits. We’ll cover the differences between wired and wireless control systems in a future post.

So, what’s the difference between the two system designs? In a nutshell, a system that’s designed for zonal control can only control lights at the circuit level and a granular system design controls lighting at the fixture itself.

Let’s take a deeper look at why this is important and what role it plays in achieving your specific lighting control goals.

Zonal Lighting Control Design

As we mentioned, a zonal system design controls lighting at the circuit level. Thus, the flexibility of individual fixture control is limited. While this may be the case and seem like a major downfall, there are many benefits of a zonal system design. First, let’s look at what we mean when we say that lights are controlled at the circuit level.

Zonal Lighting Control Example



As pictured above a zonal system design relies heavily on the existing circuitry of the facility. Here, in this example, each of the colored areas above would indicate a wiring circuit. A zonal system design would place the control devices at the circuit level – usually at the electrical panel – and would control that given shaded area. The problem? Let's look at an example.

Example of Zonal Control Setback

For example, say for some areas of the building you’d like to develop a lighting control strategy that is different from the other areas of the building. Here, you’d be bound by the lighting circuit and some circuits may bleed over into another area of the building that you don’t necessarily want to apply that specific control strategy too. This is a very common setback when dealing with a zonal control design.

There are benefits of a zonal system design, though. Let’s take a look.

Benefits of Zonal System Design

As with any construction project, budgets are the be-all and end-all of what is, and is not, possible. This is where a zonal system design provides the most value. Due to the sheer fact that controlling lights at the circuit level automatically reduces the number of parts and pieces you’d need. You'd thereby find direct savings from lower material and installation labor costs.

But more than pure material and labor savings, a zonal system design may just be the best fit for your desired lighting control outcome. Let me explain.

Let’s say your end goal for a new lighting control system is to reduce energy expenses. Let’s also assume that you already have legacy sensors installed in your office spaces and work floor areas, but these are your traditional relay, on/off, sensors. The benefit of migrating to a more advanced networked lighting control solution can be found in the new capabilities gained. Namely, the ability to establish predefined, flexible, and comprehensive control strategies, that can be applied across your entire facility. Think step dimming (i.e. keeping lights at a lower level of burn), or facility-wide time schedules.

Even though you’re only controlling lights at the circuit level, with a networked communication path to all fixtures running back to a central control center you can now tell your lights to do far more things than in the past. Again, think in terms of dimming control, occupancy based control, and automatic time schedules (i.e. turn lights down to 30% at 5 PM, 15% at 8 PM, and then off after 10 PM) as mentioned above. These more advanced strategies will aid greatly in meeting your original end goal by squeezing the efficiency sponge a bit more.

So, what about granular control? How does this system design differ?

Granular Lighting Control Design

In a granular system design, the control capabilities go far beyond circuit level. In fact, the control capabilities of a granular design go down to the individual fixture itself. This granular control gives you far more flexibility in not only developing your lighting control strategies but in your data-harvesting capabilities as well.

Let’s look at what a granular control system design would look like.

Granular Lighting Control Example


As pictured above a granular system design considers each individual fixture in the overall system infrastructure versus existing circuit runs as in a zonal design (as indicated by the blue squares above). By mapping out each individual fixture and enhancing it with an individual controls device, end-users now have the power to create zones and control strategies as they wish – no longer bound by the existing wiring of the facility. Let's take a deeper look at some other benefits of a granular system design.

Let's take a deeper look at some other benefits of a granular system design.

Benefits of a Granular System Design

With deeper control capabilities, a granular system design fits the bill for most folks. Ideal for those who are looking to reduce energy usage and harvest meaningful operational data to drive productivity.

Through induvial fixture control, a granular system design provides end-users the power to develop extremely specific lighting control strategies centered around task-tuning. Task-tuning is the process of controlling light levels as they correspond to a specific task or job responsibility (i.e. lighting conditions for an open office space with hundreds of computers requires different lighting levels than an electronics manufacturing bench where highly detailed work is completed).

Going beyond task-tuning, a granular system design provides end-users with the flexibility for adapting their lighting control strategies. For example, to better align their control strategy with how building occupants use the building. Take for example a building with normal operating hours of 6 AM – 5 PM. While your facility is open at 6 AM, most employees won’t arrive until 9 AM. Moreover, various areas of your building may be under or over utilized throughout a given day. (i.e. The period between 5 PM and 9 PM when only cleaning personnel in the building. During this timeframe, there's no need to light 50,000 square feet of space when only 500 square feet is utilized).

A granular system design data-gathering capabilities needed to determine exactly which areas and “hot-spots” and “cold-spots”. In fact, these hot and cold spots can be tracked throughout the day, even down to the hour. Thereby, providing you with actionable data for matching your control strategies with your building occupant's habits.

Determining the Right System Design

Your specific needs, wants, and overall goals determine the system design that yields the greatest return on investment.  You'll be poised to design a system that is right for your facility, once these parameters are defined; along with a proposed project budget. At the end of the day, a one-size fits all approach will easily lead you astray. Key points to consider here are:

  1. How do your end goals correspond with a zonal design versus a granular design;
  2. Is there an opportunity to create a hybrid approach? Where some areas of your facility are zonal while others are granular.

By starting here you'll build the technical understanding required to ensure a smooth networked lighting control project.

Deployment Considerations: Networked Lighting Controls

As improved lighting control systems hit the market, sifting through the bells and whistles of a possible solution is a daunting prospect. To assist in overcoming this challenge, this week’s post offers key pieces of advice when researching system options. As a result, with the right gameplan, your organization will save time, money, and frustration.

Let’s jump in.

For the longest time, I’ve argued that the advent of more affordable networked lighting control systems would become the leading force in the commercial adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). And while both the IoT movement and networked lighting control advancements have been driven by cheaper sensor technology and higher computing power, how much has the commercial market latched on to the idea of the IoT vis-a-vis lighting control systems?

Well, the most recent Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is especially relevant in shedding some light on this question. The latest survey indicates that large commercial buildings are most likely to use advanced lighting control strategies to improve both operations and energy efficiency. So far, so good. Why? Consequently, these advanced lighting strategies are most effective when deployed through a networked lighting control system. Or in other words, a lighting control system that utilizes the Internet of Things.

Lighting Controls

As indicated in the above graph, the most used lighting control strategies in commercial buildings revolve around a few key themes. These themes include occupancy, task tuning, and scheduling. Moreover, the specific increase in controls strategies used by commercial buildings include the following, more IoT-specific, strategies:

  • Occupancy Control
  • Plug-load Control
  • Scheduling
  • Building Automation
  • Demand-Response Lighting Control
  • Multi-level/Dimming Light Control
  • Daylight Harvesting

The interesting aspect of these results is not the fact that larger commercial buildings are more likely to use lighting control strategies, that’s a given. The bigger the commercial building, the more energy that building will use, so of course increasing energy efficiency would be of interest.  The fact that the strategies they're choosing to implement are in direct parallel with networked lighting controls – or smart building technologies fueled by the Internet of Things - is what's interesting. Not to mention, helping to back the IoT adoption vis-a-vis networked lighting controls argument.

Smart Building Design

The power of networked lighting control systems is their capacity to gather, store, and analyze data on a single platform. This data collection provides facility managers and building owners with deeper insight to facility operations. As a result, facility operation teams are empowered to drive further efficiency cost savings with actionable information. But in order to take advantage of this deeper insight, you first need to know where to start when evaluating system options. Here are some of the top system design and deployment considerations to keep in mind.

Before your organization can take advantage of this deeper insight, you first need to determine which smart building (i.e. networked lighting control) technology will best suit your specific needs.  To assist in this sometimes painstaking process, here are some of the top system design and deployment considerations to keep in mind.

Key System Research and Deployment Tips

  • Installation Challenges: Some systems may not be appropriate for particular use cases because they're difficult to deploy. Building managers should be certain that the solution they choose fits their unique use case. For example, are you controlling a single facility, multiple facilities, HVAC systems, lighting system, or a combination of all?
  • User Interface: Can the system be accessed via a Web browser? Is there a smartphone app? How do facility managers and building owners seek to use the system? Will they access data remotely, onsite, a combination of the two? Answering these questions can help determine which type of system to consider.
  • Data Collection & Reporting: As a first step in determining which type of networked building control system to consider, facility management and building owners must determine what pieces of information are important to each party and answer the following questions: Does the platform report system status? Is it possible to track custom key performance indicators (i.e. energy used, space utilization, etc.)? Does the system platform generate useful reports?
  • System Design: Depending on the system technology, deployment strategies may differ greatly based on facility environment. The deployment of a wireless system in a large open warehouse will differ greatly from a twenty-one-story building. Understanding these environmental variables is key to designing a control system that fits your specific facility's needs and delivers the meaningful insight you require.

Smart Building Control System Design Considerations

Why is the design of your smart building control system important? For starters, your smart building transformation begins with the design of your system. As a result, if your initial system design is shoddy the result will be an incomplete system. At the bare minimum, your system will run at a suboptimal rate, shorting you on any projected investment returns.

Moreover, the initial system design is the template from which the installation team will take direct instruction. Therefore, if the design is missing key system components, your system installation will prove inoperable. Even worse is the fact that you’ll take a bath with additional contractor costs to re-install system devices correctly. These types of challenges are simply not worth the time, frustration, and potentially exorbitant project costs, due to something that is easily avoidable.

What steps can you take to avoid system design shortfalls?

System Design


Key Considerations for Effective Control System Design

To ensure your smart building control system is designed to deliver the ROI you’re seeking, here are a few additional considerations:

  1. System Goals: What goals do you want to achieve with your smart building system? And what pieces of information will you need to achieve those goals?
  2. System Characteristics: Based on your overall goals, will a Zonal controls design or a Granular controls design work best?
  3. Environmental Application: Based on your physical environment where is your system going to live? Are you implementing a system in a warehouse, office building, or retail space?
  4. Cost Restraints: What kind of cost restraints do you have when it comes to building your system? If you are on a tighter budget you may need to reassess your overall goals and system design.

Keeping these system design considerations top of mind when evaluating/implementing a new system solution, you can rest assured that your finalized system will deliver the value required to justify your organization’s investment. It is clear that the power of today’s advanced networked lighting and building control solutions are bar none. It is only through the right planning and forethought, though, that your organization can take advantage of the growing opportunity to deploy a smart building system smoothly. Therefore reaping the many energy and non-energy benefits it provides today, while laying the foundaiton for future expansion of a complete smart building infrastructure.

IoT Wars: Smart Buildings vs. Smart Homes

Waging War within the IoT

Truth be told the Internet of Things (IoT) has a dirty little secret that it’s hiding from the world. Under the cloak of darkness, there is a clandestine war brewing between IoT’s heavyweights: The consumer smart home and commercial smart buildings. Who will reign supreme?

In today’s post, we’re going to endeavor to find out. We’ll take a deeper look at the specific characteristics that make up a consumer smart home and industrial smart building, while also reviewing how each market segment impacts businesses and consumers alike.

Let’s dive in.

Consumer IoT

So before we can jump into the connected home, let’s first take a look at consumer IoT as a whole. The consumer Internet of Things – as the Computer Business Review (CBR) defines it – … "is the Internet of Things that relates to connected devices aimed at the consumer market.” OK, that’s sort of helpful. Let’s expand a bit more to provide a fuller picture of what we mean by consumer IoT.

Let’s first think about the Internet of Things in general terms – the billions of connected devices that will merge our digital and physical worlds. As the CBR puts it, consumer IoT includes the connected devices geared toward the consumer. So what do they mean, specifically? Well, consumer IoT includes the Fitbit-like wearables, “smart” coffee makers, widgets and gadgets that we’d pick up at Best Buy or on Amazon for personal convince. It is within this consumer-driven world that a smart home lives.

The Smart Home

The smart home is coming to a neighborhood near you. Maybe even your own home. Don’t think so? You might be surprised at just how connected our homes already are. What is a smart home, exactly? According to CNET, a smart home is:

A home that is equipped with network-connected products (i.e. “smart products,” connected via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or similar products) for controlling, automating, optimizing functions such as temperature, lighting, security or entertainment, either remotely by a phone, tablet, computer, or a separate system within the home itself.”

If you have recently installed a Nest thermostat or purchased the surprisingly not so smart Amazon Alexa, your home has already entered the smart home world. Congratulations, you’re an early adopter! You’re now part of what some analysts are predicting to be a smart home market value of $21 billion by 2020.

How does this smart home market prediction compare to that of industrial smart buildings?

Industrial IoT

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or the Industrial Internet as General Electric likes to call it, is the digitization of our physical world through harnessing sensor data, machine-to-machine learning, and big data analytics. Using these three pillars the Industrial Internet of Things is slated to make offices, warehouses, manufacturing lines, and industrial plants smarter and more efficient.

Commercial Smart Buildings

Slated to morph into a $25 billion market by 2021, commercial smart buildings are certainly on the rise. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again it’s not just us saying this: the like of Cisco, GE, IBM, they’re all touting the Industrial Internet of Things.

So, what makes a commercial smart building smart? Let’s find out.

Whether it is a manufacturing line, commercial warehouse, or corporate office building, there are three main components to a commercial smart building. The first is sensor implementation. With the rapid drop in sensor price organizations now have the capacity to place data gathering sensors throughout their entire building infrastructure (think, lighting, machines, HVAC systems, etc.). The second smart building component is data storage, and the third is data analytics. If you’re collecting trillions of bytes of data from a building’s infrastructure (vis-à-vis your thousands of newly installed sensors) you’ll need a place to store and analyze it. These are the components that are the foundation of any commercial smart building.

So who’s slated to win this battle royal between smart homes and commercial smart buildings?

Smart Buildings vs. Smart Homes: Who Wins?

If we are to only take the predicted market value of these two markets (smart homes at $21 billion and industrial smart buildings at $25 billion) it certainly seems that industrial smart buildings are favored to win the war.

The sheer number of U.S. households is a whopping 125 million versus a measly 5.6 million commercial buildings, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). While commercial buildings pale in comparison, the EIA pegs that commercial energy use represents over 53% of total US. energy usage. Therefore, the energy savings potential alone could very well sway the pendulum.

Driving the mass-market adoption of 125 million homes is a tall order. Especially when compared to the total commercial building market.  As more businesses make the move to smarter building operations free market competition soon follows. Thus, driving the greater adoption among business in an effort to gain a competitive edge.

Time will only tell how the smart home vs. smart commercial building war will play out. I certainly have my money on commercial smart buildings. And not just because I live and breath this world daily. In my humble opinion, the combining forces of higher operational investment capacity and free market competition mechanics will foster the rapid adoption of commercial smart buildings over smart homes.

Bottom-line, the next five years will reveal whether smarter commercial buildings will, in fact, lead the charge of IoT adoption.

Cash In, Cash Out: Smart Buildings and Your Money

What are Smart Buildings?

Smart buildings, smart cities, smart everything. At every turn, it seems that more and more “things” are smarter at an ever-quickening pace – including buildings. Historically serving a sole purpose – keeping the elements where they belong; outside – today’s buildings are far more purposeful.

So, what is a smart building? Are we talking about the Jetson-esque buildings of Orbit City, with hundreds of Rosie-the-Maids running around your office? Not exactly, but close.

Today’s advancements in technology are allowing for greater interconnectedness between building systems. It’s through this connectedness of facility systems (think, HVAC, lighting, security, access control, etc.) that’s the basis of a smart building.

The Building Efficiency Initiative offers a great definition of what a smart building is and can do:

At the most fundamental level, smart buildings deliver useful building services that make occupants productive (e.g. illumination, thermal comfort, air quality, physical security, sanitation, and much more) at the lowest cost and environmental impact over the building lifecycle…Smart buildings use information technology during operation to connect a variety of subsystems, which typically operate independently so that these systems can share information to optimize total building performance.”

Let’s take a deeper look at that makes this all happen.

Sensors Everywhere: The emergence of the IoT workhorse

What's driving this integration of building systems? Say hello to my little friend, the mighty little sensor. Seriously. Even though sensor technology has been around for decades, the reduction in price is fueling wider adoption. Just take a look at the below figure from GE. Since 2004 sensor prices have declined by some 62%. Moreover, sensor prices are predicted to drop by another 24% by 2020. So over the course of sixteen years, sensor prices will have dropped a whopping 86%! That's some serious bang for the buck.

Smart Buildings and Sensor Technology

It’s this drastic price reduction in sensor technology that is powering (no pun in intended) the Internet of Things (IoT) and in turn the advent smart buildings. And we’re not just talking new construction here. The lower prices of sensors foster their placement virtually anywhere; including within existing building fixtures, HVAC vents, doors, windows, the list goes on.

Well that's cool, right? We can put sensors everywhere. Where’s the value, you ask?

Let’s find out.

What’s the value of a Smart Building?

Great, we can now afford to have little sensors in every nook and cranny of our facility. Should we care? I mean, simply having some sensors lodged into our building’s crevasses doesn’t necessarily scream investment opportunity. Or does it?

Let’s take a closer look at how sensor integration can bring value to our facility (and moreover our bottom-line).

Smart Building Operations: Reducing Costs

Building operations is not a cheap business. Per the U.S. Department of Energy, the annual energy costs for U.S. commercial/industrial buildings is an astounding $400 billion. Spread across the 5.9 million commercial/industrial buildings in the U.S., we’re talking about energy bills upwards of $70,000.00 per building. Those dollars and cents add up pretty quickly, don’t they?

So how can a smart building’s sensor infrastructure help in reducing these costs? When you consider that HVAC and lighting make up 59% of commercial building energy use, proper energy management is key. In fact, this is where an advanced monitoring system can help shed real dollars from your energy bill. And this isn't simply fluffed hyperbole, here. Per a study conducted by Texas Instruments, advanced HVAC and lighting controls (i.e. sensors) can cut energy use by 40%. (Oh, by the way, that’s just savings from sensor control. Upgrading lighting technologies from dated fluorescent fixtures to LED will reduce those costs even further).

Reduce Energy Costs - Smart Building

Improving Productivity

The implementation of sensor technology not only drives cost reduction, it can improve productivity. Embedding sensors within your building infrastructure provide greater granular control. This granular control gives facility managers the capability to optimize their building systems. As such, system optimization is the cornerstone to uncovering non-energy benefits. Including increased employee productivity. In fact, the same Texas Instruments study found that optimizing control systems can contribute to a 3% increase in employee productivity. This productivity increase is attributed to better thermal comfort and more appropriate lighting conditions.

What’s referred to as task tuning – the ability to granularly control a lighting fixture and optimize its output for a particular task at hand – has a profound effect on worker productivity. This actually reminds me of an example from a colleague of mine. The story goes a little something like this:

Working with an aluminum manufacturer in the Southeast U.S. my colleague had just wrapped up a new LED lighting upgrade on their client’s manufacturing floor. During a follow-up call to see how the new lighting system was working, my colleague was happy to hear the new LED fixtures and control system were delivering the promised energy savings as originally spec’d.

My colleague then asked if there were any other benefits of the lighting system that the client found. At that point, the client was all too happy to share some exciting news. By optimizing the lights over the sheet cutting workstation the employees saw a 2% reduction in aluminum waste. What's the big deal? Well for this client a 2% decrease in scrap aluminum was so signficant it actually dropped their project payback from 1.75 years to an amazing 3 months! Now if that’s not a direct non-energy benefit of a smarter building system, I don’t know what is.”

Deeper Insight: The more you know, the better you can manage

The old adage you can’t manage what you can’t measure directly applies to building operations. Luckily you can now collect and analyze more through a Building Management System (BMS). The mere fact you can now use sensors to measure what was once unmeasurable is a game changer. Gathering data on a lighting, HVAC, security, or an access control system unlocks significant business value. Consequently, smart buildings have the ability to tell a larger story - from space planning to occupancy based optimization.

The fact that 30% of energy in a building is used inefficiently or unnecessarily also gives reason to pause. Diving into these areas to determine where and how this energy is wasted is part of the larger story a smart building can tell. With deeper data analytics you can now pinpoint wasted kilowatts down to the machine.


The power of data collection and analysis is the real value of a smart building. There will be a point when the energy sponge has been squeezed dry and productivity is maxed out. As a result, it will be up to the smart building’s analytical brain to push the envelope even further to unlock additional business value.

Smart Buildings of the Future

Pinpointing how your facility not only uses energy but lives organically provides untold value to your business. Least not of which is how to improve operations, productivity, and efficiency. As the Internet of Things advances the power of a smart building will only increase. What we think of as groundbreaking today will simply be a footnote in five years time. Tomorrow’s smart buildings will be a Jetson-esque reality. Your desk will know who you are and how you like your lighting and temperature – no matter where you sit or what office you’re in. And little robots will swing by to serve you lunch…far-fetched you say? Well, robots are already running fast-food joints.

At the end of the day, it will be quite fascinating to see what the smart building of tomorrow will look like. For now, there is certainly enough "dumb" buildings that we need to bring up to speed and make smart.