Retrofitting older buildings with smart technology
Think of smart buildings and smart technology and you probably picture shiny new offices built especially with energy efficiency in mind.
But it doesn’t have to be this way – advances in smart technology mean it’s becoming easier than ever to retrofit to older buildings.
This article looks at some of the common misconceptions around making older buildings smart, and the benefits of doing it.
What exactly is smart technology?
The nature of smart technology is constantly evolving, but essentially it’s a system of connected devices which can measure data from your building and transform it into useable insights. These insights are then used to automate certain aspects of the building – for example controlling temperature or humidity levels.
Rather than relying on manual control of these systems, smart buildings do the hard work for you, spotting issues and rectifying them before they become a problem.
Why bother retro-fitting smart technology to older buildings?
Making the decision to invest in smart technology for older buildings can be difficult, but there’s never been a better time to consider it.
Energy efficiency and carbon reduction are huge issues for everyone involved in business right now and smart technology can play a key role in reducing emissions and helping companies become more sustainable. Older buildings are the biggest consumers of energy and will undoubtedly be one of the key areas under scrutiny as the government works towards its target to reduce carbon emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels (net zero) by 2050. Your company may already be working towards complying with the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) regulations.
While this may be your key driver there are also a wealth of other benefits to be gained by making your buildings smart – including reduced maintenance costs, more productive, happier staff and the ability to really optimise the use of your spaces
Some of the world’s most iconic older buildings have embraced smart technology with amazing results. Take, for example, the Empire State Building. Completed in 1931, it has been completely retrofitted with smart technology in the past decade and seen more than $4.4m of energy savings each year – and a 38% reduction in energy consumption.
Rick Fedrizzi, president of the US Green Building Council, said: “The Empire State Building has sent a powerful message that green buildings don’t have to be new – even the most iconic, historic buildings, as grand in scale as in reputation, can be among the most high-performing, energy-efficient, green buildings.”
Common concerns about retrofitting smart technology
There are a number of understandable concerns that facilities managers and their teams may have when it comes to introducing smart technology.
- It will be too expensive
While this may have been the case five or ten years ago, rapid advancements in technology, in particular the Internet of Things (IoT), mean this is no longer the case.Traditional building management systems may have relied on hard-wired points that can be expensive to install but most modern sensors can be connected wirelessly, without the need for expensive installation costs.The return on investment, in terms of reduced energy and maintenance costs, is usually achieved within a relatively short space of time. According to the McGraw Hill Construction SmartMarket Report, intelligent buildings use 20% to 40% less energy and result in 8% to 9% lower operating expenses with valuations 7.5% higher than those with older systems. 
- We’ll need lots of technical knowledge
The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) has simplified the introduction of smart technology systems, meaning complex pieces of bespoke software are often not required.Data can also be transmitted directly to the internet (or ‘cloud’) platforms, like Microsoft Azure and IBM Watson, where the information can be displayed and analysed at the touch of a button.
- It will be hard to update and maintain
Smart technology like sensors and the equipment that sends their data to the cloud are designed to be low-energy and low-maintenance. Many harvest their energy from their surroundings – light, movement etc – and do not require batteries at all, meaning there is no need to constantly check and replace them. Others are ultra-low power, ensuring a long battery life.
- The design of our building will make it hard to fit lots of equipment
Older buildings may not have been designed with smart technology in mind, but the latest kit is compact and lightweight, making it easy to fit to even the hardest to reach places. Wireless sensors are discreet and have an adhesive backing which can simply be stuck to walls, desks or ceilings with no screwing or external fixings required.Thick walls, which can sometimes obscure wi-fi signals, can be overcome with the use of ‘repeaters’ or signal-boosters, which help to extend the range of the products.
What if I don’t want to use a cloud platform?
In some gateways, like those supplied by Pressac, there is also the inbuilt option of creating a dashboard more locally using an application such as Node Red. This allows you to construct a simple dashboard to display the data being received by the gateway without needing to sign up to one of the cloud platforms.
Alternatively, your company may already have its own internal systems for processing and storing sensor information. Using a gateway to turn the data into a widely-recognised protocol like MQTT should ensure it is compatible with these systems and enable the data to be sent straight to them.
To find out more about Pressac’s gateways and smart sensors – including our Discovery Kits which are designed for those just getting started with smart technology – get in touch.