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Smart Environmental Control Systems in Buildings Are Constantly Adapting

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Clint Bradford

In 1979, Purdue University held a workshop called The Dynamic Response of Environment Control Processes in Buildings. One of the most lively areas of discussions involved how emerging computer technology could curtail energy usage—a topic that was both new and urgent. In the US Department of Energy’s report on the workshop, we find this prescient statement:

There are some people… who believe that comfort and energy may be simultaneously optimized through the use of operating strategies which consider the dynamic characteristics of comfort, the built structure, and the environmental control system.

Over forty years later, the means to reduce energy usage while keeping occupants comfortable has arrived. 

Technologies about which engineers could once only dream are now reality for modern environmental control systems in buildings. These systems harness the power of the Internet of Things and analytics software to enable better decision-making and dynamic automation. The result is smarter, healthier, and more inviting indoor environments.

Using Smart Environmental Control Systems in Buildings to Improve IEQ

In a smart building, a central building automation system (BAS) controls all systems connected to it, including those that regulate the indoor environment. The HVAC system is the centerpiece of this environmental control system, managing indoor air quality (IAQ) and thermal comfort (TC). Meanwhile, smart lighting systems impact visual comfort (VC). 

IAQ, TC, and VC are all vital components of indoor environmental quality (IEQ). With smart technologies, you can continuously monitor and improve these parameters in your building.

Smart HVAC Systems

Smart HVAC systems are instrumental in maintaining healthy IAQ levels and TC for occupants. A well-architected BAS integrated with IoT sensors and analytics ensures your HVAC system will:

  • Add fresh, conditioned air from outside to keep IAQ healthy.
  • Optimize occupant TC while minimizing energy use. 
  • Reduce contaminants that affect IAQ, including dust, volatile organic compounds (VOC), pollens, mold spores, carbon dioxide, and airborne microbes.
  • Regulate temperature and humidity to maintain a comfortable environment for occupants.

How exactly this happens can vary depending on your preferences. 

Smart Lighting Systems

What constitutes optimal lighting often comes down to individual preference. As a result, some level of manual control is usually necessary. However, smart lighting systems learn what users prefer and can make automatic adjustments in anticipation of their needs, minimizing reliance on manual intervention and improving the consistency of VC. Many modern lighting systems can also mimic daylight or otherwise modulate lighting quality to promote occupant VC. 

In addition to improving environmental conditions, smart lighting systems conserve energy and lower operating costs

Technology for Monitoring & Data Collection 

IoT technology is an inexpensive way to monitor building systems and collect environmental data. Internet-connected sensors, actuators, and controllers act like a network of nerves and are key elements of environmental control systems in buildings. However, raw sensor data has limited use. An analytics platform is necessary to make data meaningful and provide the information you need to make smart choices.

Adding analytics to your BAS and creating custom rules gives you virtually unlimited control options, such as:

  • Increasing ventilation in response to increased occupancy
  • Adjusting lighting according to the amount of sunlight in a room.
  • Dimming lighting during peak hours.
  • Adjusting airflow according to pressure sensor data
  • Increasing air filtration when IAQ sensors detect unhealthy levels of pollen, dust, or microbes in the air. 
  • Changing the temperature according to weather conditions. 

An analytics platform with machine learning (ML) capabilities will also improve its responses over time. As the dataset expands, automatic adjustments become more accurate, precise, and useful. Meanwhile, facility managers gain greater insight into building performance and the ability to take targeted action to improve comfort and efficiency. 

New Approaches to Conventional Strategies

Natural ventilation and mechanical shading have long been basic components of indoor environmental controls. Forward-thinking developers and building owners are now using advanced environmental control systems in buildings to improve IEQ even further. Controlled air exchange is an excellent example. 

Controlling air exchange from one side of a building to another helps adjust temperatures without air conditioning or heating. Using sensor information and your building’s ventilation system, you can redistribute cooler air to warmer parts of the building throughout the day. This strategy can also help you maintain comfortable humidity levels, as both air conditioning and heating affect moisture levels. 

Sensor-driven shading can also have a significant effect on IEQ. A 2019 study on the impact of shading devices on TC found that effective shading:

  • Blocks 80 percent of the sun’s rays into the building’s interior.
  • Blocks 75 percent of harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • Reduced cooling costs up to 30 percent. 

However, permanent shading may not give you the best results. Building owners who implement dynamic shading that changes in response to real-time conditions will reap the greatest benefits. 

Integrating Environmental Control Systems 

Unifying building systems and adding smart technologies to your BAS is the best way to create a powerful environmental control system. With an advanced, ML-driven analytics platform at the center of this system, you have the insight, control, and automation opportunities you need to manage comfort while optimizing efficiency—both today and in the future.

Buildings IOT offers state-of-the-art solutions for smart environmental control systems in buildings. Contact our team of experts to learn more about what we can do for you.

 

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