Smart Buildings: Assessing Your Building’s IQ

Paul Orrock, Regional Manager UK/Ire, Yardi

What exactly is a smart building? According to Paul Orrock, Yardi Regional Manager UK / IRE, that term isn’t very accurate. “I don’t like the term ‘smart building’ because all buildings, old or new, have a level of intelligence to them,” he said. Of course, comparing a decades old building to a new construction could show countless modern improvements, but the fact that our level of technology and modern intelligence improves, doesn’t mean a building used to be “dumb”, as Orrock explained. 

Communication is the key

“An older building can be made intelligent with a bit of foresight and vision,” Orrock said. What do you want your building to do? IQ starts with what communication is coming into a building. The communications available to the building will have a direct correlation as to how intelligent you can make a building. Imagine a building in the middle of thousands of acres of barren land. That structure is going to be limited in how intelligent it can be due to its limited communications infrastructure. 

In cities and urbanised areas, where the vast majority of residential and commercial buildings exist, the availability of modern, efficient communications is much more prevalent. A bespoke communications package or application is available directly to the user at a granular level to satisfy their communication needs. This allows property owners and managers to deploy increasingly intelligent devices and sensors, using artificial intelligence and the IoT. Lighting, heating, cooling, security, health & safety measures and other smart features tie together to make an automated building, leaving you to focus on your tenants’ needs and comfort. “These amenities and high IQ features also make a building more attractive from an asset management point of view. It will likely increase its yield because automation is decreasing costs,” Orrock explained. 

Providing communications infrastructure to all tenants in the building allows them to avoid having to go to an individual ISP, saving them time and money by using the connection distributed throughout the building. This infrastructure also provides the linkage for advanced systems such as energy efficient appliances, door access control, security cameras, meeting room and common area management, among others. 

The traditional office has undergone a significant shift from cubicles and private offices to large common areas, coworking space and meeting rooms or other areas to drive collaboration. While high-speed wireless used to be a ‘nice to have’ feature, it is now a must-have because it facilitates these internal and external collaborations. You want workers to have reason to linger around in common areas and to develop and share ideas. 

Retrofit IQ enhancements 

“There’s so much existing stock in the market that isn’t high IQ because it hasn’t undertaken any capital improvements,” Orrock said. When a building is merely generating yield with superficial cosmetic uplifts, its functionality is only servicing tenants with the same results for however long it’s been occupied. 

For example, the Queen Victoria building in Sydney, an incredibly designed and spacious marketplace built in the 1890’s, takes up an entire city block but was built with stairways almost exclusively. Amidst unoccupied space and a lack of revenue, the building underwent several renovation projects between 1917 and 1935, including multiple elevators being installed for patron and cargo usage. It actually took until 2008 to install escalators connecting the seven floors of the establishment. To this day, the building is a Sydney landmark and an enormous commercial center in the heart of the city. The enhancement to elevator and eventually escalator use is one of the ultimate examples of increasing building IQ. 

“If you take the elevator equation and replace it with high-speed internet today, it is the exact same premise,” Orrock said. Countless residential and commercial buildings in modern city centers are seeing the surrounding developments generate far greater yield because of their connectivity. Retrofitting an older building to have top of the line speeds is one way to financially compete with structures that have the newest amenities and tech. 

There are limitations to a retrofit, of course. Its position, its base foundation and building materials could limit you from optimization, like bringing in sunlight with a concrete slab roof, for example. In a new buildout, with a blank canvas, designers can create an ideal building for energy efficiency and connectivity. While there are challenges in a retrofit, they’re not insurmountable. 

Let’s take the example of solar power. This is an IQ enhancement that has far reaching implications, not just for financial savings in the building, but for the local communities to reduce dependance on fossil fuels to power the grid. When a large number of buildings turn to solar power in Australia, with its abundance of sunshine, it could pay huge dividends throughout the country. However, this is an upgrade that may not work in areas such as the UK, for example.

If a new residential buildout requires a 10,000-liter water tank to capture rainwater and use it for multiple occupier purposes, that is a high-IQ feature. Energy harvesting is a process by which sources such as solar, wind and rain energy are captured and stored to use. When we reference the IQ of a building, we don’t necessarily think of these features as tech savvy advances. However, in the grand scheme of building intelligence, cost savings and tenant comfort, installing elevators and escalators in an older building and clean energy sources for new developments should be considered major assets. 

Keep in mind the question, what do you want your building to achieve? Answering this will start your path to increasing your building’s IQ and ultimately creating a smarter facility. On a recent panel discussion at CRETech & Future PropTech virtual event, Bernard Heersche, executive development director at EDGE Technologies, stated the most important part of increasing your building IQ is making sure your infrastructure is perfected and deciding where and where not to invest. “Sensors are now cheap, and we put them anywhere to increase our flexibility,” he stated. 

In summary, to achieve an intelligent building you shouldn’t be driven by technology alone; it actually encompasses all manner of improvements. Keep your focus on your targets and goals for the building, whether its energy efficiency, sustainability, clean air provisions or anything else.