The Rise of Smart Buildings


In today’s world, “location, location, location” has been replaced by innovation, innovation, innovation. Technology and construction materials are getting smarter, so it should be no surprise that entire buildings are getting smarter, too.

What’s Smart About Smart Buildings?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term “smart building,” it is a structure embedded or retrofitted with internet-connected devices and appliances. It is the evolution of how and where we’ll be living and working in the near future, and it will greatly increase efficiency in building operations, dramatically reduce utility costs, and simplify daily life for tenants and management.

Smart building technology is expected to grow by 34 percent annually over the next five years, with a prediction of reaching a total market value of nearly $25 billion by the year 2021.

Smart technologies won’t just help automate many building functions that humans normally perform; the devices will actually handle the operations themselves, using sensors and artificial intelligence autonomy to make decisions on their own. Nearly every building function will benefit from this smart tech:

  • Security and surveillance systems will lock and unlock doors based on visual identification, even contacting the authorities or emergency services when warranted.
  • Energy management systems will be able to turn lights on or off, raise and lower thermostat temperatures, and handle HVAC control systems based on occupants without the need for human intervention.
  • Smart infrastructure management will automate parking systems, control water usage, and manage elevators and escalators.

These innovations, some of which are already in use today, will lower staff and payroll costs, reduce human error, simplify operations for building management, and more importantly, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, lower utility costs, and decrease energy consumption.

How? Here are a few facts and figures of how much energy is being misused in commercial buildings across the country today:

  • 38 percent of total U.S. energy consumption is dedicated to lighting.
  • 45 percent of all buildings stay lit even when they’re closed.
  • 49 percent of all buildings are completely lit during business hours.
  • The average commercial building spends around $15,700 on electricity every year.

How do buildings get so smart?

Imagine how much energy will be saved once lights know when to turn themselves off. And this is only the beginning of smart functionality. As technology evolves with our handheld devices, our refrigerators will soon be able to tell us if we’re out of milk, then ask if it should order more. Our beds will show us how we slept the night before. We’ll be able to communicate with our home appliances from anywhere in the world that has a network connection.

This is all being made possible by the “Internet of Things” (IoT). The IoT is the term given to all the devices that collect, send, and receive data via the internet. Entire industries are beginning to embrace IoT innovations, including banking, hospitals and healthcare, transportation, and of course, design and construction. The more the technology grows, the more we’ll be able to do with it.

What’s next with smart tech?

Soon smart buildings and structures will become so automated, they’ll be able to diagnose and make structural and system repairs on their own without the need for humans. New tech is currently being designed that will allow buildings to measure seismic activity and ambient vibrations before and after earthquakes. Smart buildings will soon lead to entirely smart cities, with traffic signals that communicate with cars and streets, freeways that read traffic and foresee congestion, infrastructure that delegates power usage on its own, and so much more.

One perfect example of a smart city is already under construction in Ashburn, Virginia. The Gramercy District project is a 2.5-million-square-foot, $500 million complex that’s one of only a few in development. Once completed, this entire city will be a seamless blend of technology and structure, where residents can interact with everything around them using only their smartphones.

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