Modern buildings, commercial spaces, and even homes increasingly implement advanced building automation and control technology to improve energy efficiency, user comfort, and extend the life cycles of equipment.
Building Automation Basics
At the core of any building automation system, or BAS, remains a central computing hub. This is where software processes the variety of signals it receives from connected sensors, switches, and user inputs. In a typical home, a Wi-Fi network connects devices wirelessly. Further, it will often connect them to the internet, allowing remote access from any web-connected device.
In a commercial setting, more advanced industry-standard communication protocols, such as BACnet or LonTalk, are used. These systems allow for a wide range of inter-connectivity between various devices from different manufacturers. Sensors that can be incorporated into a BAS include temperature, humidity, air flow, pressure, motion, electrical load, or discrete digital inputs.
The BAS will also accept inputs from user devices which can include keypads, terminals, computer programs, or mobile phone apps. In addition, the BAS can then combine these inputs and use them to control machinery and equipment connected to the network. This includes HVAC units, lighting, security systems, fans, doors, or cameras.
Smart technology for homes is constantly expanding and improving. NEST products now include thermostats, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and cameras. They are connected through the internet to a smartphone app, allowing remote control of any of the connected systems. Through the app, a homeowner can program the thermostat to cool the house when no one is home or check-in using an indoor or outdoor camera.
Third-party devices can also connect to the system. These include refrigerators, hot water heaters, ovens, power outlets, pet-feeders, light bulbs, smart watches, door locks, security systems, and nearly anything else imaginable. Connected devices can be programmed to perform tasks automatically, based on smartphone location data, timers, calendars, or temperature sensors.
The system can turn down the thermostat, hot water heater, lights, and in-floor heating when it detects that no one is home. It can activate outdoor lights and send a live video stream if someone arrives at the front door. It can even inform you if the oven was left on. The possibilities are endless.
The only real difference between homeowner systems and commercial applications is scale. A large building can have many more devices and sensors connected, but the core function remains the same. The primary focus of commercial systems, however, is energy efficiency over user convenience.
In a large building or factory, even a small percentage of energy savings can have a huge benefit, not only in lower utility costs but also in reductions of CO2 emissions. With an efficient BAS, a building can attain a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating, which is a measure of energy efficiency and low environmental impact in building design.
As technology advances, the potential risks grow for building automation. Each day, more devices become connected to the internet. This is now referred to as the “Internet of Things”. The ease and convenience increases, but so does the potential reward for hackers. Anything controlled by the user or by software could potentially be taken over by a malicious hacker.
It is vital that digital security remains a priority, especially in a home setting. Many smart devices are not as secure as they may seem and are often only as secure as the home’s Wi-Fi network. Some good first steps include changing your Wi-Fi network’s password to something unique. Use the latest encryption protocols and enable MAC address filtering, which allows only devices specifically approved to connect to the network.
Building automation systems will continue to grow in ability and convenience. As long as the potential risks are managed, the possibilities for energy efficiency and user comfort remain nearly endless.