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Four Things Contractors Should Know about Smart Buildings

4.2.24

Nowadays everything is “smart,” from phones to watches to appliances to, well, buildings. In a smart building, major systems — such as HVAC, lighting and security — are integrated under a single managed network infrastructure that’s connected to the internet.

Increasingly, more structures are being built or retrofitted to include this technology to boost efficiencies, improve occupant health and well-being, and enhance the tenant or owner experience. In turn, contractors must rise to the distinctive challenges of smart buildings, be they commercial or residential. Here are four things to know:

1. It’s All About Connectivity. Smart buildings require a robust network to connect users with the building systems themselves, as well as with the equipment and devices they use in their work or daily lives. Where wiring is installed and smart objects are embedded can affect performance. The location of many smart objects, such as sensors and audio speakers, will need to be mapped out. Plan for Ethernet cable and AC power outlet placement near doors, windows, appliances and other access points. You may have to install or otherwise deal with 5G small cells throughout the property, too.

2. Green Materials and Design Elements Are Generally Preferred. Sustainability and energy efficiency usually lie at the core of smart buildings. Green elements include low-carbon concrete and green roof soil systems. It’s a good idea to stay on top of building material innovations, as new materials are being engineered to be smarter, stronger and more eco-friendly.

Also, many smart buildings are designed to meet criteria for green building certification, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). There may be federal and state tax breaks for the associated expenses.

3. Building Information Modeling (BIM) Tends To Be the Software of Choice. As you’re no doubt aware by now, BIM uses specialized software to design a 3D model that displays both the functional and physical characteristics of a structure — including underground assets. BIM centralizes all project data, allowing for an integrated approach across disciplines to avoid conflicts, reduce construction waste and keep everyone on the same page.

The BIM model created for a smart building during the construction phase is often handed off to the project owner as a “handbook” for operation and maintenance. The model will contain data on all building elements and their locations, which can include smart objects and network cables. Many experts believe BIM enables the optimal use of smart-building data.

4. Consultants May Be Necessary. Contractors are often tasked with installing many of the devices associated with smart buildings. These can include smart locks, badge readers, keypads, smart thermostats, parking lot cameras, video intercoms and technology-powered package rooms. In some cases, you may need to consult with a smart- or green-building technology specialist about how to best shop for and optimally install these devices.

Managing the costs associated with smart buildings can be tricky — especially if your construction company is still climbing the learning curve of these projects. So please also consider consulting our firm for help identifying, tracking and analyzing these costs.