September 2013

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Defining a Smart Building: Part Two

System Integration, AV & Water

Jim Sinopoli
Jim Sinopoli PE,
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor

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Defining a Smart Building: Part One

We set forth to define a smart building by addressing the second group of smart building attributes: system integration, AV and water. Let’s start with system integration, which is one of the most important and fundamental parts of a smart building.

System Integration

Layers System integration can have a significant impact on building operations and operational costs. Integration starts with the notion that building monitoring or control systems are really communication devices and that there is commonality in what looks like disparate building systems. Communications systems have components or “layers” that provide the functionality to get data from one place to another. There are opportunities to integrate systems on different “layers” or components of building systems. In the initial article of defining a smart building, we addressed the physical layer of a network and how cable and related pathways can be converged or integrated for multiple systems, resulting in efficiency in installation and reduction of capital costs and time. If you take a look at the other lower layers of a network you find similar opportunities; at the physical layer almost all the systems can use standard telecom cable, at the data link level its Ethernet, at the network layer it’s IP, and at the transport layer its TCP.

When considering long term operations, buildings can benefit from system integration by functionally linking two different building systems. This provides capabilities that neither system could do by itself. If the integration involves normalizing and standardizing multiple system databases that can be shared and analyzed, the benefit is a foundation for developing insightful building metrics and eventually better building management.

Deploying system integration in a smart building typically involves:

Audio-Visual Systems

Many times the deployment of audio visual systems are undervalued and marginalized. What you find however is AV systems can affect tenant satisfaction, energy usage and operations, and are an important part of a building. The AV industry is interesting because contractors, manufacturers, AV managers and technicians have hands-on experience with system integration, albeit at a slightly different reference point than the integration issues many building owners and facility managers generally refer to. Also they have experience with the design and construction process. Typical AV integration may include IT, shading, security and other building systems. There are several AV facets and options that are needed to make a building smarter:

Paging and Messaging Systems

Paging & Messaging SystemsPaging and messaging systems in a building may be thought of as secondary systems, but oftentimes they are really a part of life safety. Paging is also used in many educational and large healthcare, corporate and government buildings such as airports, and convention centers. Legacy paging systems were typically a
separate piece of equipment connected to a PBX (something which is now long gone). Current systems are built on VOIP-type technology and IP end devices, including IP speakers. The network connectivity allows authorized users to send and broadcast audio simultaneously to speakers and IP telephones. Some systems have the capability to concurrently send a multicast audio stream and text messages that can be delivered to not only paging speakers and IP telephones but also PCs, tablets and smartphones.

Some messages could be information on weather conditions or event reminders for organizations. More importantly, the messaging and notification can be used for emergency and crisis situations. The notification  capability of the system can provide real-time communications within a building or across a campus regarding an emergency situation thus significantly improving life safety and security.

Digital Signage - Digital signage is a very compelling technology. The medium has “stickiness”, few people will not at the very least, glance at or pay attention to a plasma or LCD display. It’s a communication system that’s effective, immediate and dynamic. It can be utilized in a variety of building types. Digital signage can be used to inform, entertain, communicate, advertise, and enhance the experience one has within a building. Different building types will have various uses for digital signage. Here are a couple examples:

Digital Signage

One of the most innovative uses of digital signage has been for life safety where it augments the fire alarm and building automation systems. The digital sign is set next to the traditional “Exit” signs at egress points. In an emergency such as a fire, if the stairwell is not safe for evacuation, the digital display can provide a message such as “Smoke in Stairwell, Do Not Enter, Safe room is Room 123…..” The system can allow the Fire Command Center or Emergency Command that responds to the alarms the ability to control the signage and view the situation through an optional camera, thus improving evacuation and response.

Monitoring and control of AV systems - Remote monitoring of the status and operation of AV systems is key to effective management. It allows equipment to be turned on or off, provides the usage or life expectancy of consumables such as bulbs for projectors, thus touching on maintenance, efficient operations and energy consumption. It also can allow for replacing a traditional control room at the back of an auditorium.

Room Scheduling Software – Managers of large buildings and campuses need to control the scheduling of meeting and conference rooms and can do so with software applications, sometimes called event management software, to efficiently and effectively find and book space. Booking a room and setting a date and time is certainly the initial part of arranging a conference or event, however once set the scheduling data can be used to reserve equipment, schedule needed service personnel, unlock doors, change the temperature setpoint, or turn on the lights and eventually revert the room back to unoccupied mode. This software is really a  specific “asset management” software, managing the assets (meeting and conference rooms), but also coordinating the energy consuming systems (HVAC and lighting) so that the room is lit and cooled just prior to the scheduled meeting and brought back to unoccupied status once an occupancy sensor registers it as empty.


Most of the focus and attention regarding buildings is on energy; alternative energy sources, smart power grids, and energy use of HVAC and lighting systems. Somewhat lost in all that attention is water. Water is a critically different resource; may be our most precious resource. Where alternatives exist for energy sources there are no alternatives to water. If you don’t think water is important consider that people can survive longer without food and certainly without energy than they can without water; not surprising considering that two thirds of the human body by weight is composed of water.

Water also has a direct connection to energy use. Every gallon or liter of water consumed requires some pumping or treatment which uses energy, therefore reducing potable water use reduces energy consumption.

Water The critical nature of water is recognized in green building programs throughout the world. Water efficiency is one of the five main categories for US Green Building Council’s LEED certification. LEED credits related to water use address landscaping, water use reduction and innovative wastewater techniques. A major thrust of water efficiency is the reduction or elimination of the use of potable water. Techniques such as rainwater capture, advanced wastewater treatment, greywater “harvesting”, and water-conserving plumbing fixtures are all tools that can be used to reduce the use of potable water.

From a smart building perspective however, the interest is primarily in how we manage and monitor the water use in buildings. More specifically, the focus is on the systems that will allow us to collect data on water use and provide actionable information to the facility or property manager. Water use in commercial buildings obviously vary by building type; the type of plumbing fixtures, restrooms, landscaping needs, the use of hydronic cooling systems, kitchens, cafeterias, and labs. Monitoring and managing water systems in buildings have several advantages:

Networked water monitoring and management systems consist of flow meters, sensor-operator water fixtures such as facets, urinals, water closets, occupancy sensors, automated ball valves and water valves. Some of these devices can be monitored and managed and others may only be able to be monitored. These types of management systems are also applicable to greywater, wastewater and recycled rainwater systems. For example, a greywater system will need to monitor ultraviolet lamps used to disinfect greywater, the filters, system pressure, UV lamp life and failure, pumps, and other devices.

Generally the area of water monitoring and management has been primarily developed around water utilities, landscaping applications and special water-intense processes and uses. For a smart building we would expect the building would deploy:

The next installment of “Defining a Smart Building” will address networks and security, fire alarm and occupant satisfaction.

For more information about smart buildings, technology design or to schedule a Continuing Education program for your office write us at

All photos are courtesy of Google and/or Bing images.


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