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How to Teach Your Old Building to Become Smart

Smart Building

Today’s buildings aren’t just smart—they’re alive. Smart lighting systems turn lights on and off at optimal times while intelligent heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems micro-adjust throughout the day to maximize energy efficiency. Buildings that long measured temperature now also measure humidity and CO2, continuously and precisely designing rooms for maximum occupant comfort and environmental impact. Stored biometric data prevents security breaches and increases the speed with which people can flow through buildings.

With all those benefits, it’s abundantly clear why everyone—tenants, owners, workers— want their buildings to be smart. It’s a sentiment that’s reflected in the market: by 2026, the global smart building automation systems market will surpass $154 billion, an 11.5 percent jump from 2017.

Retrofitting: Makeover for Old Buildings

It’s safe to assume this market predominantly serves new buildings: over 80 percent of new construction involves at least one facet of IoT or smart building technology. However, that leaves millions of buildings around the world that already exist. Indeed, only 5 percent of them already have the infrastructure to become smart—so are the people who live in, work in, and own them out of luck?

It turns out they’re not—a growing industry is helping buildings without the existing infrastructure become smarter. In 2018 alone, over $500 million was spent retrofitting old hotels with smart technology and another $2.2 billion updating old guest rooms. Over 1 billion IoT devices and sensors were installed in commercial buildings by the end of 2018. Moreover, a growing number of startups are promising that any building, no matter its age, location, or construction, can become a smart building.

Transforming Traditional Buildings into Smart Ones

Even if buildings don’t have the infrastructure to go fully digital, new solutions to modernize the buildings keep emerging. From boosting security to saving energy, these innovations help the building managers to make the most of what they have. Tapping into mobile access technologies, companies don’t have to replace an entire building’s locks, doors, and security systems to become smart. Instead of cumbersome lanyards or key fobs, employees can simply use their smartphone to enter and exit the building.

Likewise, Australian company Cognian developed Synchromesh, a low-cost, wireless canopy that allows control of lighting without the time-consuming and difficult process of replacing existing wiring. While many building owners want to reduce their energy consumption, better utilize space, and decrease their carbon footprint, they’re often hamstrung by an aging building with creaky infrastructure or by the fear of interrupting tenants with disruptive construction.

Brighter Futures with Smarter Buildings

Particularly when it comes to hitting ambitious environmental goals, retrofitting old buildings is crucial. Buildings are responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption in the European Union and 36 percent of CO2 emissions. To help building owners get there, the EU-funded NEWBEE (Novel Business model generator for Energy Efficiency in construction and retrofitting) which includes a platform where building owners can access all available information about green retrofitting technologies and the startups that sell them. NEWBEE includes an assessment tool that allows building owners to evaluate the best price and technological fit for their individual business needs.

Whether it’s combating the security threats, ensuring the planet’s habitability for future generations, or just making a building more comfortable, smart technology will be what gets us there. While its integration with new construction is inevitable, new technology to help retrofit the old will be critical to ensure that no person, or building, is left behind as the world enters a brighter, smarter future.

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