Sensors, advanced filtration technology and preventive maintenance can help buildings address health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, Tim King and Ray Mans write. Sensors and analytics can be used to monitor building occupancy, provide contact tracing information when an occupant becomes ill and ensure HVAC performance in isolated rooms is as expected.



For decades, buildings have used individual equipment controls and building automation systems to improve heating, ventilation and air conditioning; lighting; and safety and security. Devices and data-driven controls are being integrated into buildings, known as smart buildings, which can monitor, detect and adjust building systems to accommodate the changing demands occurring within a season, a single day or even in real time at any given moment.

Smart buildings — equipped with sensors coupled with artificial intelligence and machine learning — can instantaneously react to changes and then inform building operations teams in real time through mobile devices or desktop applications. Could building owners use these technologies and control capabilities to make their buildings more resilient during a pandemic?

What is a smart building?

What makes a building smart compared to a conventional facility? To understand the role of a smart building, it’s best to look at the evolution of building technology. The drivers behind building technology have traditionally been based on energy use, security and facility operations and maintenance. As smart buildings continue to implement more technology in new ways, we move closer to fully automated facilities tied to a digital twin, the virtual representation of a physical object or system across its life cycle, to perform simulations of building performance and expected occupancy densities and movement and intelligence control of building systems.

Conventional buildings incorporate controls at the equipment level, are not typically controlled or coordinated by a centralized building automation system and are typically confined to control only at the local premise (i.e., piece of equipment). The conventional building relies on scheduled preventive maintenance and building automation to monitor only some systems and is not a fully integrated facility.

Integrated buildings incorporate a centralized BAS that typically controls HVAC, security, lighting and life safety systems. The integrated building can be viewed for diagnostic considerations remotely, which allows the operations team to view real-time facility performance and current equipment issues. This type of facility is the basis for a smart building without the full capability to capture data and alter systems automatically.

Smart buildings use sensors to collect data from each system or equipment and analyze the data using artificial intelligence or machine learning to automatically alter the systems in real time. The “internet of things” application and sensors are comprehensive, provide live data analytics and give the operations team preemptive maintenance information so they can proactively address potential system issues.