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Buildings, homes will become autonomous

Nov. 14, 2017
This may take some getting used to. Or maybe not. Perhaps we’ll slide so easily into our houses and buildings just doing things on their own that we’ll wonder how we ever managed before.

This may take some getting used to. Or maybe not. Perhaps we’ll slide so easily into our houses and buildings just doing things on their own that we’ll wonder how we ever managed before. It’ll be like the advent of the fax machine and the cell phone and smart phone and wireless networks. Technology just makes life easier.

I recently attended the Enterprise IoT World/Smart Cities Summit in Chicago where I had the opportunity to talk with Johnson Controls Vice President Sudhi Sinha. I asked Sinha, whose portfolio is “data enabled business building technologies and solutions,” if commercial buildings would start acting autonomously. Yes, he said. These days when you can easily put a sensor anywhere on everything, the amount of data is overwhelming and the speed at which decisions should be made is too fast for humans. Moreover, we don’t have enough humans entering the trade and the supply of well-trained, highly skilled humans even tighter.

The silos of various building operating systems began breaking up 25 years ago, Sinha says, so HVAC, plumbing, security, lighting, elevators and life safety systems can talk to each other now, and most of those functions have been integrated into BACnet. Occupancy sensors and daylighting sensors can lower the electrical load, subsequently lowering the HVAC load. First responders can talk to security and life safety systems. A lot of municipalities are resource constrained, so a fire department can avoid the time and expense answering false alarms if it can talk to buildings.

A whole bunch of this will be handled by MEP contractors. You’re the folks installing chillers, boilers, AHUs, pressure boosters, thermostats, and so on. Plus, a lot of building systems get replaced every 25-30 years, so you’ll need to be in those buildings constantly upgrading both equipment and the controls that let them communicate.

The difference between a connected home and a smart home is that a smart home knows that you’re not at home but the water is running, and turns it off automatically.

Then, when you go home in the evening, your house will be making decisions on its own too, Dave Pedigo, vice president, emerging technologies at CEDIA, the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association, told contractors attending the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association CONNECT 2017 event in Milwaukee.

Homeowners and insurance companies will insist on it. The number one reason for homeowners’ insurance claims is water damage, Pedigo says, and insurance companies see smart home technology as a way to mitigate claims. The difference between a connected home and a smart home, he said, is that a smart home knows that you’re not at home but the water is running, and turns it off automatically.

The result will be a house that works like a living being. Homeowners won’t necessarily have to interact with their homes. For example, it’s hot out, the air conditioning is cranking, and there’s a sun load, so the house lowers the shades automatically.

Pedigo explains that the Nest Protect smoke and CO2 detector will communicate with the Nest thermostat and shut down the HVAC system so smoke isn’t spread through the house. I’ll put in a plug here for residential sprinkler systems, since safety and security are a big reason why homeowners are buying and using smart home components. Any smart home hub, like Amazon Echo, Samsung’s Smartthings or Google Home should automatically call 911.

Another big reason for growth in the market is that homeowners like it. A study by the website Houzz discovered that homeowners that included smart home features in their remodeling project were more satisfied with the results of the remodeling than homeowners who did not.

Eventually we’ll stop yelling at the kids about leaving every light on in the house.

About the Author

Robert P. Mader

Bob Mader is the Editorial Director for Penton's mechanical systems brands, including CONTRACTOR magazine, Contracting Business and HPAC Engineering, all of which are part of Penton’s Energy and Buildings Group. He has been  with CONTRACTOR since 1984 and with Penton since 2001. His passions are helping contractors improve their businesses, saving energy and the issue of safeguarding our drinking water. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with an A.B. in American Studies with a Communications Concentration.

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